By Manar Sadki (YES 2017–2018, Morocco, placed by AYA in Gig Harbor, WA)
Four years ago, life rewarded me for all the challenges I embraced in search of self-improvement. My spirits rose when I was selected to be a YES student and I realized that I was going to spend a full year in the United States. Before that moment, living on the other side of the Atlantic had always equated — for a young Moroccan woman who had never set foot abroad — to an anxiety-free atmosphere, welcoming neighbors, and countless opportunities. Fortunately, my host community checked all these boxes.
My host mother went above and beyond to take care of my needs, my teachers were very accommodating with regards to my schoolwork, and I could use my status as an exchange student as an excuse when I needed a favor or an exception. As a YES student, peers from so many diverse backgrounds at school were interested in getting to know me better. With all this unique treatment, I thought to myself, “Hold on a second! Is this what you came for?” Even though my host community was so helpful and welcoming, I realized that I was growing complacent. I remembered that I came to the United States for a challenge and that I was determined to strengthen my capacities.
To develop greater perseverance, I joined my host school’s swim team, even though I had no prior experience in this sport. For over five months, I walked myself — sometimes reluctantly — to swim practices. During those practices, I did the best I could for three hours each day.
One of my best achievements that year was competing in one of the biggest swim meets of the year. From an outsider’s perspective, it might not seem like much, especially since I didn't even win. However, I was never the athletic type, nor have I ever been particularly outstanding in terms of discipline and commitment. Yet that was exactly what I achieved. I gained discipline and I came to the realization that I do not need to be perfect at everything that I try for the first time.
Growth can take many forms. In my case, it took the form of a humid ceiling and an overly tight polyester cap. Growth can only be achieved by defying personal limits and breaking free from comfort zones. This is not always a glamorous process, but it always brings you closer to a new and improved version of yourself!