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Breaking Stereotypes: Exchange Students Promote Cultural Understanding

YES CEW Students with flag together

By Abdullah Farid YES 2023-2024, Pakistan placed by AFS in Richardson TX

Friday night football, Prom and yellow school buses are some of the aspects often portrayed as the dream American high school life. Every year, the Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program, sponsored by the State Department selects ambitious high school students from Muslim-majority countries to bridge the gaps between cultures and bring new perspectives from across the globe. Placed with a host family, the students attend American high school for an academic year. Every year, hundreds of YES exchange students apply to a week-long workshop, called Civic Education Week (CEW), but only a few get the chance to participate in the program to visit Washington DC. Through workshops and meetings, they get insights into the workings of the American government and foreign policy by meeting with people from the State Department, Senators or Congressional representatives of their host communities.

“The main reason I applied is because I’m interested in politics, foreign policies, and how different countries work,” Bulgarian exchange student Danaya Georgieva said. “I also believe that we, as young people, are responsible for the future and we should always be open to learning and having new experiences. It was inspiring to be surrounded by so many young, ambitious, eager-to-learn leaders, everyone was unique in their own way. ”

YES Students in front of Capitol CEW

The application process includes writing an essay about a cause or social issue the student is passionate about and a recommendation from a schoolteacher. During the program, students meet other exchange students from different countries to share their perspectives and learn about others’ points of view regarding the ongoing issues. The workshops help students design projects based on their community needs. The students get to collaborate with peers from different countries to identify social issues and problems in their communities, share ideas about potential solutions, and work to address issues they are passionate about.

“In my essay, I wrote about the position of women in my country, the inequality they face and the double standard that exists between men and women,” Senegalese exchange student Khadissatou Gueye said. “The thing that helped me the most to achieve my goals during the workshops were the grassroots projects that helped us create something from the ground up and the sessions about women in politics.”

The program has students from over 37 different countries, each one with a unique perspective and background. The workshops include sessions and discussions not only to learn leadership skills but also to develop mutual understanding for collaboration on different issues. Furthermore, the workshops are led by professionals working in fields like foreign affairs and the program alumni providing the students with networking opportunities and mentorship.

“I had discussions and group activities with people whose opinions were different because of the way their culture influenced them but also found myself agreeing with people whose background had nothing to do with mine,” Khadissatou said.

These students get the opportunity to meet with the senators and congressional delegation or their representatives from the states they are currently placed in. The meetings focus on understanding how the different branches of government work together inside the US government. Students not only learn about their roles and responsibilities but also engage in discussions about current events, policy-making, and foreign affairs.

Group CEW Photo at Lincoln Memorial

“We had the chance to hear about the challenges they face while they’re doing jobs that are usually not highlighted much, ” Indonesian exchange student Lintang Aristianto said. “ I learned about different aspects of American society, including its long-standing history and unique culture. I’ve come to recognize the openness and mindful attitude as a part of American values.”

The workshop overall helped exchange students gain an understanding of American culture, society and government. It is an opportunity to learn about other cultures, and perspectives and also share their culture with others. The workshop embodies the goals set by the YES program to be a cultural ambassador and a leader to give back to your community.

“Participating in the workshop and doing the exchange program has been an incredibly enriching experience that made me step out of my comfort zone and dive into a new culture, language, and way of life,” Georgieva said. “It helped me develop a wide range of valuable skills such as independence, adaptability, and problem-solving abilities that will stay with me for my whole life and just made me a better version of myself.”

Reshared from original school article published in Panther Prints with permission by author and editor. Please read original article. Breaking Stereotypes: Exchange Students Promote Cultural Understanding – Panther Prints (peshprints.com)


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