By Mahnaz Siraj (YES 2021-2022, Pakistan, placed by AFS in Tillamook, OR)
If someone had ever told me before starting my exchange year that I would be good at sports, I would have laughed at the idea since I had never been one of those students who did sports. I never thought about sports, especially not cheerleading. Cheerleading was way out of my league. The only sport I would say I had few ideas about was soccer, which I had officially denied to be a part of during my first trimester since I was way too scared to miss all the after school fun with my friends.
The first trimester was almost ending when one day, while going on a walk near my host school, I came across to one of my friend's parent who asked me if I was doing any sports. I told her exactly what I had thought about myself for years, that sports have never been my center of attention and that I am not good at sports. She encouraged me to join a sport this season because after all, an exchange year is all about trying new things. I finally felt motivated and decided to join the cheerleading team.
The next day I was on my way to high school for cheerleading tryouts. The coaches were super excited for me to be on the team. Before joining, I had mentioned that I wear a Hijab and leggings since I am Muslim. I was a bit scared to even talk about this because I had seen how cheerleaders are very strict about their uniforms but I wasn't surprised when they told me they were cool with me wearing a Hijab and leggings. Americans have always been very understanding people.
Learning the cheer steps was definitely the most difficult part for me and I decided to do it no matter how many tries it took. I asked for videos of the cheer steps and practiced them at home. I was all excited to be on the cheer team and I certainly adored my cheer uniform. Haley, my coach, had always been a great support to me, I loved how she kept motivating me during the games and helped me get better. Even today when I think about myself doing sports, I can't believe I was brave enough to say yes to the opportunity of joining the cheerleading team. This will always be the biggest achievement for me. Without joining the cheer team, I don't think I would have had such an amazing experience during my exchange year.
To all the current exchange students, I have realized how important it is to get out of your shell and say YES to every opportunity. Your exchange year is all about trying new things and new ways of getting better in life. The high school experience would surely be incomplete without joining any sports. You will be cherishing all the bonds you make with your sports team forever - don't hesitate to try at least one American sport before returning back to your home country.