How many ways can you say "yes"? Most Moroccan youth can say it in at least three local languages, and hundreds have said it to the YES program as well! This week we are celebrating Morocco, a country that has been celebrating the 15th Anniversary of YES since the beginning of the year.
In January 2018, the U.S. Embassy in Rabat and AMIDEAST Morocco convened more than 60 YES alumni representing multiple cohorts for a professional development seminar and reunion. The seminar demonstrated that there are many benefits of the YES program in Morocco, especially English language training, and changing perceptions about the U.S.
Moroccan Youth Learning English
So far, approximately 300 Moroccan youth from a wide range of geographic and socioeconomic groups have represented their country on the YES program. At the 15th Anniversary Seminar, it was apparent that YES continues to grow in popularity in Morocco, particularly because many youth are interested in the English language.
YES students from Morocco often already speak several native languages, including Colloquial Moroccan Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic, French, and various dialects of Tamazight, the indigenous languages of North Africa. In recent years, the number of young English speakers living outside of major cities has increased markedly, which has helped the YES program in Morocco grow more and more diverse. At the 15th Anniversary Seminar, YES alumni told Embassy staff that learning English gave them a new “voice,” a broader space to express their ideas, and opportunities to meet new friends from around the world.
Before coming on the YES program, many young Moroccans gain English proficiency through YouTube videos, satellite movie channels, and American music. A number of YES alumni also had English language exposure through Peace Corps volunteers and through the US State Department’s popular Access to English Micro-scholarship program, which serves approximately 1,500 students annually. While on YES, their language skills improved immensely as they were immersed in English speaking families and schools, and they carry their English competency into their careers.
YES is changing perceptions about the US
One of the driving forces behind the professional development seminar was the opportunity to solicit feedback from alumni through one-on-one interviews, a group reflection session, and an online questionnaire. The alumni were asked to reflect on how the YES experience affected their leadership skills and perceptions of the US and the vast majority affirmed that their time living with American families continues to have a profound impact on the way that they view America, Morocco, and the wider world.
All of the YES alumni that were interviewed by the Embassy at this event said that the exchange exceeded their expectations in terms of their increased understanding of American culture and politics, but noted that it was the kindness of the American people had the largest impact on changing their perceptions. Most were also surprised that the overwhelming majority of the Americans that they met were generous, welcoming, culturally interested and supportive. YES alumni repeatedly mentioned Americans’ commitment to volunteerism and said that they returned to Morocco with a desire to give back.
YES alumni also emphasized how their U.S. experience also helped them to develop a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, their own culture. They said that they gained a greater awareness of the challenges facing Moroccan society and returned with more tools and motivation to address them.
The Exchange Experience Continues!
The 15th Anniversary Seminar attendees agreed that their year in the U.S. continues to have a transformative effect on their lives, opening academic and professional doors and raising expectations for themselves. The vast majority of YES alumni want to serve as mentors, volunteers, alumni ambassadors, or panelists in the selection of future exchange participants. And they’re hoping to participate in more programs focused on leadership, management, soft skills development, and entrepreneurship training. The seminar showed that Moroccan YES alumni are looking forward to more opportunities to serve their communities, deepen their own leadership potential, and stay connected to the U.S.