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From YES Student to DCO Alumni Mentor: The Importance of Cultural Exchange and IEW
By Yara Moallem, YES 2012-2013 Israel (Arab Communities), hosted by Ayusa in Inola, OK
My name is Yara Moallem; I am from the Arab communities in Israel and I was a YES exchange student in 2012-2013 who was placed in the great state of Oklahoma. I had the privilege to come back to the United States this summer (2016) to volunteer as an alumna instructor at the DC Orientations (DCOs) in Washington, D.C. for the 2016-2017 YES exchange students. The orientations lasted for a month and had five cycles; each Tuesday, a new cycle would start with a fresh ‘batch’ of YES students arriving from around the world. We gave them each an extensive orientation to living with a host family, program rules, and, of course, International Education Week (IEW). Every Friday morning before dawn, we loaded the students onto buses and headed to the airport. Then, we escorted the students to their gates and stayed with them until they got on their planes, ready to embark on the exciting adventure and new family awaiting them.
My time at the DCOs was AMAZING. There were times when I was teaching that I would look out at my students’ faces and think to myself: ‘that was me four years ago!’ It's funny how time flies, and I couldn't be happier to be back at DCOs again, but this time behind the scenes, watching how much time, effort, and care is put into organizing these four-day orientations. I had a phenomenal DC Orientation when I arrived in August of 2012, so I wanted to do my best and give my all to make sure every student I interacted with was provided the same. I got to meet students from every corner of the world, and learn about their cultures and traditions. On our final night together, the students gave a sample IEW presentation to teach us fun cultural dances and songs. We laughed together, sang together, danced together, and even pet dogs together!
How much more bonding do we have to do before we can call each other family? I added so many new members to my YES family and got attached to each group of students I taught, many of whom I am still in touch with because they made such an impression on me. On the last night, when we had to say goodbye, we wrote each other sweet things about one another and the special friendship we shared during those three days together. (And some of my students would even give me presents from their home countries before they left (so precious!) that I'm going to keep forever.) I was honored to have met, worked with and gotten to truly know each and every student I met on my DCO journey. I am so lucky to have been a part of this year’s DCO with the extraordinary staff, who I am now happy to call family, too.
Now to the terrific 2016-2017 students, please go and do YOUR part and share of yourselves and of your country and culture during IEW. You have the tools, now take action! The only way to continue to grow our YES family is by breaking down walls of misunderstanding and building up bridges that connect us through friendship and mutual understanding.