"I’m a YFUer, of course I vote!"
April 05, 2024 13:47

As you may have noticed, 2024 marks the "year of elections," where citizens from 64 countries worldwide are called to cast their ballots, shaping the future of both their own countries and international relations. Adding to this, we're also witnessing the EU elections, providing another opportunity for citizens to voice their opinions. Undoubtedly, this convergence of elections can serve as a powerful demonstration of active citizenship.

"I’m a YFUer, of course I vote!" is a bold statement we proudly advocate for this year. With the goal of fostering a shared sense of responsibility for our world and its future generations, we urge you, fellow YFUer, to take action and vote this year.

Active citizenship extends beyond voting; it begins long before as we positively contribute to our communities, comprehend global issues, and thoughtfully shape our perspectives. What does YFU contribute to this? Let us share with you the pillars of building active, global citizens within YFU.

Ambassadorship of our cultures abroad

According to a saying among YFUers, exchange students and host families can be termed as "mini-ambassadors." This grassroots diplomacy, where cultural exchange occurs in homes, schools, and local communities, can have a profound impact on both personal and societal levels. YFU alumnus and volunteer Tamoi Fujii shared his experience: "In my experience, one of the most visible impacts of exchange programs is the creation of an international community of cosmopolitan people. Former exchange students get into positions of power and make great contributions to the world. Attending international conferences and studying at Oxford, I met many former exchange students and host siblings. I think having that experience helped them become more active and more engaged with the society around them." As Tamoi says, the exchange experience enables us to make a significant contribution to the world.

Personal Growth: the most notable outcome of exchange experiences*

Through educational exchange programs, we develop a range of interpersonal skills, such as resilience, adaptability, and conflict resolution. This skill set, combined with an enhanced understanding of global and national issues, lays the foundation for active citizenship, specifically social responsibility. When we recognize our impact and responsibility on the world and discover our potential to make a difference, we become empowered to act and amplify our voices. (*Impact Compendium on Youth Exchange, Intermundo, January 2016.)

Fostering dialogue, peaceful conflict resolution, and dispelling stereotypes

Embarking on an exchange may seem like an exciting adventure to explore new cultures, but its impact on our ability to resolve conflicts peacefully is profound. Exposure to diverse individuals with contrasting backgrounds, viewpoints, and values fosters a deeper understanding of cultural differences and promotes respectful interaction. Encountering a different way of life during exchange provides invaluable lessons in navigating unfamiliar environments with sensitivity and empathy. Whether resolving conflicts within host families or engaging in disagreements with classmates, every interaction offers an opportunity for growth. Moreover, exchanges bring together people from various nationalities and backgrounds, enriching our perspectives and challenging stereotypes and prejudices. By fostering dialogue and promoting mutual understanding, exchanges play a vital role in breaking down barriers, comprehending global issues, and encouraging active citizenship.

Enriching families’ intercultural sensitivity and increasing interest in global and national topics*

Intercultural exchanges offer host families an opportunity to increase their interest in global topics and engage in lifelong learning. Students experience the authentic life of a foreign culture and grasp global diversity, while host families may develop an interest in national or global topics as well as intercultural sensitivity. This experience cultivates a global vision for both sides, aiding students and host families in becoming more open to a changing world. (*Impact Compendium on Youth Exchange, Intermundo, January 2016.)

Boosting tolerance and appreciation of differences through non-formal education

Through non-formal education methods, we bring together people from diverse perspectives and backgrounds to engage in dialogue, exchange ideas, visions, and perspectives. YFUers excel in understanding not only different languages and cultures but also mindsets, opinions, and values.

Key YFU trainings and activities, such as the Colored Glasses workshops, are based on NFE. These workshops aim to raise awareness on topics like culture and identity, intercultural communication, stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination, inequality, human rights, and responsibilities. The goal is for participants to realize their impact on the world and feel empowered to effect positive change.

Building career skills for a brighter future – and linguistic skills for breaking down barriers

Among internationally active employers, half consider international experience a crucial recruitment criterion (“Faktaa-Hidden Competences”, CIMO, 2014). We empower young people to become active, responsible global citizens through international experiences. Whether through intercultural exchanges or volunteer experiences, young people are exposed to international environments. This personal development journey leads to events that contribute to positive changes not only for the young people involved but also for the whole community they are part of. In other words, international experiences serve as gateways to unlocking a world of opportunities and developing essential career skills, such as communication, teamwork, decision-making, organizational skills, and self-confidence. From leadership and intercultural communication to strategic planning and beyond, YFU educational programs offer a unique platform to gain skills highly valued by employers on a global scale, enabling young people to open doors to exciting international career paths while effecting positive change in the community.

On the other hand, language serves as the bridge connecting communities, ideas, and cultures. Through language, we can connect with others by breaking down barriers and building bridges with people from different backgrounds. Moreover, language empowers us to express ourselves confidently, advocate for change, and make our voices heard on issues shaping our society. Finally, through languages, we can immerse ourselves in different cultures, understanding customs, traditions, and values, fostering empathy and respect for diverse perspectives.

Advocating for (youth) engagement and participation

Participation in activities run by youth organizations impacts interest in politics or elections (“Situation of young people in the EU: participation in democratic life” EU Commission, September 2015). The Eurobarometer revealed that young people who have participated in at least one activity or organization are more likely to consider standing as a candidate in a political election at some point in their lives.

By joining YFU, people of all ages embark on an exciting international exchange journey while gaining invaluable experiences and skills that will help them be proactive and engaged citizens in their own countries.

Do you already know when and where you will cast your vote this year? If you are voting in the EU elections, you can register for voting reminders here: https://elections.europa.eu/en/use-your-vote/