Nils Oldenburg lives more than 4,000 miles from Helena and although there is a nine-hour time difference between his town of Alsbach, Germany (a town near Frankfurt) and Helena, the city and people he met in 1986 are still very much on his mind. 

Nils Oldenburg lives more than 4,000 miles from Helena and although there is a nine-hour time difference between his town of Alsbach, Germany (a town near Frankfurt) and Helena, the city and people he met in 1986 are still very much on his mind.
Oldenburg says his involvement as an exchange student brought him to Helena and he shared a life-changing experience with the Thielen family. In 1986, Martin Thielen was the pastor of the West Helena Baptist Church and his family hosted Oldenburg for a year. Oldenburg is now the volunteer president of the same exchange program that brought him to America. He says the community of Helena and the Thielen family changed his life forever.
“Living in a community with a very diverse cultural as well as economic background but at the same time experiencing a very warm hospitality has been one - if not the life-changing experience of my life. Even as of today it touches my life daily,” said
Oldenburg. His involvement as an exchange student altered his life and he even married a former exchange student.
Youth For Understanding of Germany is looking for families in the Helena area to continue the exchange program.
“It’s the same exchange program that brought me to the U.S. 20 years ago,” said Oldenburg.
Last Christmas Oldenburg visited his host family who moved to Nashville, Tenn. and enjoyed reconnecting after so many years.
“It still felt like family,” he said.
Each year a partnership program with Youth For Understanding of the U.S. and the Germany branch work hard to find host families for each exchange student.
“Each year it is a very demanding task as you can maybe imagine,” said Oldenburg adding that like his experience, a year in Helena would be a dream come true for an exchange student.
Youth For Understanding was established in 1951 in the Detroit area and moved to Ann Arbor, Mich. in 1956. In its early years, the agency brought students from post-war Germany to live in the U.S. to experience our country’s culture. By 1955, the agency sent high school students from the U.S. on 10-week trips to Germany.
Within the next 10 years the program evolved into two organizations – YFU-USA and YFU-Germany. The first “exchange” from the U.S. to Germany was a summer program, with 30 American high school students, organized by Ulrich Zahlten and other MMC-alumnus. During that year Germany became a sovereign country and the American government stopped funding the exchange program with Germany, which continued as a not-for-profit activity between the two YFU organizations in the America and Germany.
In 1961 and 1962 a one-year exchange program between the U.S. and Germany was added including six students from the U.S. Since then, the two groups have continued to offer world experiences.
Families interested in hosting an exchange student can find more information by contacting YFU USA at www.yfu-usa.org or by calling 1-866-4-YFU-USA (1-866-493-8872). Send e-mails to hosting@yfu.org.
Oldenburg invites those that remember him to e-mail him at oldenburgnils@gmx.de.