Finnish IFYE international exchange shares her story

One way to spend a gap year between high school and college is on international exchange through the IFYE Association.

Tarina with her host sister, Mattison.
Tarina (right) with her host sister, Mattison.

Michigan 4-H International Exchange Program provides many opportunities to host international guests. Whether you have young children, no children or something in between, you can host through IFYE Association's Cultural Exchange Program. IFYE offers an exchange opportunity for adults 19 years old and older. These international guests do not attend school but live with host families during their three-month stay. They are interested in learning about daily life of American families.

Enjoy learning about Tarina, an IFYE from Finland, and her decision to travel for six months during her gap year between high school and college. Tarina’s homestay started in Switzerland for three months then finished in Michigan for three months, September through December 2018.

D’Ann (D): How did you decide to go on exchange?

Tarina (T): I graduated from high school last spring and wanted more time to choose what I would like to start studying. I wanted to make use of my time thinking about it and get valuable experience for my future, learn and to meet and make friends with some amazing people around the world.

(D): Explain to me the IFYE organization.

(T): It gives opportunity for open-minded people to meet and share with each other their own culture in a best possible way—through exchange. Your road does not have to end on the exchange though; once an IFYE always an IFYE describes it perfectly. IFYE organization is basically one big family who share and rejoice together their experiences throughout some events and media the connections made during the exchange.

(D): What is it like to wait to hear about who will host you?

(T): It is exciting of course! I realized too that the information given to you on a paper, about the families, does not really tell you anything about the time you will have, you just have to go as your own self and not expect anything based on the papers.

(D): How did you prepare to come to the U.S.?

(T): I spent three months in Switzerland on IFYE exchange before heading to the United States, so I could not prepare as well as if I came from my home country, Finland.

(D): Why did you want to come to the U.S.?

(T): I actually had an opportunity to go to two different countries and I chose to have all the possibilities, so the organization chose for me. I want to travel the world so I was open to go anywhere, and I was sure I would get a great experience wherever I went.

(D): What did you hope to experience during your exchange?

(T): I was open and had zero expectations, but I hoped to meet new people and make friends, improve my self-confidence as much as possible, get better with English and just experience many new things and see new places.

Tarina and kitties
Tarina with the two kitties she rescued.

(D): What did you learn about yourself while participating in the IFYE program?

(T): That is a difficult question; I mean there are so many things. I do not even know how to describe them! Maybe most of all I learned that I can. I can do anything and I will be fine, I just have to trust myself and that I can. In addition, I learned so much self-confidence and so many other things, it is just incredible.

(D): How will you use this experience back in your country?

(T): I will attend the IFYE events, I was also thinking about taking part in Finland's IFYE organization. I want to keep in contact with all the people I made friends with, share the knowledge about other cultures and my time abroad. I am so much more confident and my English for sure got much better, I received such valuable experience in many aspects of life and its use in any future job and studying.

(D): Describe your feeling right now since your return home.

(T): I feel incredibly grateful and blessed to have experienced such a good time during my exchange. I have so much love and appreciation for people I met and got to know and who made the exchange possible for me. In addition, I feel so much love for my home country and my family, everything I have in life. It has always been there, but now it just feels completely different and it is just so great! I am extremely happy of everything I have experienced in the past six months and I feel like a new person, I see both myself and the world just so different than before I left, in a good way.

(D): What did you miss most while you were in Michigan?

(T): Sometimes I missed the food I was used to back home and the landscape. I missed my family and the safety I have back home. I do not mean that I did not feel safe in Michigan, but back home the feeling of safety is just the strongest.

(D): Because of this experience, how will your life be different?

(T): I will have friends and connections for life, thousands of kilometers from home. It is clearer for me what I want to do in the future; I will be much more confident and do better with probably everything with every day things. I have so much appreciation for many things in the world that I maybe did not even know about before, also I appreciate my life and everything that I have so much more.

(D): Why should a Michigan young adult decide to travel through the IFYE program? How would you persuade them to check out the opportunities through IFYE?

(T): It opens your eyes, your mind and your whole life. The world will never be the same, and just trust me, it is an amazing thing to experience. IFYE exchange is a great way to go explore the world and yourself, the organization really cares about you and wants you to have a good time. It works well and you do not have to worry.

IFYE is a unique program because of the age of the exchange delegates, multiple host family experience, length of stay and total cultural immersion experience. Michigan also offers outbound IFYE experiences. Visit the IFYE website to learn more about your future IFYE experience and what countries you could live in.

4-H grows international friendships. If you would like to learn more, visit the Michigan 4-H International Exchange Program website. To learn more about hosting an international exchange student, contact D’Ann Rohrer at or 231-845-3361.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs read our 2017 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016 can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

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