Special thanks to Rose, Host mum and Julianna from the USA. Scroll down for the recipe and cooking instructions.

2“We chose Biscuits and Gravy, a dish I’ve never had”, explains Rose.  “Julianna says her mum made it often for breakfast, but instead of making the biscuits from scratch, they are available commercially.  In researching what they are online, I realised that the biscuits were more or less what we call scones”.

We asked Rose what she learned about the American culture while she was cooking with Julianna:

“It seems that food is a very big part of the family experience in the US, but they do use a lot of packaged goods.  Julianna’s mother often just gets the biscuits straight out of the freezer.  We actually made ours from scratch!”.

We asked Rose what her initial thoughts were about the dish:

“The gravy was a puzzle.  Minced meat in a white sauce was something I had never done.  It sounded rather strange to me initially, but it was actually much nicer than I expected. It was very nice, I must say that I will keep this in mind for future, especially in putting the scones as a base for the sauce”.5

“Cooking the dish with “Mum” brought back a lot of memories of my real mom back home and having breakfast with my siblings in the morning”, explains Julianna.  “Food here is somewhat different to back home but the school life and system here is very different.”

We asked Julianna what she will miss when she returns home to the USA:

“I will miss Mt. Beauty and its tranquility… but I won’t be missing those loud birdies that you have here!”.

4Julianna had been with her host family for a few months and was quite settled in when they prepared the biscuits and gravy, however they felt it was fun to work together on this activity – they interacted a lot, chatted and had a lot of laughs together.

Julianna has since returned to the USA, but remains in contact with the host family and Rose has only recently seen her own daughter Mariele off on her exchange to Canada.

“She was a quiet presence in the house”, explains Rose, “But when she gets going she has funny stories to tell about her life back home and the things she is interested in.  It’s been enjoyable seeing my home country in the eyes of a foreigner”.


Biscuits and Gravy:6

Yields: 36 small biscuits

Prep time: 15 min

Cook time: 20 min


2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

6 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening

2/3 cup whole milk Milk Gravy (see recipe below)

Preparation: Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. In a large bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking powder. With a pastry blender or two knives, cut in vegetable shortening until particles are the size of small peas; make a well in the center. Sprinkle in milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with fork until all flour is moistened and pastry dough almost cleans side of bowl (1 to 2 teaspoons additional milk can be added if necessary). NOTE: You want the ingredients to barely bind or stick together. On a lightly flour surface, knead dough gently about 20 times. Gently roll dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a floured 2-inch biscuit cutter or a drinking glass. Place biscuits onto an ungreased baking sheet. Place close together for soft-sided biscuits or 1-inch apart for crisp-sided ones. Biscuits Making Hints and Tips:

  • For tender and flaky biscuits, have the fat (butter, margarine, or vegetable shortening) chilled. Cut the fat into the dry ingredients until particles are the size of small peas.
  • Excess handling causes tough biscuits. Do not re-roll the dough.
  • Always bake biscuits on pans without sides. The heat will circulate more evenly than on pans with sides.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately remove from baking sheet. Split or cut the biscuits in half and top with the prepared hot Milk Gravy. Serve warm. Makes 10 to 12 biscuits.   Milk Gravy: 1/4 cup pan drippings (bacon drippings or sausage drippings)* 1/4 cup all-purpose flour 2 cups milk or heavy cream, room temperature Salt and pepper to taste * You can use the drippings from any meat, but bacon and sausage are the traditional ones used. In a medium frying pan over medium-high heat, combine bacon or sausage dripping and flour. Slowly brown the flour, stirring constantly (I like to use a wire whisk), to a dark golden brown (you need to keep an eye on this as it may brown too quickly). Gradually or slowly add the milk or cream, stirring constantly until all is added, and continue cooking and stirring until the gravy is smooth and thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Makes enough gravy for 10 to 12 homemade biscuits.

Recently our student Hayden wrote a blog post on how he was able to make his exchange to Sweden possible through fundraising. Hayden has written about his fundraising experience and would like to share it with you, and hopes to inspire future students to give it a go. Read all about Hayden’s fundraising experience below. Clicking the hang up button for the first time to my new Swedish family has left me both in excitement and joy that YFU has picked out such a great host family for me to spend a year abroad with!

Now, it hasn’t been all sunshine and daisies to reach this point, of course. Since February this year I have been lucky enough to participate in an exchange program, but it wasn’t easy picking the right organisation for me. Yes, I could have gone with AFS or WEP, but YFU didn’t spam me with emails every day suggesting that I “continue my application before time runs out”, not only this, but receiving the very first, and extremely exciting email from Talia also set my mind on YFU.

