YES Programs



Alumni Instructor Series: Dana from Israel-Arab Communities

Photo Soccer

By Dana Awad (YES 2016-17, Israel-Arab Communities, hosted by IRIS in Ames, IA)    

The academic year of 2016-2017 changed my life – it was my exchange year in the United States. I never would have imagined that you could experience, learn, and grow so much in one year.

It all started when my sister, a YES alumna from 2007-2008, told me about the program and the amazing experiences she had during her exchange year. I decided to apply, and words can’t express how happy I was when I found out I was selected.

Dana With Hfam
Dana and host family

A few months later, 15-year-old Dana was welcomed by the sweetest family in Ames, Iowa. In the 10 months that followed, I did things I never imagined myself doing – becoming a cheerleader, playing soccer, joining clubs, volunteering weekly, speaking in front of 700 people, and trying art and speech classes that we don’t have in high schools in Israel. I made amazing American friends, became very close with my host family, and met countless people from all over the world. All the people I got to know opened my eyes to how different and similar we all are at the same time. They taught me about their culture, history, traditions, beliefs, and religions, and, in return, I taught them about mine.

Photo Cheerleading
My host school cheerleading squad

By the end of the year, I was a more mature person, aware of and knowledgeable about the world and the differences between countries and communities of people. Especially surprising, I learned things about myself and my country that I didn’t expect.

After I returned home, a whole new experience awaited me. I discovered the goal of the YES program continues even after one’s exchange year ends. In settling back into my old routine at home, I saw the U.S. in a clearer way, which encouraged me to speak about what I learned and did during my exchange year. 

Yes Alumni Volunteering In Nazareth
An alumni volunteer project in Nazareth

Also, there was an amazing YES alumni family waiting for me, and I quickly became part of their community; joining them in their volunteer activities was another benefit of the program that I didn’t anticipate when I first applied. I immediately became as involved as possible and developed close relationships with my fellow alumni through our similar experiences and goals to help our community.

Today, I am 18 years old – three years older than when I first started my YES journey. Seeing how I have kept learning and growing after my exchange year, I don’t want my YES journey to be over. That’s why I applied to be an Alumni Instructor for the DC Arrival Orientations. I want to give back to the YES program and have a greater part in it. I not only want to stay involved with my small alumni family in Israel, I want to be a part of the huge YES alumni family around the world that keeps growing every year.

I’m very excited to be an Alumni Instructor, because it will help develop my leadership skills, and I will gain many more cherished YES experiences. But I’m most excited to meet the new 2019-20 YES students and inspire them to achieve as much as possible in the ten months they have in the U.S. I will be a good friend to them, because no one understands your challenges and struggles more than someone who already went through them.

Dana With Other Yes
A big YES family!