By Mjellma Vula (YES 2012-2013, Kosovo, hosted by PAX in Valley Center, KS)
A week ago, as I was sitting in a room preparing for the upcoming YES recruitment season as a newly hired recruiting assistant, I couldn’t help but think back on my YES experience.
Seven years ago, I was standing at the Prishtina airport pretending to be brave as I embarked on a journey that would change my life forever. I remember everything about that August 7: what I was wearing, what my parents said to me before I left, and how our taxi driver to the airport tried to cheer us up. I remember both the excitement and the fear that weighed far more than my suitcase. What I didn’t realize at the time was the impact YES was about to have on my life.
Before I embarked on the program, I thought that organization-freak, know-it-all, 16-year-old Mjellma had it all under control and had already foreseen every possible situation. Of course I was wrong. My exchange year not only changed the way I perceive the world, but it forever altered the way I see myself. My notions of community, family, and human relations, just to name a few, were completely challenged. I came to realize that strong buildings need strong foundations and that strong foundations are not built alone. YES made me see the world as a playground of endless possibilities and opened the door to every opportunity I have experienced since. The lessons I learned while on the program still play a vital role in everything I do, both personally and professionally.
Fast forward seven years later… Having graduated with a bachelor’s degree in International Relations, I have started working as a recruitment assistant for the YES program in Kosovo. I have now completed a full circle in my life. This full circle has offered me a backstage pass and the possibility to help others have an impactful exchange experience. This full circle represents a feeling of wholeness and fulfillment.
Working on the YES program has made me gain a deeper appreciation for all the people that made my experience possible and all the people that work tirelessly to do the same for current and future YES participants. These hardworking people go through the exchange year with participants, sometimes unaware of the enormity of the impact they have on our lives. I want everyone who works on this program to know that their unmatched belief in the power of cross-cultural dialogue and bridge-building as a way of achieving our common goals has made a difference, and continues to make a difference. For me, YES changed my life.