By Reetika Singh (YES 2019-2020, India, hosted by AYUSA in Clifton, VA)
Dear YES Class of 2019-2020,
I hope everyone reading this is safe and in the best of health.
I know we did not get to say goodbye as we expected we would; I know there was so much we were looking forward to in our exchange year, and it is overwhelming to see that change. But I wanted to take a moment to reflect on how we have grown together as a batch, and the journey we have lying ahead of us.
I would never have thought of leaving everything behind—my family, my home school, my friends, my comfort level—and become a cultural ambassador in the United States. But my exchange year changed me. I remember having so much social anxiety walking into a room full of unknown faces, but now I find myself capable of starting a conversation, approaching people, and confidently speaking in front an audience. Living with people from a completely different side of the world sounded so terrifying, but now when I look back, I can’t recall them as anyone other than like my own family. I always understood the importance of community service, but I could never have discovered the gratitude it leaves you with. I learned how to give back to a community without wanting something in return, and for that I am thankful for this program.
I believe all of us have pushed ourselves and gained skills in ways that we never thought we could or would. We learned and taught so much about our cultures and its significance. After coming to America, now we know that a family can be a group of people who are so different from ourselves but are so welcoming to you and your culture. And I am sure after a few years, we are going to look back at our pictures with them and live the journey all over again. Those who haven’t lived through an exchange will likely not understand this feeling of how someone so different can feel like family, yet it will be something that will hold us all together and will continue to do so the rest of our lives.
We have made friends not just in the teams we represented or clubs we participated in our host schools, but with people from all around the world. The community of exchange students itself is something so huge and powerful that despite where we come from in the world, this journey of our exchange and the experiences it gave us will always be our way to connect, and there is nothing more magical than that.
And I want us to remember that we are living through a time which will be remembered in the future years and can be used as an example of growth. And even though this was a reason for our abrupt goodbyes, I want us to take it as one of our greatest strengths, which will help us guide all the other students yet to join this community.
We are a batch of fighters, and just because our journeys took an unexpected turn, it doesn’t mean it’s the end. This is just the start of our path as leaders; there is so much work for us yet to do, as alumni and as global citizens. Not a goodbye, but a see you soon.