Youth Cultural Exchange (YCE) is part of First Universalist’s Children, Youth & Family Ministries.
The 2016 YCE Application deadline has passed.
In February 2018, youth registered in 7th and 8th grade Religious Education will be invited to apply to be part of the next YCE group. For information about the process, please review the February 2016 Information Session Presentation. Thank you!
History and Overview of YCE
Church member Barb Benner started YCE in 1993. Since then about 95 youth from our church have participated in exchange programs with youth from Poland, Ecuador and Nicaragua. YCE has partnered with Project Minnesota-León (PML) since 2005 to create an exchange program with youth from León, Nicaragua. Our youth are matched with a Nicaraguan teenager and they stay in their home so they can develop an authentic relationship and learn from each other. The founding principle of the Youth Cultural Exchange program was to provide our youth with an experience so that they could empathize with immigrants in our country as they learn a new culture and language. Since the Nicaraguan families our youth stay with are poor and do not speak English, our youth are challenged and their world-view is greatly expanded.
The youth from our church raise money over a 2-year period to pay for their Nicaraguan exchange students to fly to Minnesota and stay with their Minnesotan exchange student and family. Participants in the program are in 8th-10th grades. In the first year, a group of about 8 to 12 youth from our church travel to León, Nicaragua, for 2 weeks in the summer, and the following summer their Nicaraguan “siblings” come to Minnesota. Fundraising for this amount of money is a huge undertaking – YCE sells eggrolls every Sunday throughout the church year and holds a Book/CD/DVD sale, truffle sale and other fundraisers. Our youth and their parents meet monthly for 2 years to help the youth form a bond and to prepare them for this life-changing experience. The group plans the daily activities that the youth participate in when the Nicaraguans are in Minnesota – the parents chaperone and provide transportation for the daily activities in Minnesota. While in Nicaragua, a bilingual staff member from PML leads the group of youth in a wide-range of activities, including sight-seeing, sports, dance classes, social service and community projects (volunteering at a preschool, building a solar oven, etc.). The youth also spend a significant amount of time with their Nicaraguan sibling’s family.
The YCE program has been a life-changing program for our youth and the Nicaraguan youth. The ripple effect of the program in Nicaragua is significant as their life experience is broadened, and Nicaraguan youth are often inspired to learn English and become leaders in their own community. Our youth learn about poverty first-hand, but they also learn about the Nicaraguans’ joys and close family and community ties, despite the lack of material goods. Many of the YCE youth have been inspired by their experience to study, volunteer and pursue careers relating to Latin America and poverty. Our youth become more aware of their privilege and become more committed to changing structures that support inequities in the Twin Cities and in the world. Participation in this program also strengthens the connection the youth, and their parents, have with First Universalist Church.
“The ‘Third World’ Is Not Your Classroom”
This article points out many examples of what Project Minnesota-León is doing well when it organizes groups like YCE to go to Nicaragua: in-country director, experienced Nicaraguan staff, no imposed “we know better” projects, pre-trip and first day orientation, and reflection questions for more depth in learning. Our Youth Cultural Exchange emphasizes a mutual and respectful cross-cultural experience. We Minnesotans go to León to listen and learn, not to “fix” problems or impose our ideas. As this article underscores, Americans need to approach their visit to developing countries with “humility and reverence.”
To learn more about Project Minnesota-León, please visit their website.