By Parita Patel (YES 2015-2016, India, hosted by FLAG in Michigan)
My time at the recent YES End of Stay orientation and YES alumni Changemakers workshop in Washington DC has been a roller coaster of emotions ranging from joy, learning, happiness, satisfaction to sadness. I was one of several alumni volunteers helping with the 2019 YES End of Stay orientation. It is funny how even a day volunteering at the orientation can teach you so much! It was very heartwarming to see students of different cultures and countries, having spent a year in the US with their host families, greeting each other like they’re a part of one big family. It reminded me of my own End of Stay orientation three years ago. I was especially glad to accompany the students to Capitol Hill and, 3 years later, pass along my thank you to the office of the Representative of my host state – Michigan! I met so many different students, YES alumni and American volunteers. I have come to realize that once an exchange student, you connect with other exchange students (present or past) irrespective of their host country and native country.
At the End of Stay orientation, I was responsible for tasks such as helping with student registration, making nametags, meeting students at the airport, helping students on their visit to Capitol Hill and the U.S. Department of State and patrolling the hallways with fellow alumni at night to enforce the curfew (I am sorry, but it had to be done). I also co-facilitated a session on readjusting and reverse culture shock for the students from India, Ghana and Thailand. It felt gratifying to have been on an exchange, experienced the process of readjusting back into my home culture and then being able to help current exchange students on their own journey. On the final day, I spent most of my time with the new alumni from India since they were the last ones to leave for the airport. I felt beyond blessed to be able to interact with them and all the other amazing people I met at the orientation. Those days were hectic and full of work but I am lucky to have experienced them.
After the orientation, I attended the Training of Trainers for YES Changemakers workshop, along with ten other YES alumni, one each from eleven different countries. I felt blessed to represent India! Our trainers Bob, Carolyn and Nancy were wonderful. We reviewed modules and lesson plans from the YES alumni Changemakers curriculum, gained training skills and best practices, and then delivered assigned session modules as a trainer and got feedback from the group. All the trainers and alumni were very encouraging, patient and supportive. I learnt a lot about good training and being a good trainer. I learnt the different learning styles of the participants and how to develop and deliver sessions to engage people with different learning styles. We’ll be delivering our own changemaker workshops to fellow alumni and/or community members.
The days were full of trainings, developing my session plan with my partner and brainstorming on how to make the curriculum more creative and taking risks with it. In the evenings, we walked around the beautiful city of Alexandria. We talked about different cultures, our hobbies (I and my roommate from Egypt even choreographed and filmed a Bollywood/belly dance routine!), politics, community and life in our countries. One alumna from Thailand took us to an authentic Thai restaurant where we all got to taste Thai food. Because of those walks, long discussions outside of sessions, the cultural acceptance and sensitivity, we all became very close as a group. That means not only do I have a friend in those ten countries, I also have a fellow trainer that I can ask for help! All in all, it was an enriching experience and I am very grateful to the YES program and the U.S. State Department for giving me this opportunity.