By Inusah Akansoke Al-Hassan (YES 2009-2010, Ghana, hosted by PAX in Austin, Minnesota)
Being invited back to Washington, DC for the February 2019 YES Civic Education Workshop was one of greatest opportunities I’ve been given as a YES alumnus. Each year, several outstanding alumni are selected to be mentors for the current YES students attending the workshop. So, it meant a great deal to me that my community service efforts in Ghana were recognized, and I was selected to serve as a mentor.
I was grateful and honored that the 100 YES students I mentored that week were eager to learn about my work in Ghana and considered me a resource for their future endeavors as alumni. The students made my CivEd experience one of few most memorable workshops I have ever attended.
As the aspect of my responsibilities at the Civic Education Workshop, I was privileged to represent the YES program to U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and American Councils’ volunteer evaluators.
It was quite a rigorous week – filled with many meetings and presentations – but the experience was priceless. In Ghana, we don’t have access to the offices of our lawmakers, so it was truly a unique experience of American democracy. I had the pleasure of meeting Congressman Derek Kilmer from Washington State. I felt like a true ambassador and was proud to talk about the life changing experience I had on the YES Program, which has shaped the lives of 11,000+ alumni.
After the workshop, almost nine years after saying goodbye, I had the opportunity to visit my host family, the Bergstroms – the wonderful family who opened their doors and hearts to me in 2009. Going back to Austin, Minnesota, I felt like it was just yesterday rather than nearly a decade ago that I was there. The town looked pretty much the same; it was comforting that not much had changed. I was so happy to reunite with my host family and share old experiences, like going out for supper. My younger host brothers, Michael and Katter have changed so much. They have really grown, as we all have. We had an amazing time catching up after almost nine years.
It’s probably no surprise, but I hadn’t seen snow since returning to Ghana, so it was beautiful to be back in Minnesota in March. But it was sooo cold! (I have missed the snow, but not the cold.) One weekend during my stay, there was a snow storm. It just added to my enthusiasm for being back in Minnesota. I didn’t get to see many of my exchange year friends as most had moved on, working and living in other cities, with new jobs and families. Sadly, I couldn’t go back to visit Austin High School as my visit was during Spring Break. But no worries – that means I have something to else to return to Austin for whenever I am back in the U.S. It was truly wonderful to be back!
I am forever grateful to the many wonderful host families who volunteer to welcome YES students into their homes, U.S. lawmakers for continuously supporting the YES program, and the American people whose taxes sponsor the program. Thank you!