By Ali Makahleh (YES 2008-2009, Jordan, hosted by Aspect in Shelton, WA)
For the past eleven years, the YES program has supported me in many different and amazing ways, starting with my exchange year in 2008 and continuing on to other great opportunities to develop myself and my skills. This year, I was blessed with the opportunity to give back to the YES program by serving as an alumni mentor to students only half way through their YES journey and sharing my experience with them during the YES Civic Education Workshop in Washington, DC.
Standing in front of those outstanding students, talking to them about my exchange experience, how I benefited from the program as both an exchange student and as an alumnus, and how they will benefit from being an active member of the YES alumni community in their home countries was a fulfilling experience. I tried to give them guidance on how to best use the time they have left in the U.S. and the skills they should aim to develop during their remaining few months. But when I listened to their inspiring stories of the community service activities they are doing in their host communities, I knew these kids are already on the path to do great things, and it gave me high hopes for the positive change they will make within their home communities upon their return.
This trip gave me more than just the chance to have meaningful conversations with YES students. I also had the opportunity to extend my thanks directly to the Senators and Congressmen on Capitol Hill, who made it possible for me and other exchange students to have the experience of a lifetime, bridge gaps between our cultures and host communities, and learn how to give back in an effective and systematic way through volunteerism. Meeting with officials from the U.S. Department of State gave me the chance to discuss the importance of exchange programs and how they change lives, as well as the opportunity to discuss my country, Jordan, and its relations with the U.S. And it gave me the opportunity to thank the magnificent team at American Councils, who put in a lot of hard work to make the YES program and the Civic Education Workshop run smoothly.
One of the most exciting things that happened during Civic Education Week was being interviewed for the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ podcast, 22.33. During the interview, I discussed the expectations I had for the YES program before I went on it, the challenges I faced during my exchange year, and the values and skills I have gained from my experience. I excitedly spoke about how life-changing the YES experience was for me and how it sparked the chain of events that eventually led me to become an educational entrepreneur. If you want to hear more, listen to my podcast!