By Hiba Ouzaouit (YES 2017–2018, Morocco, placed with World Link in Grimes, IA)
Back in 2017, before leaving my home country Morocco for the United States, I remember that the YES alumni helped my cohort a lot. By giving us valuable advice and sharing their experiences with us, the YES alumni in Morocco gave us a concrete idea of what the life of an exchange student looks like. Thanks to that help, I promised myself to be as dedicated as those alumni and help future exchange students, too.
The COVID-19 pandemic prevented travel this year, but exchange is not just about physically leaving your country to travel another one — exchange is way more than that. This year, the YES program is offering a virtual program for current students, and my former placement organization, World Link, gave me the amazing opportunity to be a YES alumni guide to three wonderful YES students: Shahed from Jordan, Abdullah from Lebanon, and Meryam from Bahrain.
Alongside Jessica, an old friend from my American high school, we have been organizing monthly meetings where we exchange culture and experiences with the YES students. Since October, we have been able to cover many topics. We talked about diversity in the U.S. and the importance of volunteering. We also showed the YES students a video of what an American high school looks like. The YES students were curious to learn more about typical American lockers, teachers, clubs, the first day of school, and much more! We also talked about the differences between the educational systems in the United States and other countries.
Jessica shared with us how Christmas is celebrated in the United States and how Halloween can be a crazy experience in Iowa. Since cheerleading was the activity where Jessica and I met, we taught the students some cheer songs. It is incredibly amazing to see how motivated and excited these young people are to share their culture and background with the world, and how they didn’t give up despite the circumstances. I remember during International Education Week how all three of my YES students gave numerous virtual cultural presentations to American high schools. One activity the YES students particularly enjoyed was “Kindness Cookies.” World Link organized this activity and we all baked cookies at our homes and then shared them with neighbors to spread kindness.
The virtual program is currently ongoing, and it is a great opportunity to remind myself of the importance of exchange and share my knowledge with current students who share the same vision and ambition. I can never thank the YES program and World Link enough for giving me this life changing opportunity.
Read about Hiba's other alumni volunteering experiences here!