By Shahzeb Shaikh (YES 2022-2023, Pakistan, placed by IRIS in Iowa City, IA)
YES students have all heard the phrase, “Say YES to Everything.'' It’s been almost seven months of a voyage in which I’ve learned a lot and become the best version of myself. The best decision I ever made was to say YES to everything.
From my initial day at Regina High School, I have tried my best to inspire others and portray the best possible image of Pakistan. I engage in activities like Math Club and I competed in the state competitions, which was a great experience. I applied for student council and National Honors Society (NHS), and honorably got selected into them. I played basketball for the first time in my life and got chosen for the team, and my friends always get so happy when I score in the game. I enjoyed my first American football game, had fun, and later that day went to my first homecoming dance with my friends, which was really cool.
I’m involved in many activities but still I manage to spend quality time with my host family, who I have a great relationship with. My brother and I have almost the same group of friends, so we spend a lot of time on the weekends together. My host family and I play card games and watch movies together, and they have taught me to be hardworking and that we should help with house chores and support each other in every way possible. I made a Pakistani dinner and Chai (tea) for them, which they really enjoyed, and I also gave a presentation about my home country to them. The most fun part of the year was going on vacations with my family. I got the opportunity to visit Saint Louis and New Orleans, as well as several other states, which was the best experience. My favorite part was a visit to Sun Studio in Memphis, where I touched the microphone through which Elvis Presley sang his songs.
The love I get from my host family, especially my host mom and dad, is really incredible, which has made the exchange year amazing. In such a short period of time, our bond has become so strong that it feels like we have known each other for ages. They are really nice, they help and support me in every way they can, and they want me to experience everything I can do in the USA. I love my host dad and mom and my host siblings, and I am grateful to have them.
Among all the challenges I faced as an exchange student, one of them was making friends, and International Education Week (IEW) helped me with that. Many students were interested in knowing about me and about my country, and I gave more than ten presentations about Pakistan. It was a cool experience for them and their excitement and interest made it awesome for me.
During my presentations, I talked about past misconceptions and misunderstandings, and I shared achievements and some fun facts about Pakistan. The best part was food, as I made dishes for them to try, which they all were thrilled by and absolutely loved. Some of the teachers and a lot of students came to me after the presentation to talk and ask questions, like how big my home city of Karachi is and about cricket, which they never heard of. IEW was one of the best weeks of my exchange year as I got to represent my country and its culture in a place where most people don't know about it or they haven’t met anyone from there. I felt proud to be a cultural ambassador of my country, and now I hangout with my friends almost once a week at their houses or at games, as playing sports is also one of the best ways to make friends.
I also consider Civic Education Week (CEW) one of my best weeks of not just my exchange year, but also my life. I went to the first NBA game of my life, toured memorials, had dinner at a Hard Rock Cafe, and visited the national monuments. The day on Capitol Hill was absolutely amazing as I met with U.S. senators and representatives. We also visited the Supreme Court of the United States, the United States Botanic Garden, and the Library of Congress, which is the largest library in the world. Learning about leadership and grassroot projects inspired me to work on similar projects when I go back home.
It’s also been fun working with my friends to volunteer and to do community service projects. I have volunteered at a theater, a cross country 5k race, a fish fry, the library at school, and I even helped at a haunted house during Halloween. I am glad that I worked hard to achieve my goal of getting 100 hours of community service for the certificate I will get from the U.S. Department of State.
When they face challenges, most people give up, which is their biggest mistake. It’s okay to be scared of something, as it's human nature, but I didn’t let challenges stop me from achieving my dreams. Through the challenges of making friends and applying to attend CEW, the hard work has been worth it.
From the IEW presentations to spring break trips, my exchange year has been exciting and enjoyable. During all of this, I still focused on being a great cultural ambassador of my country and learning about other cultures. I am so glad to have two families in almost two opposite parts of the world and having international friends all over the globe.