When YES students come from multi-cultural backgrounds, they bring a variety of perspectives to their host communities. For Mohammed "Mudda" Muddassir (YES 2015-2016, Qatar, hosted by AFS in Watertown, WI), this meant sharing Indian and Qatari culture with a very small community.
Mohammed explains, “Prior to living in Qatar, I lived in India, my home country for seven years. I lived in the city of Hyderabad, which was quite a large and populated city, with lots of beautiful, historic and natural sites to see. Doha in comparison is quite small, but still has a lot to offer. It is a growing city in an ever growing country, but looking at the skyline, you wouldn’t think the city sleeps.”
When he moved to Watertown, Wisconsin on the YES program in 2015, Mohammed discovered a much slower pace of life, and a host family that didn’t know much about their new exchange student's home country.
Joseph and Nancy Wagner have been hosting exchange students for years, and they like how hosting helps their four kids “become part of a large extended family.” Before Mohammed joined them, the Wagners admit they didn’t have much experience with Muslim culture. Now, the Wagners reflect, “Mudda was an amazing kid. He was smart, kind, helpful, respectful, open to sharing himself with us and learning about our culture too. I mostly loved his mannerisms, I loved how he would nervously wring his hands and ask me simple questions…I can’t describe it, he just had a way about him…we loved him and think of him often.”
Photo: Mohammad spent Christmas morning in 2015 with his host siblings and family friends.
A lot of credit for Mohammad’s easy adjustment to Watertown goes to his host parents. Asked what he liked best about his host family, Mohammed replied, “Does everything count? I absolutely loved how they made me feel right at home since day one. They had never had a Muslim exchange student but they made sure to respect my views on certain things and took care of my dietary restrictions as well.”
Mohammed didn’t just impact the Wagners, he left his mark on Watertown through extracurricular activities as well. His hosts recall, “Mudda was very involved in school activities. He made friends easily and was well liked. He gave his all in everything that he set out to do. He willingly sought out his community service hours. He was an amazing host sibling to my daughter with special needs.”
Mohammed wasn't always so sure it would be that easy. “I didn't think I would really make many friends when I started school. But literally every student I met was absolutely wonderful to me and the other exchange students.” He continues, “I had never actually been on sports teams or in show choir or stage crew before. But in WHS (Mohammed’s host school) everyone was welcome in all those things and more! I was delighted to work amongst some of the best people in the stage plays all year round. I’d only watched tennis before, it was really adventurous learning a new sport. Even the teachers were helpful in every way possible.”
His favorite experience? “Definitely working with people in the musical, sharing knowledge about my home countries to people who were doubtful or even completely unaware of places like Qatar. It felt really good knowing that I got to tell someone new about where I come from.”
Photos, clockwise from top left: Mudda poses with exchange students volunteering for Special Olympics; Mudda attends his host school's "Big Tent" Trivia Night; After working on the school play's tech team, Mudda enjoys dinner with the other members from the show; Pre-prom photo with friends.
Outside of school, “Mudda left his mark on our hearts,” says the Wagner family. “He brought a positive vibe to our home, he served to educate us on his culture. We have always been open to other ways, but the Muslim background was very new for us. I am happy to have a better understanding of the Muslim culture.” They continue, “Mudda is just a normal kid who happens to be Muslim. He and his family are good people, they are now family to us. I hope that by hosting him we opened the minds of Watertown and those who he touched during his time here with us.”
Mohammed credits his time on the YES program with making him more independent and outgoing. He is now exploring another new culture, Northern Ireland. Mohammed attends Queen’s University in Belfast, where he studies Software and Electronic Engineering. He says, “I don't think I’d be able to live here on my own if I hadn't had experiences living and being out of comfort zone.” And it turns out, Belfast isn’t too different for Mohammed! ”It is quite similar to life in Watertown. Although not too large, the city is still big compared to Watertown and has a lot more places to visit. It doesn’t snow as much, so I do miss that; I wish it snowed more!”