By Marie Josephine (YES 2016-2017, Senegal, hosted by ASSE in Eugene, OR)
My time in Oregon during my YES year reminds me of Nelson Mandela’s words: “It always seems impossible until it is done.” During that year, I did so many things that seemed impossible to me. At my American high school, I was the first Senegalese student ever. As a consequence, I not only received lots of questions but also created strong bonds with people from various backgrounds. I found myself loving improvised presentations about Senegalese culture and having engaging conversations about how diverse, yet similar, people are.
Since my exchange experience, I have become very optimistic and have dedicated myself to be goal-oriented. As a YES alumna, I am always eager to participate in all kinds of activities. It is my way of giving back to my community and to pass forward my learning from the YES program.
The first YES alumni project that I participated in was a blood drive organized in my hometown two years ago. I also helped out during the YES recruitment process that year and the click happened at that moment. I was the only alumna present, therefore, all the students came to me during breaks to ask questions related to the program. I also talked to the parents of the students selected in case they had any questions or concerns. It was through these experiences that I figured out I wanted to impact my community through its people. For me, connecting with individuals through various projects meant a lot. My goal was to let them know that it is fine to ask a lot of questions and that there is always a way to accomplish good things.
As part of my goal to be more actively involved in my community, I decided to run for president of my school’s English club. Considering the fact that Senegal is a French-speaking country, I wanted to spread my love for the English language and motivate younger students to improve themselves in order to have more opportunities. Deep down, I am striving to be a good role model for them whether it is for academics or for taking initiatives. Many people, including myself, have been told that some goals are out of our reach. However, my exchange year taught me to take risks and I encourage younger people to take risks as well.
While giving advice to younger people interested in becoming changemakers, I often encounter difficulties answering their questions. Nevertheless, I am always willing to investigate and find new perspectives in order to help myself and others grow in all aspects. As a result, I see many students that I interact with, becoming great YES ambassadors who, in return, will give back to their community. To my greatest pleasure, some younger people also look up to me because of my accomplishments and the projects I have done.
As a whole, I strongly believe that my exchange year shaped me to be the person I am today and helped me make an impact in my community. From being shy and reserved, I worked my way up to being a leader. Determination is not always easy, especially when falling hard from our high expectations. If things do not go according to plan, I do not see it as a failure but rather as an opportunity to learn about what went wrong in the first place. What matters is that we keep on standing for our beliefs and goals. After all, great achievement comes with great effort and consistency.