By Aleksis Satka (2018-2019, Albania, placed by PAX in Lehi, UT)
In 2018, I was selected as a YES student and I spent an amazing year with the best host family ever in the nice and most-welcoming community of Lehi, Utah. There I received nothing but love from my classmates, teachers, church ward, and neighborhood. Before I went to my host family, I participated in a three-day orientation (DCO) in the capital of the country, Washington DC, with students from all over the world. There, we were taught valuable strategies to handle difficulties during the year and ways to approach our relationship with our host family. I remember that, during our orientation, we had Alumni Instructors who supported us and gave us advice. I tried to imagine myself in their shoes - older, successful, having it together, seemingly stress-free. It gave me hope that I could be like that one day, too.
With good luck and determination, I grew older, I accomplished some goals and I realized that nobody has it all together at all times, but I also learned to live with that. I remained an active alumna in my home country of Albania and worked on the skills my YES year had taught me.
As luck had it, with great honor and pleasure, I was able to return to DC, four years later, this time as a part of the teaching and facilitating team, to become one of the adults that I admired, helping to prepare this generation of YES students to depart to their host communities, as I had many years ago.
We got straight to work. I worked with the amazing YES staff, my wonderful alumni friends from Saudi Arabia, Cameroon, Tanzania, Pakistan and Jordan and my co teacher, Anna. We prepared lessons, transported materials and got classrooms ready. We taught from morning to evening, escorted students to meals, helped them when they had problems, learned their names and listened to their stories.
I got the chance to talk about culture shock, bonding with host families, interacting with dogs and using social media in a healthy and positive way (which was my favorite session). This experience helped me learn that with great responsibility comes stress and that I am able to handle that stress if I rely on my determination and the people around me.
During the training to be a teacher, I felt very supported by my fellow alumni and I did my best to support them. Every night we went to bed tired, but when the students said thank you and when I saw their smiles during Wednesday airport drop-offs, it was all worth it.
From Suriname to Pakistan, I was blessed to meet and teach exceptional students from all around the world, who have gone through a thorough and competitive selection which proves fruitful, as I feel that I have learned from them just as much as they have learned from me, if not more. They are filled with a kind of love, curiosity, bravery and determination that makes them capable to not only build relationships between families, but bridges between nations.
After this orientation, I feel like I too have re-learned the meaning of relationships and the true purpose of the YES program - to connect people together. This experience helped me bond with the YES staff and other alumni in a way that I never thought it would. It also helped me bond with myself. I am pumped and ready for another year of alumni activities, just as I am excited to see pictures of the wonderful YES students of this year and their accomplishments throughout the U.S.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the DCO staff and alumni, the YES program, the U.S. Department of State, and Congress for this wonderful opportunity to become a better person for the second time. I encourage all American families who are able and willing - open your hearts and homes to one of these students and allow them to touch your lives and those of your children and neighbors in a way that no other experience can.