YES Programs



A Texas Host Family Reunion

YES alum, Mohamad, with his host dad and host brother

By Mohamad Issa Jamal (YES 2007-2008, Lebanon, hosted by AYUSA in Bandera, TX)

August 11, 2007 is a date I will never forget. On that day, I arrived to the place I call my second home: Bandera, Texas. I still remember the moment I first met my host family, and here I am, ten years later, with the opportunity to reunite with them.

Mohamad with his two host brothers in a park
Mohamad with two of his host brothers.

Both my host family and I agree on the fact that the past ten years went by remarkably fast; however, a lot has happened in this past decade. My host mother picked me up from the airport, and we went to Chili's for lunch and began catching up on all the different things that transpired since my YES year. The next day, my host mom organized a “Welcome Back” family luncheon, and many of my extended host family attended. I re-introduced them to Arabian sweets like Baklava and Arabian coffee, which they fell in love with all over again. 

Throughout my visit to Texas, I spent a lot of quality time with my host family. My host brothers played a big role in my visit. My youngest host brother, Austen, and I had a great time together. We went to the Wild Hog Explosion in Bandera, which is a true Banderian and Texan experience. My second host brother, Cody, had us over for dinner at his apartment where we played a very competitive game of Scrabble (which I won!). We also took a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana to visit my oldest host brother, Brian, and his wife. This trip was the highlight of my visit – we had an amazing time together. We went sightseeing around beautiful NOLA, including the French quarter, Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, Audubon Park, and the very famous Café du Monde, where I had the best beignets ever, another unique American experience.

Mohamad in the car with his host dad.
Mohamad with his host dad.

My friends from high school also made my time there very special. I got the chance to see a number of my high school friends in Bandera and San Antonio, including two of my best friends, Sam and Aaron, and my other friends, Michael and his soon-to-be wife Morgan. I was able to connect with many other friends over coffee.

I also got the chance to visit my high school and see my teachers again. Three of my teachers met me for a dinner which was full of great food, conversation, and reminiscing. I was also thrilled to be asked to be a speaker at my high school for Career Day. This is a huge honor, and throughout the eight sessions, I spoke about my experience as an exchange student at Bandera High School and how that led me to where I am today: an organic chemist. Moreover, I introduced these American students to the YES Abroad program and kept alive the IEW spirit by teaching them how to write their names and birthdays in Arabic.

Community service was a big part of my exchange experience in the Lone Star State, and that didn’t change when I went back to visit. I volunteered at the Kairos Church to bake 600 cookies for prisoners. I was also asked to sing in Arabic for a group of elderly people at the Brookedale Hollywood Park in San Antonio. They showed me lots of love for entertaining them during my visit.

In a nutshell, my visit to my host family and community after ten years away was packed with new and old memories, activities, and experiences that will remain with me. I am grateful that I had this opportunity to show that cultural exchange is an eternal journey that happens whether you’re in the midst of your exchange year or as an alumnus. Thank you to all my Texans who made my stay as amazing as possible. Until we meet again!