YES Programs



A Memorable Virtual Exchange

Collage of photos depicting different holidays in the United States to include Christmas trees, pumpkins, and a Thanksgiving turkey

By Bennedicta Tandiono (YES 2020-2021, Indonesia, virtually placed with AFS-USA in Baltimore, MD)

Hello everyone! I'm Bennedicta Vania Tandiono from Bengkulu, Indonesia. Just call me Vania! I want to share how lucky and grateful I am to be part of the YES virtual program that started last fall. I remember when I decided to challenge myself by registering for the YES program. I didn’t know what it might be like and it felt unimaginable to connect with people around the world. But now, here I am to tell you about it.

During this program, I learned and experienced so many new things about life. I also met so many kind and amazing people. I enjoyed joining all the enhancement activities put on by my placement organization! I loved all of it—the virtual tours, the election, learning about Native American culture, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and volunteering. Talking with people from different backgrounds is so great. I also have the chance to connect with American peers.

When you decide to join the YES program, it also means you're ready to have a new family—an American family. How thankful I am to be part of my lovely family, the McGarvey Family! I was so happy when I got the first email from my host family, and ever since then, we’ve been getting to know each other. My favorite experience was our first meeting. Everything for the first time is always memorable, right?

Together with my host brother, Ardash from India, we are sharing about our cultures and just having fun together through our meetings and chats. My host Mom always shares some moments of their daily activities, including my Dad's video playing piano, and how they celebrate American events like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas! By the way, my host Mom is really good at cooking and baking. I hope we can cook together and eat all the foods that my Mom makes someday. She shares some of her recipes; probably I'll try to make some. I also had a chance to play the game of dreidel virtually with my host Mom when we learned about Chanukah. Unfortunately, I lost the game. But, that's okay because now I know how to play it. 

Vania celebrating her host mom's birthday through a Zoom call.
Bennedicta celebrating her host mother's birthday

My host mom is really taking care of me, and she noticed my interest in public health. On the last day of October, she set up a meeting between me and Mr. Ryan from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. He teaches and does international public health projects. I was really excited and so happy to be talking with him. My mom also took me and Pratik virtually to Ellicott City, an old city in Maryland. I found out about the little free library project there and I think it is a great way to increase reading. In late December, we also celebrated our Mom's birthday! My host brother and I prepared a birthday wish video for our Mom. I'm also happy to get involved with the Baltimore and DC chapters of AFS, my placement organization. Each month, we have our team hangout and get to know each other.

One of the big reasons I joined the YES program was to share my culture, as well as to have global friends because I love making friends. But, during this program, I’ve also had an opportunity to explore more about other cultures. During International Education Week, I did a presentation about my beloved country, Indonesia, from home! I remember someone had once said to me, "you won't only be a representative of Bengkulu city, but you will be a representative for our country, Indonesia.” It seemed unimaginable back then, but I did it.

When we first realized COVID was going to disrupt our program, I felt disappointed. But the virtual program has been great, and joining the virtual program is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Although a virtual experience isn't the same as an in-person experience, I still learned so many things.

At the end of the day, I realize that being an exchange student isn't only about traveling abroad; it's more than that. It's about building connections, meeting new peoples, families, friends from around the world, and now I know that I have my second home in the U.S. Thank you to everyone involved for helping to make this come true. I hope I can go to the United States and meet all the people from my virtual exchange year! I have so many more stories, but that’s all for now. How about your stories?