By Zaid Saleh Salem Goussous (YES 2015-2016, Jordan, hosted by AFS in Kendallville, IN)
It all started with, “Dear Zaid, Congratulations! You have been selected as a finalist for the YES 2015-2016 program year.” It was a vital turning point in my life. After going through the extensive application process and interviews with 700 other applicants, to be among the group of 20 finalists was out of this world. I couldn’t help but wonder about what I would be doing in the U.S. and the things I wanted to accomplish, not to mention the mixed emotions when I thought about leaving my family for a whole year. But the YES pre-departure and DC arrival orientations helped make it all a piece of cake.
Arriving to a warm welcome in Fort Wayne, Indiana is where I started making memories with the Bloom family and many friends. From the day I arrived, my host family made it easy for me to fit in and feel comfortable sharing my thoughts. They always showed up to support me at my tennis matches, whether I got a win or not. I viewed the new rules and chores within my host family as part of the American experience. And I had always seen long road trips in movies, but I never experienced one until the day we set off from Kendallville, Indiana to Saratoga Springs, New York. During this trip, I had the opportunity to visit many other states and get an insider perspective into American culture.
School was my second home within my host community. I tried to keep myself constantly engaged and make the most of it. I was involved in student council, theater, and the JV tennis team, and I also served as a manager for the swim and dive team in the winter and the softball team in the summer, through which I received a letterman jacket. I was always worried about fitting in with American students and getting good grades, but my American teachers were always so accommodating and helpful, delivering information to me in a way that I understood and providing extra resources if needed.
Throughout my exchange year, I invested my time in making memories, giving back to my host community, and getting to know new people by volunteering more than 100 hours at the local animal shelter, ushering at events, and giving presentations about my beloved country, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It was very rewarding to help those in need without expecting anything in return, and these values stick with me to this day. It was also very rewarding to have been a member of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council (MYAC), where we launched the annual International Youth Festival (IYF), an international evening full of food, music, and fun at the public library with delegates of ten countries.
Upon returning home the summer after my exchange year, I took it upon myself to represent the American values and ethics I learned in the States, from breaking stereotypes about Americans among my friends and family to volunteering in projects to benefit the less fortunate under the YES Alumni Jordan banner. I am forever grateful for the opportunities, self-growth, and personal development the YES program provided me with. I am currently pursuing my third year of my undergraduate degree, studying computer engineering in Budapest, Hungary on a full scholarship from the European Union.
As a young ambassador of Jordan and the U.S., I’m thrilled to serve as an Alumni Instructor at the DC Arrival Orientations this August to share my experience and encourage the newest cohort of YES 2019-2020 finalists to make the best out of their year and return home with wonderful memories and great achievements.