Not long had passed before I was told I could go to Sverige (Sweden). But as a 16 year old boy living in Australia, it isn’t the norm to have $8,450 sitting around so I knew I had to get my hands dirty to be able to go on my exchange. Both my mum and I sat together and brain stormed 101 ways to fundraise for an exchange – and let me tell you, we had quite a list!

Soon enough I was in IGA buying “on special” $1 chocolates and selling them at my high school for $2 each. Each day I was running out completely, and as size-able as the profit was, it was insufficient. A little later down the track, my mum told me one day, “We should do a fundraiser!”

Days passed and soon we’d figured it all out. I’d hire a Jumping Castle, get lots of volunteers for the different stalls and collect prizes for a raffle and a silent auction. I soon formulated the giant list of people who offered to give their time to help me. From the many favours from everyone I knew and the countless people I got to share the poster on Facebook, the success would all come down to the day.

Before however, I got this very random email from the same person who accepted my application earlier with a very sad story, and a very big award. The title read “Congratulations Hayden, we are very proud of your hard work!” I was awarded the “Martha Bigliani Scholarship”. I couldn’t have felt more honored and happy with this. It was truly an honor. Especially as I had only been trying to raise money for a few months to help myself, where as Martha donated much of her time for YFU Argentina and YFU as a whole which has now inspired me to really help YFU (To read more about Martha Bigliani and her scholarship fund, please click here).

It took hours, and I mean hours to do all the shopping for the fundraiser, and we (my mum and I) did pull it off, quite successfully I might add. The day was set, I was back $890 and the sun had actually come out (The whole week was expected to rain) but the weather man couldn’t predict the great day that was ahead.

The “Help Hayden Get to Sweden Fundraiser” was more than a way to fund my exchange. It taught me the value of teamwork and how communication and marketing can go along way to either a failure, or a great success and I thank everyone, (Including Syd) who turned up for the day to help me, it really does means a lot!

We managed to raise just over $1,500 on the day, so it was definitely worth it. Now, I had only $6500 left to pay and here’s how I did it:

I put in about $3,100
My nan donated $1000
My parents put in $1000
Garage Sales $1000
Martha Bigliani Scholarship $700
Help Hayden Fundraiser $1,500
Chocolates $200
——TOTAL————- $8,450
Now at the moment I am collecting the last of the money due, but I am very happy with my progress! Many people say that “I can’t go on exchange because I don’t have enough money!” but that couldn’t be further from the truth! If your heart is with your head, then together, they can power the strongest of motivation. But only you can control that.


Dear Friends,

We are currently recruiting for the position of the French Chaperone who will act as a flight leader and support person (based in France) for our group of students going to France in December. The applicants should be from Australia or New Zealand, have good communication skills in the French language, as they will be working as an intern in the YFU France office for the duration of the program. Having been an exchange student to a French speaking country with us is an asset, but not a requirement and so we invite returnees of our program that are 20 years old or over to apply.

Please feel free to share this around with people that might be interested in this position. Applicants that would like to be considered for the role should send their CV and a cover letter explaining why they would be the ideal candidate for the position to yfuaus@yfu.com.au or info@yfu.co.nz. Applicants will be asked to complete a questionnaire, with two responses being in French. Closing date 15 August.

We look forward to receiving your applications!

Story By Janelle Holt, State Coordinator of Queensland

Images by Risto Petäjäniemi

As a YFU volunteer I am often asked, “What will I get out of traveling overseas” or “Why should I host a foreign student?”  Those questions do not leave me stumped because, to me, the answer is as natural as breathing.  “You will gain another family.”

Forty-seven years ago I travelled to Finland as a YFU exchange student.  I was seventeen and had never been far from my Michigan farm or my family.  June 1968 I boarded a plane in Detroit and flew into the unknown.  I felt excitement, but also angst.  I asked myself, “What have I gotten myself into?”

Images by Risto Petäjäniemi
Images by Risto Petäjäniemi

My home was in Rovaniemi, Finland with Olavi and Kerttu Lahtinen.  I became their fifth child, as they had four of their own, Kirsti (18), Veikko (15), Ritva (11) and Heikki (8).  Rovaniemi is located just ten kilometres south of the Arctic Circle.  This far north never gets completely dark in summer nor light in the winter.

The early days of exchange I was terribly homesick and in 1968 there was no internet and long distance telephone calls were expensive.  The only connection with home were letters that arrived by post.  To ease my homesickness, my host mom climbed the stairs to my room each morning to bring my letters and a cup of tea.  Years later I came to understand just how pampered I had been.

