By Lucia Abou Tayeh (YES 2019–2020, Lebanon, hosted by AFS in Charlotte, NC)
My exchange experience started before I even left Lebanon. Our mentors and YES specialist spent hours with us, giving us life-changing advice about their own exchange experiences. When I left for the United States, I had hopes and goals for myself before I even set foot on the plane.
My first goal was to get to know my host family and community and establish a good relationship with them—which I happily achieved! I got to know my surroundings just as everyone around me got to know my country through me. Additionally, one of my biggest goals was getting to know the United States and its history and culture. Thanks to my amazing host family, I got to fulfill my goal in ways that exceeded my expectations. My host family and I went on a two-week road trip across the country. During the road trip, my host siblings and I did the Junior Ranger program in all 24 national parks that we visited. My host school also organized a trip to Plains, Georgia, where my friends and I had the chance to meet former US president Jimmy Carter!
Although my exchange year was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am very fortunate to have received the opportunity to experience a new culture, while being an ambassador for my own culture. I made friends from all over the globe; I have a family on the other side of the world, and I am grateful for every single person I crossed paths with during my journey. This experience made me stronger, more independent, and more cultured. Now that I am back in Lebanon, I can see how building bridges between countries can be done with simple actions.