By: Layal Aljishi (YES 2021-2022, Saudi Arabia, placed by Pan Atlantic in Ramsey, MN)
Threading my way through the airport, I thought to myself, does a 15-year-old really have the strength to travel across the world and live on her own? Are you brave? Can you live independently? Don't you need your parents? Will my host family like me? These were the thoughts going through my head as I boarded the plane to America. Hopping on that plane was one of the most brave and terrifying things I've done in my life. It taught me how to be responsible and self-reliant, and that, in the end, all you have in life is yourself.
Change can mean many different things. Change can be beautiful, brutal, and fun. I experienced the change of weather, seeing snow for the first time, and slipping on ice over and over again. It made me feel like I was living in a movie. I tried so many new foods and experienced so many new places. Sharing these new experiences with my host family connected us on a deeper level.
Change is learning to trust. Change is learning to adapt to an entirely new life. To me, exchange is about people, all these strange people around you who look at you like you are from another planet. Many of those people became my friends and invited me into their lives.
Since I attended an all-girls school in Saudi Arabia, attending an American school was terrifying to me at first. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how different and diverse people were at my school. I loved how curious people were, even when they asked me if I was a princess or if we rode camels instead of using cars at home.
Being an exchange student is undoubtedly a challenge, but I learned that it’s definitely worth it. My experience taught me that I can create my own future, which gave me the motivation to work harder, help others, and find my path in life. It taught me to be grateful for everything I have and to appreciate different cultures and backgrounds. I am so grateful for all my family and friends, both in the U.S. and in Saudi Arabia.