By Bilong Cerena (YES 2019-2020, Cameroon, hosted by Ayusa in Glendale, AZ)
I came to the USA as an adventurer. I had some stereotypes about the country, but I promised myself not to get too attached to anyone in the U.S. After ten months, I could never have imagined myself considering my host family as a real second family, but here I am. I could never have imagined considering my host mom as my second mother, or even my host state as a second home, but here I am. For me, this experience represents relationships, differences, bonding, discovery, change, maturity, crazy laughter, stupid smiles, and love.
This experience made me become a better version of myself, not only due to the program itself but also because of the people I met: my American friends, my amazing exchange student friends, my teachers, my host family, and my beautiful host mom. She is my favorite person! With her patience and her beautiful soul, she taught me how to be creative, patient, and positive. She taught me to always see the good side of things, how to see the world in a different way, and how to be tender by talking gently to the kittens. Most importantly, she loved me. She gave me this pure and sincere love that I have never really felt before. I am so happy to call her my mom.
This experience gave me friends from all over the world. This experience made me develop a natural love for the world; I accept differences, I respect differences, and I love differences. I think everyone should have this kind of experience at least once in their life to realize how the world can be so beautiful because of all these different peoples, ideas, cultures, traditions, and lifestyles. I can feel this sensation of freedom both in my mind and heart because I just love people naturally, especially when they look different from me, speak differently than me, and think differently than I do.
I don’t have any regrets. I am pretty proud of my experience and accomplishments in the U.S. The only thing that makes me sad and that will make me cry in the future is not being able to have those long conversations with my host mom while she is taking five hours to cook chili; she makes the most delicious chili ever! I will miss her beautiful smile, I will miss her asking me “have you ever watched this movie?” one millions times, I will miss watching black and white movies (that I hated by the way), I will miss her beautiful smile, and I will miss feeling her delicate love.
To all future exchange students: I really want you to open your mind and heart. Be very open and take every minute of your time in the U.S. as an opportunity to learn, to teach, and to form relationships. Also, do not forget to open your mouth—be very talkative. It's going to help you, I promise. Step out of your comfort zone, explore other things and other ideas, and do not have any expectations. Do not compare your experience with others and do not compare your lifestyle in the U.S. with your lifestyle back home. Just have your own experience—have your own unique experience, and you will do great. Good luck!
Thank you so much to all the YES program staff for their support and guidance. Thanks to all the amazing host families for opening their homes to exchange students and giving them the opportunity to realize their dream. You are one of the reasons we should still believe in humanity. I love you all!