The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program was established in October 2002. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, along with the U.S. exchange community, recognized the importance of youth exchange as a key component to building bridges between citizens of the United States and countries around the world, particularly those with significant Muslim populations.
The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs (ECA) to provide scholarships for high school students from countries with significant Muslim populations to study for one academic year in the United States. YES students serve as “youth ambassadors” of their home country, promoting mutual understanding by forming lasting relationships with their host families and communities. Participants live with a host family, attend an American high school, acquire leadership skills, and engage in activities to learn about U.S. society and values; they also help educate Americans about their home country and culture.
The program officially launched in Kosovo in 2009 in hopes to expand communication between the people of the United States and Kosovo in order to promote mutual understanding and respect. Since then, over 50 Kosovar students have completed the YES program and now participate as alumni.
The YES program is administered in partnership with the U.S. Department of State by a consortium of non-profit organizations led by American Councils for International Education. In Kosovo, American Councils manages the YES program in partnership with the local U.S. Embassy, Public Affairs Office.
In keeping with the U.S. Government-sponsored initiatives, dedicated to democratic reform, the competition for the Youth Exchange and Study scholarship is merit-based and open at no cost to all applicants who meet the following requirements:
- Be enrolled in 10th or 11th year of secondary school in Fall 2016.
- Be born between January 1, 2000 and July 15, 2002.
- Be between the ages of 15-17 by the start of program.
- Have the equivalent of a B average or better without failing grades.
- Have not spent more than three months in the United States in the past five years.
- Meet U.S. J-1 visa eligibility requirements (for instance, U.S. citizens are not eligible for J-1 visa).
- Be a permanent resident of Kosovo.
Students with Disabilities
The program can support students with disabilities and encourages their participation. The Department of State and the YES program work with Mobility International (MIUSA) to provide students with disabilities leadership-building workshops, appropriate information and support as needed to enhance their year in America. Applicants with disabilities are encouraged to contact their YES office for information on eligibility.
There are multiple rounds to the YES application and selection process. All applicants are required to take an English proficiency exam, write a proctored essay, complete a YES program application, and participate in group and individual in-person interviews. All finalists are selected on the basis of merit.
YES Competition and Application Process:
Round 1: English Language Test
Students meeting the age and grade criteria take a 15-20 minute multiple-choice English language-based test held in testing centers throughout each country. The results of Round one are announced on a posted list or by Internet the same or next day and selected students are invited to participate in Round two.
Round 2: Essay
Students selected to participate in Round 2 write three in-class essays (in English) in response to specific questions. Selected students will be invited to participate in Round three.
Round 3: English Language Test, Essay, Group Activity, Interview, and Application
Students selected to participate in Round three take a standardized multiple-choice English test, write two in-class essays (in English) in response to specific questions, participate in a group activity, and take part in a one-on-one interview. In addition, students must complete and submit to the American Councils office (within two weeks) an application form. The results of Round three are announced by telephone approximately six months later. All Round three participants will be notified of outcomes, whether they are positive or negative.
American Councils organizes and trains approximately 150 volunteer evaluators – professionals in education and international relations in the United States. They select program finalists and alternates. Selection is based on merit as evidenced in a comprehensive application; teacher reference; and demonstrated preparedness for a year-long exchange experience. The selection process is completed in spring and all applicants receive notification of their status by mid-April.
Studying abroad in high school is an exciting journey for both you and your child. We have compiled the information below to help answer some of the questions you may have about the YES program experience. For further information, please e-mail the YES office in your country.
Who will support my child’s well being while abroad?
YES participants are placed in volunteer host family homes and into host schools in the United States by established and reputable placement organizations that have competitively been awarded grants by the U.S. Department of State to implement the placement portion of the YES program. While on the program, your child will have regular contact with a trained coordinator in his or her community who will provide support, assistance, and guidance, and who will be in regular contact with the placement organization’s national headquarters.
As the consortium lead on the grant for YES operations, also competitively awarded by the U.S. Department of State, American Councils has a national office in Washington, DC, which cooperates with all placement organizations nationwide and with all overseas recruiting offices. Each country participating in the YES program has an in-country office with at least one permanent employee in each YES country. These staff, who are the main contacts for the parents of YES students, in turn communicate with all organizations placing YES students in host communities.
As a parent, how can I help promote the well-being of my child?
One of the ways you can help YES plan for your child’s successful participation in the program is by providing all relevant information regarding your child’s personal health and family history on the requested application forms. This information will not be evaluated as part of the selection process, but is considered when making host community assignments. Relevant information includes, but is not limited to, a diagnosis of or treatment for an illness, a physical disability, a learning disability, a behavioral or emotional disorder, a dietary restriction, or drastic changes in weight. Recent traumatic experiences or significant changes in the student’s natural family, including serious illness, death, divorce, incarceration, or custodial changes, can also influence a student’s experience. Living and studying abroad can be a stressful and challenging experience for people of any age. These stresses can be compounded by any existing physical or mental health issues or concerns at home that arise prior to the start of the program. In order to help YES organizations and their staff to make appropriate decisions about your child’s experience, please inform us of relevant situations as quickly as possible throughout the application process and program.
What is the involvement of the U.S. Department of State?
The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Organizations implementing the YES program report to the U.S. Department of State.
Where will my child be living?
All YES students live with host families who have been carefully screened and selected. Host families receive formal orientation and training to introduce them to cultural differences and to prepare them for the hosting experience. Local coordinators provide support to participants and host families throughout the program. Students attend a school in their community alongside American peers.
What happens in the case of an emergency?
YES implementing organizations are prepared to respond to emergencies in the United States. Each organization provides 24-hour assistance in the event of an emergency and facilitates appropriate medical treatment, including evacuation, if necessary. YES consults with the U.S. Department of State and external risk management organizations to monitor the safety of participants while in the United States.
Will my child have medical coverage while abroad?
YES participants are provided with accident and sickness medical coverage to ensure that, in the case of an emergency, students will be treated as soon as possible.
What costs are covered?
The YES scholarship covers costs related to:
• round-trip airfare from your home country to the United States;
• the cost of a Pre-Departure Orientation;
• placement with a U.S. host family for 10 to 11 months;
• a modest monthly stipend;
• health insurance; and
• the cost of program activities and materials.
What costs are not covered by the scholarship?
Some costs that you can expect to incur from your child’s participation in the program include costs associated with obtaining a passport, required medical examinations and immunizations, and extra pocket money while on program.
How will YES help my child prepare to go abroad?
YES provides a wide variety of support mechanisms for students preparing to go abroad. Preparation for the YES experience begins shortly after the finalists are selected, with weekly follow up by each YES program country office. Additionally, all YES finalists are required to attend a Pre-Departure Orientation where they cover relevant topics that they will face during the program year. At the Pre-Departure Orientation, they are given a student workbook and handbook, which is theirs to keep and contains the material covered in the Pre-Departure Orientation. Lastly, upon arrival to the United States, YES students attend an orientation in Washington, D.C. with YES students from other countries, where critical information is reviewed before the students depart for their host communities.