By Alaa Albahrani (YES 2019–2020, Saudi Arabia, placed by ACES in Gresham, OR)
My biggest fear in life is to have no purpose. Whenever I see elderly people, it is as if I fast forward my life into the future. I still remember how weak my great grandfather's hands felt when I held them. I also recall how his experienced eyes stared into mine and I would wonder if he was looking back into his youth. I constantly kept thinking about the purpose of life and was desperate to make meaning in my own.
I have always been an optimistic person and I do my best to help others through tough times. I remember one time when a friend asked for my advice about a conflict she was having with her parents, and I told her to consider the issue from her parents’ perspective. That’s when it clicked for me. To find a purpose, I needed to see the world from a different angle. When I first heard about the YES program, I had lots of questions, but deep down I knew that this opportunity was what I needed to discover my path. I lived my entire life in Saudi Arabia, but I have never had the opportunity to see how other people live their lives. What beliefs do they hold? What gives them joy and meaning? More importantly, what is their purpose in life? I knew that the YES program could be the chance to find answers to these questions.
Becoming a YES student gave me the opportunity to not only see life from different angles, but also to experience life in a new way. I stepped out of my comfort zone and found meaning in new avenues like sports. I never understood people who would spend enormous amounts of time and effort in sports, but then I learned from my host family that sports are more than just games. Sports can teach athletes valuable life principles such as discipline, resilience, and leadership. While a student at my host school, I joined the hiking club and went on spectacular hikes in Oregon. During these hikes, I had conversations with the other participants who find peace and tranquility in hiking. Now, I am an athlete and I compete with the first female karate team in Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia.
Through new experiences and hobbies that I would have never tried on my own, I learned how others find happiness. I went crab fishing with my host father and his friend who find immense joy whenever they catch a crab. I went on a nighttime shopping spree on Black Friday with my host mother and my host grandmother, and although it was tiring, I got to participate in a special tradition between my host mother and her mother. Before arriving in the United States, I disliked pets and never understood why people go through the trouble of keeping them at home. Then, I realized that sometimes bonding with pets is even easier than connecting with humans! I learned that pets are great companions, and they will touch your heart if you let them. I also grew to appreciate music because of my local representative and her family of musicians.
Through seeing and experiencing new things, now I can safely say that it is okay to feel lost sometimes. There is no one way nor one purpose to live life. We can find purpose and meaning in everything and anything if we only tried to open our hearts. As the saying goes, “You cannot outgrow yourself in the same environment that has shaped you.” I have grown tremendously as a person because of my experiences during my exchange year.