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A Coming of Age Story

Wonderland Photo

By Balkiss Hedhli (YES 2018–2019, Tunisia, placed with CIEE in Saint Joseph, MO) 

I sometimes read a book written by a great writer who seems larger than life and then wonder, "Should I even be here?" My name is Balkiss Hedhli, and I am an 18-year-old Tunisian dreamer. Today, I can proudly answer that question after a lot of reflection and declare: I exist to add variety to my surroundings; I am fighting to make the slightest change possible using my words and make it magical.         

I was only nine when I started learning English, and for some odd reason, the language was full of “sparkles” for me. There was something attractive about English, something very soft and unexplainable. Therefore, I made sure to learn the language by heart. I read as many stories and books as I could, I listened to different music, I watched marvelous movies, but most importantly, I kept writing. Every new word I learned, I had to create an exciting adventure out of it and turn it into a story. Whenever I felt inspired, English words flying from my head to the blank piece of paper became the perfect shelter for me. 

The idea of sharing art with others has always been an intimidating challenge. I always fantasized about publishing my own book so people could dive into the imaginary worlds I built in my stories, but I never thought it could happen anytime soon. I consider myself the luckiest girl to have a beautiful family with endless love and support. My family pushed me to work hard on achieving this dream, and within a year my book "Wonderland" was ready to be published. Fortune seemed to be so kind to me as I was also blessed to be accepted in the YES program. 

It was something unbelievable; it felt like a dream. I knew that many adventures were waiting for me. And indeed, I was surrounded by many lovely people even before our departure to the United States. My YES family was my second family—they filled me with love, warmth, and extreme joy. And then when I left for the United States, the roller coaster of my life kept on going up as I was hosted by a gentle, kind, and caring host family. 

It was a strange and satisfying dream for me, Though I didn’t touch a pencil or write a single word on my entire exchange year. Till now, I’ve kept these thoughts only in my mind. I kept on writing but only in my mind. Like I mentioned, I expected all kinds of adventures that year. I played soccer with real cleats for the first time at my American host high school; I enjoyed every class I was taking and going out with my new friends. Little did I know that all of the adventures would vanish one morning because of a global pandemic...yes, it is true!

I was afraid at first that something awful might happen to my family, but thanks to social media I was kept updated every day and I did the same. Whenever we had to stay at home because of the lockdown, I had plenty of time to think. Being a teenager has been the strangest time of my life so far. I faced many things from Tunisia to the United States, while volunteering at the hospital or at the apple orchard, at school, with my host family and the people I have been around in general. 

All these memories felt like a waterfall of inspiration streaming onto paper. Just like that, I was back to writing non-stop from sunrise till sunset, and I enjoyed this process. When I finished, I knew that I would like others to feel what I've experienced at the age of seventeen. My coming of age book, "Seventeen," is now being reviewed for publication! This new book is a tribute to what I experienced as an exchange student, a mixture of many ups and downs, joy and melancholy, and romance. I am not intending to change the entire world; I’m only aiming to fill what’s around me with peace and love.  

Balkiss Signing Book

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