Yazan’s world has gotten smaller as he has connected with people from across the globe.
In the world of U.S. Department of State exchange programs, February’s focus is all about Building Bridges Through Exchanges. This could be the YES alumni motto – they are already masters! Here are a few ways that YES alumni build bridges through their YES exchange experience and beyond.
1. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, 26 alumni organized an event in December to teach underprivileged students about American holidays, including Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The 56 children, ages 10 to 12, visited eight booths run by alumni during the event to learn gratitude and leadership, experience American holiday traditions, and play American games. (Photos top and left)
2. Alumni across Southeast Europe engaged in Thanksgiving celebrations in November. In Permet, Albania, Krista Spahillari organized a Thanksgiving activity for children. Krista and the children baked cookies and desserts and then toured the city, sharing the treats at kindergartens, post offices, banks, and the city hall with more than 60 community members. In Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 16 alumni, YES Abroad students, and local friends of the YES Abroad students, who were curious to learn more about the American holiday, enjoyed a Thanksgiving potluck. (Photo right). In Prishtina, Kosovo ten alumni also gathered to celebrate with a Thanksgiving potluck dinner. Each brought a dish that they enjoyed on Thanksgiving during their exchange year. In Skopje, North Macedonia, YES Abroad students, who brought food that they cooked with the help of their host families, and alumni gathered to share a Thanksgiving meal and grateful thoughts.
3. On December 24, 24 alumni gathered in Manama, Bahrain for a for a Christmas party and reunion, as this was the first in-person activity held since the onset of the pandemic. The group enjoyed a feast of barbecue catering, Christmas cupcakes, and goodie bags of candy. They also took part in a Secret Santa gift exchange and played board games. (Photo left)
4. On December 25, alumni organized a Christmas event for 50 participants in Abbottabad, Pakistan to promote harmony and mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims. For the adults, alumni presented about religious harmony, peacebuilding, and their experiences celebrating Christmas in the U.S. For the children, ages 10 to 14, alumni organized an interfaith harmony activity, played Christmas trivia and musical chairs, and distributed gifts.
5. To celebrate International Education Week (IEW), Shifa Naaz from India, Mamadou Doucoure from Mali, and Nur Ameera Farhana binti Mohamed Sabri from Malaysia organized a virtual cultural exchange event for 17 participants. The alumni organizers promoted the YES program and shared about the food, history, clothing, government, and festivals in their countries. The goal of the event was to educate participants about cultures around the world, promote peace, and foster intercultural learning.
6. Alumni organized an event in November for 250 members of the Afghan community who were recently granted refuge in Shengjin, Albania. The aim of this event was to celebrate Albanian Independence Day and Liberation Day and share Albanian culture with their recently arrived guests. The alumnae gave a brief introduction to the holidays, then the festivities and cultural celebration began, including a display of Afghan clothes, jewelry, embroidery, and crafts as well as dance performances and lessons in both Afghan and Albanian dance. Nabi Roshan, a famous Afghan comedian, told stories that spread laughter and joy.
7. To mark IEW 2021, a team of alumni in the Philippines launched Cruising Through the Oceans of Cultures Around You, a two-day virtual event that brought 80 people together from all over the globe to recognize the importance of international education through the perspective of exchange students. The event featured six speakers, including YES alumni from Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Ghana, and the Philippines.
8. Viona Sianturi conducted two presentations for 105 students at two public middle schools in Sibolga, India in November. She shared her experience as a YES student in the U.S. and presented fun facts about the U.S. Commenting on the students’ reactions, Viona shared, “They were so excited to hear that most American schools that have large gyms and libraries.”
9. Alumni in Tunisia held multiple events in October to promote the YES program. Ahmed Saidi gave an interview on a well-known Facebook page that shares youth success stories, achievements, and opportunities and is followed by over 6,000 people. The video received over 3,000 views. In Tunis, Salaam Halila led an information session for 23 high school students and their parents. And, in Nabeul, Nourjahen Jemaa Gara-Ali gave presentations to a total of 120 students at the school where she teaches. During these events, alumni shared about their YES experiences and the impact the program has had on their lives, showed photos from their exchange year, and explained general eligibility and application requirements.
Krista Spahillari (YES 2019-2020, Albania, placed by CIEE in Kierney, MO)
Shifa Naaz (YES 2018-2019, India, placed by Aspect in Lakebay, WA)
Mamadou Doucoure (YES 2016-2017, Mali, placed by Aspect in Oakford, IL)
Nur Ameera Farhana binti Mohamed Sabri (YES 2017-2018, Malaysia, placed by PAX in Williamsport, IN)
Viona Sianturi (YES 2018-2019, India, placed by ACES in Raleigh, NC)
Ahmed Saidi (YES 2019-2020, Tunisia, placed by ACES in Toledo, OH)
Salaam Halila (YES 2012-2013, Tunisia, placed by Greenheart in Carthage, NY)
Nourjahen Jemaa Gara-Ali (YES 2013-2014, Tunisia, placed by AFS in Millbrae, CA)