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An Unforgettable Year

Rafka And Her Friends In Dc

By Rafka Saad (YES 2019-2020, Lebanon, hosted by IRIS in Davenport, IA)

This year has been interesting to say the least, but it’s been a good year. This year started out a little rocky as I struggled to adapt to a new lifestyle. Born into a family of six people, it took me a while to adjust a family dynamic that only consists of a husband and a wife. Fortunately, with their help and the help of my local coordinator, my fellow exchange students, and my American friends, I became a part of this family. Not only did I feel comfortable and felt like I belonged in the United States, but it taught me how to handle situations better, and to solve problems faster. 

My host family is amazing, they never failed to make my year here in the US memorable. Although we went to a lot of new places, my favorite moments with them are our big talks in the car. My host dad and I usually go driving around the downtown area and we would have a deep talk, sometimes political, other times environmental, and from time to time, I would ask him for advice.

Rafka And Her Host Parents At Dinner

I made a lot of memories here, from trying out new foods and desserts to going on adventures everyday. One of my favorite memories is the Civic Education Workshop (CEW). I would call it the peak of my exchange year because a lot of amazing stuff happened during that time. I met lots and lots of new people from all over the world. I also fulfilled my dream of learning about US history and U.S. government by visiting museums, monuments and government buildings. It’s so cool to learn US history in school but in this case, it felt like I was reliving the history. 

One thing I will also miss when I go back home is my small group that we call ‘24/7 Drama’. This group is made of all the exchange students in the ‘Quad Cities.’ From the moment we met, we became best friends and we did mostly everything together. We would have movie nights, sleepovers, parties and a lot of volunteering together. I would go far enough to say they are like my siblings. 

All these factors shaped my exchange year to be such a unique experience. Although the pandemic ended my exchange year three months early, I’m still grateful for everything I experienced. All I know is that I left the US with no regrets, and am reunited with my family back home who I miss dearly. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be hard to adapt back to the lifestyle back home, but with all the skills I have acquired this year, I’ll be just fine. I know that I’ll be using the skill of managing money that I learned here the hard way, to save up and come back to visit my family here.

In the end, I want to thank the U.S. Department of State and the YES Program for giving me the privilege to come to the United States. I want to thank my family for putting their trust in the YES program and in me.

Read another highlight from Rakfka's YES year here!


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In May, write a thank you letter to your host family, host community, or favorite teacher! 

Check out this month's story prompt at bit.ly/YESstorywriting and submit your story!