By Muhammad Huzaifa (YES 2019-20, Pakistan, hosted by AFS-USA in Modesto, CA)
The time of departing that normally brings gloom did not happen in my case. I was going to leave the place I called home where I had a family, a whole bunch of friends, and which I knew since my birth. I was going to a place where I was a stranger and everyone to me was a stranger. But I was happy. Not only jovial but over the moon. The reason was quite simple. I was leaving home to go to a place which was meant to be my home for the next 10 months, which I found 7,671 miles away.
It's only been only a month since I landed in my host community but the acceptance, love, and affection which I received from the people around me is absolutely amazing. In fact, it is phenomenal. I never thought that I would get along with everyone here so well. From volunteering at church and being actively involved with youth groups to breaking the stereotypes through my GBE (Graduation by Exhibition) research paper and presentation on the topic 'Historical Mistrust between U.S. and Pakistan...Who's right?', I have had an incredible time here.
The experience of meeting my host family was quite different from what I had expected but for me, it was an incredible moment in my life. When I left Washington, D.C. for my host town, I was tired, excited, and nervous. With every step, my pulse rate rose and I got goosebumps. But all of this was about to end. At the final airport, I heard a voice behind me, calling my name. For a moment I paused, thinking that who could it be calling my name so correctly in a land so unknown. I turned to cast a glance but could not manage to do so because the person hugged me so warmly that I felt I knew him for ages. She was my Regional Coordinator. She took me to her home where I met my affectionate and welcoming host parents.
The emotions which I had at that moment cannot be portrayed in words. All of my nervousness and tiredness converted into feelings of comfort and relaxation. Every step I took towards my host parents made me feel at home. Just one month and I feel like I have been here for my whole life. From having dinners, doing karate with my host brothers, attending my host brother’s soccer games, seeing my first football game, eating peanut butter and marshmallow cream for the first time to seeing movies, discussing American and Pakistani culture, learning how to swim and kayak, cooking on bonfire, listening to country music with my host dad, talking to my host mom during our frequent drives together, and petting dogs for the first time were the best highlights of my experience so far!
My high school experience has been really exciting too. Being welcomed by my beloved Principal Ms. Gordon and President of Student Government was something I will always cherish throughout my life. The support which I got from my teacher, especially from my U.S. government & U.S. History, GBE (Graduation by Exhibition) and Leadership teachers has been helpful in adjusting to school life here. I prepared a speech on the topic 'From Home to Home' for my school assembly, met the state Representative Josh Harder, became a member of Key Club and tried to start the 'International Cross Cultural Club' to answer all the questions from my schoolmates during my first two weeks here. The amount of questions which I have been asked in the past two weeks not only made me more curious about myself and my culture but also helped to break some of my own stereotypes and discuss the stereotypes which my friends have.
From the stunning time I have spent so far, I have realized that home is not a physical piece of land where you were born or where you live. Rather it is a feeling of love and acceptance. Where you find it, it becomes your home. I have found it in Modesto and it's my home.
Thanks YES program for this wonderful opportunity. Thanks AFS-USA for placing me with such amazing people! I will miss each and every second and memory of this exchange year.
"From ashes, I rose,
Like a Phoenix I rose,
Over Godwin I rose,
Like Andicus I rose,
From Mariana I rose,
Like Istiophorus I rose,
I rose, I rose; but,
Till when shall I rise.
Until I'm evanesced I'll rise,
Until I'm evanesced I'll rise,
Who am I, who rises and rises,
I'm your kindred soul who rises,
I'm your soul you who rises,
I'm your echoes who rise,
I'm your memories who rise,
Reminisce about me until you dwell."