By Rijja Ahmed (YES 2018-2019, Pakistan, hosted by AIFS/AYA, in Timmonsville, SC)
We commonly hear the saying, “Exchange is not a year in life, it’s life in a year” and the reason we hear it so much is because it is quite true. This year has not only taught me new things, but has changed me into a very different person. I have found a new “me”.
Before coming to the U.S. all YES students attended orientations, where we were encouraged to make the most of this year by learning new things, participating in family activities, serving our communities, and presenting our culture as much as possible. I was so excited to do all the things that the YES alumni in Pakistan had recommended we do. Up to this day I am still presenting about my home country, which is indeed an honor for me to share information about Pakistan and be a cultural ambassador.
As an AYA exchange student I am required to do 50 hours of community service. I did not want to simply fulfill the requirements; I wanted to serve my community as much as I could. When I first learned about the community service requirement, it seemed like a daunting task to find opportunities. But as soon as I arrived in my host community, I found that many people were willing to help me fulfill my wishes to engage in community service. My local coordinator, my host family and some other host families helped me and other exchange students in finding opportunities for us to volunteer. I made up my mind to do 100 community service hours, but once I started, I never stopped. In fact, I still volunteer at weekends. I have done 180 hours of community service so far and am looking forward to doing more as long as I am here.
I am so proud that I have been able to give back to the community that has given me countless things. By engaging in community service, I not only learned a lot of things, but the experience and happiness I receive in return is so rewarding. I have volunteered in theaters, festivals, horse shows, restaurants, churches – the list goes on! Whenever, I volunteer, everyone asks me about my country and culture which is a pleasure for me to share because that makes me feel proud of being a cultural ambassador. I have also learned about the American holidays and traditions like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and Easter; it's all been so much fun.
This entire year has been the best part of my life. I am so thankful to all the people who have made this year so special for me. I am really sad about leaving my host family but am looking forward to take all the things that I have learned and incorporate it in my life in Pakistan. I intend to join the alumni network after the completion of my YES year so that I can continue to spread awareness of this wonderful program.