By Hina Kaleem (YES 2022-2023, Pakistan, placed by Ayusa in Hanover, PA)
I cannot believe that there are four months left of my exchange! I’ve never felt like a period of time in my life has flown by so fast. I am excited to go home and see my friends and family in Karachi again, however I don’t want to leave the family and friends I’ve made over here. I have completed my semester on another continent, in a different country, eating cultural food and that experience has felt like more of a fantastical adventure. I am living my childhood dream of traveling to the U.S. to follow in the footsteps of my father who also went on scholarship to America.
The YES Program pushed me to grow in ways I hadn’t anticipated beforehand. I grew in my confidence and independence, and I learned to rely on myself in a whole new way. It was the longest I have ever been away from my family, meaning that I had to accept the fact that I couldn’t always rely on them to hold my hand. Apart from relying on myself, I also had to lean more heavily on those around me, particularly my host family who treated and guided me like their own children. Since I am good at cooking, I was able to connect with my host family by making traditional and delicious Pakistani cuisine, which they really appreciated.
Being an exchange student, I had to accept the fact that I needed to place my trust in my peers and to accept the idea of vulnerability. Pennsylvania did leave me vulnerable and raw, with my protective walls peeled away. Shedding these skins hurt, but it allowed new ones to replace the old.These new skins have made me stronger and more resilient than ever before, thanks to Ayusa, my sponsoring organization. I owe all of this change to my decision to leave my comfort zone and take on an adventure of a lifetime. By moving to a different country, I had exposed myself to the elements of the world. In America, now I know how to act, where to go, what to say for the most part.
In school, I took active part in volunteering activities and gave presentations to my classmates about the heritage and vibrant culture of Pakistan. I joined the New Oxford High School swim team where I have sharpened my swimming techniques and even won a swimming trophy! With each passing day, I have appreciated the country and culture of America, along with my overall experience, more and more. I have appreciated walking out of my house every morning to see the sun rising over the city of Hanover and the snowy winter wonderland surroundings. I have loved going hiking in Harrisburg, having late night talks with my roommate, and FaceTiming my family in Pakistan at midnight.
My advice for anyone planning an exchange is, as expected, just do it. It may seem a little unfamiliar and perhaps slightly uncomfortable at first, but the experiences had, memories made, and bonds created are things that can never be rivaled.