By Sarah Nur (YES 2022-2023, Bangladesh, placed by ASSE in Huntsville, TX)
When I first arrived in Texas, I had many assumptions about what life would be like. As the months passed, however, I’ve found myself laughing at my own outrageous imaginations. It’s funny how I thought Texas was going to be all about cowboys and great plains, barbecue and horseback riding. Obviously that misconception went away once I started my year here, and I learned how it was more than that. That didn’t mean, though, that cowboys or the barbecue went away, as my family made me experience those things so I could become an honorary Texan.
I vividly remember the day I met my host family at the airport and gave them all a big hug. I remember the way we talked in the car on the way home. I felt a sense of ease and comfort, knowing that this place would soon become my second home. I feel very lucky to be part of the Emmons family and to be an Emmons myself.
As much as I have support from my host parents and older sister, I also have the loving company of my younger siblings. My family has made me a part of their favorite family holidays, including Christmas and Thanksgiving. I recently celebrated Easter as well. My personal favorite was Christmas, as my mom went all out to prepare for it a month in advance. We had matching pajamas and I got gifts that I will cherish forever. I am blessed to say that I have a second family I love just like my very first.
Throughout my exchange year, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about American culture, as well as the cultures of other countries, which helped me gain a broader perspective on the world.
I had the amazing opportunity to volunteer with a church organization in Houston, where we dedicated our time each month to provide food and clothing to homeless people in the area. This experience has been extremely fulfilling, as I have engaged myself in conversations with different people and gained different perspectives. I also had the opportunity to volunteer at a Girl Scouts meeting, where I had the privilege of sharing my culture and heritage with a group of curious children. I realized how happy I was as I was talking about my country, and I discovered a new part of me. My most favorite volunteering experience, however, was when I got to be a part of a parents night out and I babysat children and got to learn about their faiths. As a Muslim, I was grateful to have the opportunity to learn about other faiths.
Overall, volunteering taught me that I as a person have a lot to offer to society. By participating in various events and volunteer activities, I felt like I was truly making a change. Meeting new people through volunteering and connecting with them through meaningful conversations helped me develop my own understanding of the world.
One of the most memorable experiences of my exchange year was my week-long stay in Washington DC for Civic Education Week, which was one of the life changing moments for me in my exchange year. There, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the most talented and passionate individuals, and the mentors we had were truly inspiring. This experience not only gave me a new perspective, but also a deep sense of purpose to make a positive impact in my own community.
During CEW, not only did I meet a lot of passionate individuals, but I also met a lot of inspiring mentors who taught us about our relationship with our community through their experiences. We gained perspective as a world citizen and got to learn about how the government works in the United States. One of the highlights from the week would be Capitol Hill day, when we got to meet our respective senators and representatives of the states we were hosted in. Independently going around the Capitol Hill and participating in the meetings gave me a sense of freedom.
With only a month and twenty days left of my exchange year, my time in Texas is coming to an end. Realizing how close I am to finishing my exchange year, I am filled with a bittersweet feeling. Although I am sad to leave behind the people and places that have become so close to my heart, I am happy at the fact that this experience will stay with me forever. I can return to my country with the comfort that I am carrying the memories with me through my actions in the future and how I have become a better version of myself.
Texas was truly an amazing place to experience. I am grateful for the beautiful and unique experience I have had. This chapter of my life has been truly golden, as it has changed me as a person. Although my exchange year had its ups and downs, I knew I had people by my side who had only known me for a few months, but had started to love me unconditionally for who I was. I am thankful for that.