By Yosimbom Sakinatu (YES 2018-2019, Cameroon, hosted by PAX in Ogden, UT)
While I was on the YES program last year, I learned to accept that the reality of living in the U.S. was not entirely as I expected. My expectations were different but because I had set certain goals for myself, I was able to have a wonderful exchange year. I had set some personal goals; for example I wanted to: make a close bond with my host family, learn and try new things, make new friends, complete more than 100 hours of volunteering, and receive a service certificate. The same way I had so many expectations, I also had goals. But I discovered that having a successful exchange year is not only about setting goals but also finding a way to achieve them, which for me, was the most difficult part.
I had the goal of making a close bond with my host family, but I realized that I had to change my behavior and start talking more, ask more questions, and share about my home and culture instead of being quiet most of the time. The more I interacted with my host family, the closer I became to them.
Another goal I had for myself was to become involved in volunteering. I realized that volunteering opportunities will not come to me, I had to search for them! I asked my local coordinator and she sent a link for service opportunities but most of them were for 18+ years old. So I asked a teacher at my school and surprisingly, we had a volunteering club that I didn’t know about. I went to the school that my host mum taught in and became her teaching assistant. I helped at the church nursery, joined the debate club, and did tech/stage crew for the drama club. In each and everything I did, I got to interact with people and I opened up more and more. It’s difficult for me to explain the feeling you get from helping others through service; you feel fulfilled and joyous. Service and volunteering has become the core of my life now. So for future YES students, I will say that you should have goals you wish to fulfill during your exchange and work hard to fulfill them. Your host family, teachers, local coordinator are there and happy to help you out. Just put yourself out there and have fun.
One of the bigger issues I experienced during my YES year was making people understand my accent. Because I had grown up speaking English in Cameroon, I thought that I would not have any problems but the people I talked to still found issues understanding my accent and my way of pronouncing words. This was stressful at first but I learned to make it fun by making it a learning opportunity and noticing the differences in our pronunciation and way of calling different things. I also decided to search for books and videos online to help me improve. I gave myself time, started speaking more in the classes that I loved and with my teachers (who were my first friends at school) and host family because I felt comfortable making mistakes with them and learning from them.
Some students also have certain expectations from their host families and sometimes, students compare their experiences with other students. I want you to know that your host parents are so excited to have you and they are trying to make your experience an unforgettable one. So be thankful and appreciative and don’t compare what you have with what your other exchange friends are having because it will stop you from experiencing the best year of your life. I wanted to be very busy and active but I learned how to appreciate just spending time with my host family at home and having interesting conversations with them.
Through my exchange year, I became more open minded and my love for my diverse cultures has increased. I have added important people into my life that I will always remember. I have made bonds that can never be broken. I have become a vessel of promoting diversity and acceptance. I have become someone who will accept everyone regardless of their background. I found a purpose during my YES year and discovered capabilities I did not know I possess. I discovered myself and the things I had no idea I loved. This year was a year of discovery for me. From this year onward, I believe that I can achieve anything. This year is an opportunity that comes just once, so live it, and give it all you got. Leave a mark behind and try new things before you judge them. You know you will go back home so make the journey memorable. Like someone once said, “What matters is not the destination but the journey itself.” Good luck and I hope you have a memorable year!