By Fatma Ayad (YES 2021–2022, Libya, placed by Ayusa in Marengo, IN)
A year ago, I took a deep breath and applied to the YES program. I promised myself that I would keep my expectations low because I knew that were other talented Libyan students who also deserved this "golden ticket” of an opportunity. Yet a year later, here I am living the dream that I waited for so long to come true. And guess what? You can be in my shoes next year! All you must do is fill out a simple application. If you are willing to apply, let me tell you about my first month in the United States. Even if you are not planning to apply, GO ahead and read my story.
It has been a month filled with a mix of feelings and happiness has overflowed the entire time. These past days will forever PAINT my future with brighter colors and these memories evoke such joy. What eventful days they were! It started when my beloved host family picked me up from the airport. I'm grateful to have them in this journey as I couldn't have gotten a better placement. They welcomed me with tickets to my first concert, which I really enjoyed.
Then the day that I dreamed about all my life came, my first day at an American high school. Like many others who live outside of the United States, I’ve heard a lot of stereotypes and clichés about American high schools. But my experience at a U.S. high school was nothing like these stereotypes and it was even more fun than I had hoped! Compared to an average American high school, mine is small, but it is certainly not limited when it comes to opportunities.
I was warmly welcomed by the American high school students, who had been eagerly waiting for their cultural exchange peer with treasured SMILES and twinkling eyes. I joined the varsity cheerleading team AND I even got to cheer for the homecoming football game! This was something I wouldn't have previously dared to try, but I asked myself why not? I also started practicing for the softball team, fearlessly waltzing into a sport I had never heard of before. But again, I asked myself why not? Honestly, these were some of the best decisions I've made here.
I also started volunteering for an after-school youth club! It is a wonderful joy to be EMBRACED by little ones and to answer their curious questions about my hijab, which has been like a magnet attracting all kinds of questions. An important part of my exchange year is helping my American acquaintances piece together different facts and ideas about my culture and religion. Since I am the new student — the only Muslim exchange student at my school — I consider it my duty to educate people and combat misinformation.
My month has included a waterfall of EMOTIONS that, despite the fast pace of things, always end up in a peaceful state. On my second day in America, I remember GOing to my first concert. In my first week, I experienced volunteering for a children's club. In my second week, I experienced my first festival. On homecoming day, I experienced cheerleading! That's how eventful my first month was and let me tell you this, you can achieve so much more and help so many people if you APPLY!
Since YES Appreciation Day occurs in October, I want to take this chance to thank every single person who has helped all these young, ambitious teenagers expand their horizons and experience the embrace of a global family. For those of you who are reading this — the American Dream is just an application away and you would really want to experience that because ... WHY NOT?
Now scroll up and read the capitalized words in order! :)