By Mahnaz Siraj (YES 2021-2022, Pakistan, placed by AFS-USA in Tillamook, OR)
Nothing excited me more than being the Youth Ambassador of my country, Pakistan, during my exchange year. When I was flying from Washington, DC to my host state, Oregon, I was planning all the activities in my head that I would do with my host family and friends to represent my culture. It saddened me to see that only a few people had some knowledge about Pakistan, a majority had no idea about Pakistan and its culture. That is when I realized I should make sure to educate them about my country and culture before my exchange year ends. Being in Current World Problem Class definitely helped and made it easier for me to talk about my country. Whenever we studied about Pakistan and other neighboring countries, the teacher would give me a chance to speak and after the class ended many students would come to me and ask me more questions about my country, which I happily answered.
During International Education Week I gave around 17 presentations to more than 400 people and educated them about Pakistan and its culture. My host family and I would wear Pakistani cultural dresses to a few of the gatherings, which also gave me an opportunity to promote my culture in a way which everyone loved. People from my host community still text me and show interest in visiting Pakistan; I am really proud to have been able to make that impact on the people in my host community.
After returning from my exchange program, I was focusing on the alumni projects that I could do for my community, that is when one of the very important things came to my notice, which was the number of students who apply for YES Scholarship from my city, Turbat. Turbat is the 2nd largest city in Balochistan and 38th largest city in Pakistan. But it disappoints me to see only around 20 people apply for YES Scholarship every year from my city. Therefore, as a YES alumna, I decided to educate the students about my life in U.S., I planned a presentation for the students of Grade 9th and 10th in Sayad Hashmi High School and talked about my life as an exchange student in U.S. I talked about my life in the U.S. in details which included my participation in sports, clubs, and volunteering activities and I could see how they wished to be a part of this program. I encouraged them to apply for the YES Scholarship by discussing all the positive aspects of an exchange student's life. By the end of my presentation I had successfully motivated students to apply for YES 2023-2024 program year.