By Irfan Durmic (YES 2015-16, Bosnia and Herzegovina, hosted by World Link in Caseyville, IL)
What if I told you that you could live a whole life in a year? Would you still be “you” after that year?
I remember hearing at my DC Arrival Orientation that this YES exchange year was “not simply a year in your life, but a life in a year.” At first, I brushed off this idea; that is, until I stepped onto the plane for St. Louis. I felt I wasn’t flying through my own air, but through someone else’s. However, when I was leaving the St. Louis airport ten months later, I felt as if I was leaving my own space, flying through my own air.
I had a similar transition at my host school. For the first few weeks, Collinsville High School was this undecipherable maze, but, after a few weeks, it became my favorite place in this new world I was exploring. The maze was no longer full of dead ends, but corners where I hung out with friends between classes. The cold classrooms on the first floor became the fiery center that ignited my passion for physics. Everything became more and more familiar. The occasional “Hi Irfan,” said with almost perfect pronunciation, made me feel at home. I felt a sense of belonging in every office, room, and hallway, as well as with all the people who were so welcoming.
My year in the U.S. taught me to appreciate every day of my life, because I realized how much I can do, learn, and share with others. My exchange year taught me to always keep my eyes wide open and walk through the world with a huge smile, because you never know when an amazing opportunity will cross your path. Back home, I was used to having to fight for and create opportunities for myself, but it was different in the U.S. In the U.S., I found that people give you and your ideas a chance and opportunities naturally come your way – you just have to be brave enough to take them on.
The power of a single individual is nowhere as strongly demonstrated as it is in the United States, and it is testament to how we, as individuals, can move the world. I actively sought to take this power back with me to Bosnia – I worked to move my own world and get as many balls rolling as possible through my work as a YES alumnus. My biggest goal was to convince others that we can work together to make things better.
Did I make mistakes as an exchange student and later as an alumnus? Probably. I am human. However, I take every missed opportunity as a lesson learned, never as a regret. This is why I am teaching at the DC Arrival Orientations this year. I long to share my experiences with future YES students at the scariest point of their journey – the very beginning.
If any new YES students are reading this, I want you to know that it is okay to be afraid, excited, or even totally chill about the upcoming experience. You are ready for this, and it will be such a transformative experience for you. I am so excited for all of you, and I wish I could be in your shoes again. Have fun, and I can't wait to talk to you about your upcoming adventure and follow your steps (and leaps) along the way.
Finally, I just want to say thanks to everyone who supported me on my own exchange journey and all the people who helped me become a DCO instructor, in particular the wonderful American Councils staff in Sarajevo.