By Iyed Hamadi (YES 2012-2013, Tunisia, hosted by AFS in Fulton, MD)
Every experience I have and everything I went through since I returned to Tunisia in 2013 is thanks to the YES program. I can’t imagine achieving anything if it weren’t for the international exposure I gained, the maturity that I developed and the sense of purpose I acquired. Before my YES year, I had no idea how I could fit in the world. I remember being very selfish and materialistic. Then as soon as I came back, I reflected upon my year and how much it changed me. Being part of so many community service activities taught me the value of giving back. Community service became second nature to me. All the international friends I made taught me the importance of diversity while turning me into a global citizen as well as a proud Tunisian. Upon my arrival in Tunisia I started setting new goals in life and working hard to achieve them. I wanted to be the best version of myself and not let anything stop me from dreaming big.
One of the first dreams I had was creating an official YES alumni association. After my return to Tunisia from my YES year, I kept wondering when Tunisia would launch its alumni association. Then one glorious summer, alongside a few other YES alumni, we created the YES Alumni Association Tunisia (YAAT). I held the position of Treasurer.
The first event YAAT hosted was also what I consider to be the most important event I’ve organized - the Mini TechCamp Tunisia 2016. For the sake of Tunisia, it’s important to keep looking for ways to improve youth who will build the future and improve the present. That was the purpose of the Mini TechCamp, and the outcome was even better than expected. Specifically, the TechCamp aimed at helping college students between the ages of 18 and 26 attend different workshops that can help them build a strong career and develop their potential. Our entire team learned a lot about project management throughout the Mini TechCamp as this was the first project YAAT undertook. I would be lying if I said we didn’t struggle, yet at the end, everything was on point. After the success of this TechCamp, we intend to create more camps for a bigger audience with a wider variety of trainings and different themes. We even intend to create a mobile application for Tunisian youth where they can have easy access for any national or international opportunities available for them.
In addition to the work that YAAT does I stay busy with activities at my university, the American University in Cairo. During college, I fell in love with the field of finance. Due to how much I valued community service, I decided to try and combine both of my passions. So alongside a club in my university, I worked on a project utilizing microfinance to help poor families in Egypt. The club was called 3alRasseef which translates to “On the Streets” (a reference to street children in Cairo). We used part of the club’s budget to help families from very poor areas to buy items to create small sustainable projects. The goal behind this is to generate an income for them that would assure the betterment of their financial situation. In order to receive these services, the parents need to bring their children to our education sessions.
Another passion of mine is cultural exchange and being a global citizen, which was my motivation to join the cross-cultural program organized by the Office of Residential Life at American University in Cairo. Being a YES student definitely taught me the importance of discovering different cultures and never shying away from experiences. Through my University’s cross-cultural program I had the privilege of giving a presentation in Nepal. This experience took me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to become even more adaptable. I exposed myself to a new culture in a unique country, had the chance to represent my community and university, and build a bridge of cultural understanding between both sides.
At American University in Cairo I decided to participate in yet another exchange experience in the U.S. and I was privileged enough to spend a semester abroad at American University in Washington, D.C. The experience was so different from the YES program, yet it felt just as purposeful and transformative. Within the experience, I joined an orchestra and by the end of the semester had participated in two concerts. But the highlight of my year was when American University selected me to represent the university in a national case competition for international business at Northeastern University in Boston.
This summer through my University’s Resident Program I did an exchange at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. It brought together more than 100 students from 19 countries. I was the only Tunisian and yet it didn't stop me from doing my best to make people fall in love with my country. I honestly owe my love for global citizenship and Tunisia to YES - by trying to be an ambassador to students in the US, I pushed myself to learn more about my country which made me realize how proud I am of my country.
I believe that my place in the world will remain in the MENA region. I am trying to create the biggest impact on my region and help it reach the potential it has. Upon graduation from the American University in Cairo I intend to join the consulting world in the MENA region and build the necessary expertise to finally open my Social Enterprise that will operate as a consulting firm as well. I already started the development of this idea with preliminary research that will be continued during my senior year as I intend to make this my graduation project. I also cultivated a great interest in Economics that I intend to pursue in a Master’s and PhD program. I’m very passionate about research and I hope to climb up the ladder with time to maybe reach the top and get the Nobel Prize in Economics. But my goals all started with the YES program.