By Maham Yaseen (YES 2018-2019, Pakistan, hosted by AFS in Roseburg, OR)
I have always wanted to travel and see the world. Fueled by my desire to explore new places and experience new things, I decided to go out of my comfort zone and set off into the unknown. Almost a year ago I learned about the YES program from one of my classmates whose sister got this scholarship and was in America. I had convinced myself that I could do it too but deep down I always doubted myself. I didn't know whether I would get selected or if my parents would let me go, and even if I do get selected, am I brave enough to go? My mind was full of doubts but I gathered up my courage and applied for it. After a year of vigorous tests and interviews, I came to know that I am among the 75 lucky ones who got selected for the scholarship, and more than 3,000 people had applied for it. I was beyond words, I couldn't express how blessed I was to have received such an amazing opportunity, but as my departure date approached, I was gripped by thousands of different thoughts; how does it feel like to live there? What kind of host family will I get? I would be lying if I say that I wasn’t afraid, but today when I only have a few more days in the U.S., I am realizing that I had made the best decision of my life.
I know it sounds cliche but like all of the other exchange students, “It has been the best year of my life so far.” And I think part of the decision was based on the idea of exploring, of meeting new people, learning new things and seeing different places and I have achieved all of that.
On August 27, I left my country, and my family with a bunch of assorted feelings, excitement, fear, happiness, and a longing for new experiences. Honestly, at that moment I didn’t wanted to leave but I was also excited to see what this year has to offer. Upon my arrival to Oregon state, my host family was already there to pick me up at the airport. My nervousness just disappeared after seeing those happy faces so anxiously waiting to welcome a stranger in their lives, that day I realized that after traveling 10,554 km I have ended up nowhere, but home and that was the best feeling ever. It took some days to get to know them and adjust with my new lifestyle but it was not that hard as I imagined it would be or maybe it was because I had the best host family, It always felt like home.
Anyway, sometimes being thousands of miles away from home wasn't easy. Like every other experience my experience has its ups and downs but navigating through some of the hard times was the part of this whole amazing process, and has made me more mature and independent as a person.
And then I started school and I loved going to school because that's where I met the most amazing friends and teachers but it was a bit hard at the beginning, but with the help of amazing people around me it wasn’t that hard and I started to fit in as a teenager. I loved going to school because of the amazing teachers that I have and the interesting classes that I am taking. I tried everything I got under my hands. In my first month here, I joined two clubs in my school, The National Honor Society and Astra clubs to serve my community and build friendships, and due to that, I was able to volunteer for 100+ hours. I made honor roll and achieved the academic feather awards for my high GPA. Apart from academics, I was active in sports. I joined my high school's swim team during winter and that was an amazing experience, in a month or so i learned how to swim and enjoyed practices more. I also did track in spring, which was pretty awesome and physically more challenging. But the best part about school was IEW( International Education Week) in November when I gave a bunch of presentations about my country and my Balochi culture. People were intrigued by the culture of my country and the diversity of it.
From ice skating and skiing to a trip to Hawaii and Christmas, I have had the best year of my life, and that's all because of my lovely family. I am forever thankful to them for giving me so many firsts and wonderful experiences, and thanks to YES and AFS too for such amazing experiences.
Know that not everything will always go according to your plans when traveling, so you might as well embrace the art of making spontaneous decisions. Following this way of thinking led me to stumble upon some of the best places I have ever been. I don't regret a second of my exchange year and I would highly recommend it to teenagers, to apply for such programs and step out of their comfort zones because that's where growth lies. Hence, It’s rightly quoted, “It's not a year in life but life in a year.”