YES Programs



Culture: Little Things That Change Us

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Written by YES participant, Simone Cupido

On August 5th, 2010, I nervously and bravely embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.

I was chosen with 5 other students to be pioneers for South Africa as part of Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program to the United States of America. The program required us to share and represent our culture as well as integrate ourselves with the American culture. This task did not seem monumental until we found ourselves sitting on a 17 hours flight to USA. The week to follow was filled with orientation and learning new things. The months to come were filled with meeting new people on a daily basis as well as making new friends on an hourly basis. The year to come brought withstanding heartache, extreme excitement and tremendous emotional growth.</p>

The American culture was at first at glance very similar to the South African culture, which recently is strongly influenced by westernization, but one slowly realizes subtle differences that largely impact the society we were placed in.

American people are very involved in their own lives as well as, the systems they placed to let their fast nation run on efficiency and equality. This is something South Africa greatly needs. I was in awe as I learned about beneficial systems such as Welfare and the No-Child-Left-Behind policy, or even as I watched Americans involving themselves in things such as recycling. At the same time, I realized that Americans lived in harmony only because of conformity to one society. Freedoms given to Americans are vast yet one cannot help but realize that different cultures are swallowed by the American culture and families from different cultural backgrounds become Americans in the long run. In South Africa, this is not common at all as diversity is vast and culture shapes identity.  This aspect is positive at times, but results in the realization that unfortunately racism and great cultural divides seemingly cannot be abolished by my society and thus exists even today - 17 years after apartheid.

My story goes like this. I went to America on an exchange program a child with a small mindset and minimal tolerance. I came back an adult with deep respect and understanding for other cultures as well as immense pride in my own cultural background. I realize now who I am, yet my exchange program experience sets me apart from others in my society. I now spend large amounts of time contemplating how I will improve my society, and in a larger sense, the world. I appreciate values such as leadership and respect, and I see a bright future for myself changing the world one day at a time.