When Pat Peterson retired as a guidance counselor in the Mt. Zion school system she began looking for some sort of leisurely volunteer work to help her stay active. But Pat soon found herself involved with an organization called Youth For Understanding (YFU), in another full-time paid position...this time bringing foreign exchange students from all over the world to stay with host families in the Midwest.

“I found YFU on the internet and contacted them. I believed in their principles and mission statement but really, the main thing that caught my attention, was that the organization was founded by a woman named Rachel Andresen who wanted to make the world a better place after WWII. She single-handedly went to Germany and got students and brought them here to the United States and I thought that sounded very admirable and wanted to participate.”

It wasn’t long before her husband, retired Illinois corrections counselor Russ Peterson was also involved and became a full-fledged Field Director along with his wife “We were responsible for placing 70 kids from 18 different countries this year. Our area is from North up to Peoria, over to Champaign and Danville, and down to the central and southern part of Illinois including Springfield, St. Louis and small towns in between. Our District headquarters are in Des Moines, Iowa, which oversee a 10-state district We have been doing this 5 years,” said Russ Peterson.

Currently, the Peterson’s are host to two foreign exchange students in their home: Raphael Zwhalen, from Berne, Switzerland and Rinat Kulmametov, from Almaty, Kazakhstan. Over the past five years, the Petersons have had a total of seven students live with them for the full 10 month school year. Pat Peterson said they have also had several students visit when in-between new homes or as a stopover to another destination.

Russ explained, “Our job is to receive profiles from YFU which are generated overseas. The profiles list hobbies and interests of students, proficiency in English, brothers and sisters, allergies, etc. The prospective students write a brief essay outlining their purpose for wanting to be an exchange student. We take the applications and try to find families that match up with the students. We work with volunteers around the state to find homes and provide activities so the students can have things to do outside their host families. We also have scholarships to send American students overseas.”

Russ Peterson added, “Organization-wide, YFU brings in 2,000 exchange students a year and sends about 600 Americans to 32 different countries.”

Pat Peterson said, “Our first placements were in Mt. Zion. We started contacting people we knew around the area. We called all the schools and asked for permission to place students in their schools. We placed about 30 students doing that. We interview the family and their background and interests in other countries and cultures. We talk to them about what they like to do and try to match interests of the student with the family. We let the family choose the student they want based on the profiles they are shown.”

Students are in the host country for 10 months. A longer stay is possible but they cannot be on the program. Their J1 visa only allows them 10 months in the United States, but they can come back on a different visa later. Pat said, “We have had several relocate to the US. One student we had in 2001 is currently in California going to college. He comes home (here) to see us every year at Christmas. I feel he will probably relocate to the United States permanently.”

Youth For Understanding (YFU) is a non-profit educational organization which offers opportunities for young people around the world to spend a summer, semester or year with a host family in another culture. “Some are of the hosts are retired, some are empty nesters. Single people may also host,” added Pat. YFU has offices in every state and was established in 1951 with headquarters in Bethesda, MD.

A Reception has been planned for the exchange students at Shelby Memorial Hospital at 2:00 p.m. on Feb 26. At the reception, the students will discuss their country, language and holidays, as well as their experience here in Shelbyville. They will also show photos and memorabilia from their home country.

Pat Peterson said, “I can't think of anything more simple and easy to help make the world a better place. They form a new understanding and life-long relationships from this experience.”


Raphael Zwhalen: Home- Bargen Switzerland, near Berne.

Host family- Russ and Pat Peterson

“I really like football and high school sports in general. In Switzerland, you don’t have school supported sports. You have to join a sports club to play, like joining a racquetball club here. People here are easygoing and I like that. School is a lot different. In Switzerland, I had to take 11 subjects. My favorite thing is the high school sports and the school spirit. I wish we had more breaks between classes and were not so rushed. It would be nice if they had some dance clubs here.”

Yin Yiheng: Home- Shanghai, China.

Host Family- Patty Nibbe

“So far I like it here. People here are very friendly, they will talk to you on the street, something they do not do in my home. They have a lot of fast food here. Some I like and some I don’t so much. At school I love PE. I also like the NFL and NBA, especially the Houston Rockets.” (Yin was wearing a Yao Ming jersey).

“I might come back some day, but I am not sure. I was disappointed there was not more snow.”

Rinat Kulmametov: Home- Almaty, Kazakhstan, formerly part of USSR.

Host Family: Russ and Pat Peterson

“I like Shelbyville and the school is ok too. I like Florida, I got to go down there at Christmas. I do like the fast food here but I do miss home cooking. Here I like to eat rice and spaghetti and some of the fast food. I think school starts too early. School starts at 8:30 am – 9:00 am in Kazakhstan, depending on which school you attend. We have different classes each day, not the same classes each day.”

Peter Pawlakowitsch: Home- Hombris, Germany

Host Family- Patty Nibbe

“I like school and the activities with my host. I miss rock climbing, though. There aren’t any mountains around here. I have been on Lake Shelbyville several times and liked that. The customs here are different in some ways,

and in others they are the same. I did miss the big New Year’s Eve fireworks display we have at home each year. We started school at 8:00 a.m. and had shorter class periods at home. But the teachers here are very supportive and

I think the people are friendlier. We got out of school around 1:00 p.m. every day. We weren’t graded on homework and we had rotating classes, not the same classes each day.” When asked if he would want to come back to live in The U.S. Peter replied with an emphatic, “Yes!”

Jeanette (Nettti) Boergerding: Home- Haustette, Germany

Host Family- Jim and Kim Sparks

“I like it here great so far. I don’t like snow or cold. At school here we have the same schedule each day and I had to adjust to that.” Netti was already fluent in English and has improved since she arrived. “My language skills have gotten better from talking to my classmates and with Skylar Sparks.” I have gotten to go horseback riding here with the Sparks family, which is one of my favorite things. I also like the open-mindedness here, everyone is so nice, and I really appreciate that because it is kind of hard coming here from another country. I went to Lake Shelbyville this summer and went on a boat trip with some friends it was really fun. I can imagine myself living here now, when I was in Germany I couldn’t. I have a lot of friends here now and it would be a foreseeable thing to live in the US. I have such a great host family and they support me and give me a lot of strength. They have made my experience here very enjoyable.

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