Early in my exchange my senses were on overload.  As summer wore on I became familiar with the sights, sounds, and smells of my new home.  I woke each morning to the aroma of Karjalan Piiraka (Karelian Rice Pies).  My mom made them to sell at the local markets.  It was a foreign smell to me at first, but as summer progressed I came to love waking to the smell of those pies.  Now if I smell of those pies baking, I’m transported to my days in Kerttu’s kitchen.

Kerttu and Olavi spoke no English and I did not speak Finnish.  We learned to communicate with hand gestures, looks, or in other ways.  One day Olavi was eating clabbered milk.  It is a soured, unpasteurized raw milk that was left in a temperature and humidity controlled environment.  It looks thick and elastic, similar to hot mozzarella cheese.  Never having liked milk, I found this particularly disgusting.  My father, generously, offered me a taste.  I wrinkled my nose and shook my head.  His loud voice boomed, “Hyvää”, which I knew to be the word for “good’.  I again shook my head and said,  “no hyvää” and we both laughed.  To this day I have never forgotten that word, or my ‘conversation’ with my host father.

Summer passed, and I was more and more comfortable in my adopted home.  I felt truly cared for me and part of the family.  They seemed to enjoy having another child in their midst.  As the day of my departure neared, I felt a tugging on my heart.  It was such a bittersweet feeling.  I wanted to return home to my friends and family, but I also didn’t want to leave.

kerttu 413
Host Siblings

Years melted away after returning home, but I never forgot my Finnish family.  Admittedly, as a teenager and young adult I became more self-involved and lost touch with my Finnish family for many years.  Once I became 30, though, and had a child of my own I decided that I wanted to rediscover my family in Finland.  On a chance I wrote a letter and sent it to the house address in Rovaniemi.  Luck was with me because Heikki, my little 8 year old brother, was now grown, married and living in the house.  He told the family immediately that I had written.  Soon letters were going back and forth through the post.

One day I received a package.  In it was a videotape that the family had made for me.  Each family member spoke to me and showed me their homes and their families.  Time had changed how everyone looked, but their hearts were still connected to mine.  I cherish that video because it was the last that I would ever see my father, Olavi.  He passed away before I could return to visit.

The connection has stayed strong for nearly thirty years now.  I have visited my family several times.  I have gone to celebrate birthdays and participated in the Christenings of my great niece and great nephew.  I took my son there when he was eight to meet Kerttu, his ‘mummo’ and the rest of the ever-growing family.  My son and mother communicated without words and it was magic.

Through the years my four siblings grew and had children.  I now have two brothers, two sisters, two nieces, five nephews, five great-nieces and three great-nephews.  My family keeps growing and filling my heart with joy.

One of my most special memories, though, was when Kerttu, Kirsti, and Ritva travelled from Finland to Florida to celebrate my 50th birthday.  Kerttu was 75 years old and had never been to the U.S!  The fact that they went to so much effort and expense to spend that time with me made it the best birthday I’ve ever had!

YFU exchange is not just about the spending months overseas, learning another language or getting to see sights you’ve only read about.  Exchange is about opening your heart, taking in new sights, sounds, and smells, sharing another language, and living a life different than your own.

For this reason, when asked “why go on exchange”, or “why host an exchange student”, I speak from the heart.

“It will help you grow.  It will enrich your mind.  It will change your life.”[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Credit: Mia in the USA
Credit: Mia in the USA

When the day of my High School Prom arrived I was astonished at how rapidly time had flown by. Throughout the day my friend and I got together to accessorise our outfits and select our hairstyles, for the upcoming night. We were both so impatient and thrilled for the next few hours to go by, as we helped each other with every minuscule detail, perfecting our desired outfits. In the late afternoon, my date named Tyler picked me up from my house. He’s suit had a touch of pink in it, purposely to coordinate my dress and I received a corsage, which matched my dress perfectly. We headed to Tyler’s house to have photos such as this one taken. Additionally, we headed to a friends house to have group photos taken. Evidently pictures were a large part of the Prom experience, which I hadn’t been aware of. Although my expectations were based on movies, I was surprised at the fact that there were hardly any decorations and nor a bowl of punch! We were seated at tables at the beginning on the night and then we danced until midnight. The night didn’t end there because the night concluded with a large sleepover which incorporated late night swimming, and heaps of food. It was a fantastic event, which I will likely cherish for the rest of my life.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]