Originally published on April 29, 2022 in the Carrollton Leader by Star Local Media, written by Winston Henvey. Reposted here with permission.
Myriam Dhouibi is a foreign exchange student from Tunisia. She applied two years ago to a program called the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study sponsored by the U.S department of State. She arrived in Carrollton, Texas on a full scholarship in August of last year.
She is currently staying with a host family and attends Newman Smith High School as a senior. She is involved in a host of extracurricular activities including jazz band, orchestra, tennis, student council, science competitions and more.
Since coming to Carrollton last year, she has given presentations to rotary clubs and elementary schools about her experience and inspired others to step out of their comfort zones.
How did you begin studying abroad?
While kids around me grew up watching cartoons in Arabic and I watched YouTubers’ Black Friday hauls and days in the life. I was fascinated by the lifestyle and I made it very obvious in my application to the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study. Luckily, I made it obvious enough that I was born for this opportunity, and I got selected as a finalist and went through the pandemic as a finalist, hopeful I would still receive a letter from the U.S. Department of State telling me that I can still go in the academic year 2021-2022. I still think it’s worth mentioning the fact that I think Michael Scott from the office is brilliantly funny was the selling point for the admissions officers, but who am I to say?
After two years, I landed in Dallas, Texas after 48 hours of traveling to start undoubtedly the best year of my whole life.
How was your journey coming to Carrollton?
It feels like we tried to defy all odds by fitting in one too many things in 48 hours.
Due to Covid-19, I had to say goodbye to my brother in one minute because we were told in line that we were only allowed to bring one family member inside the airport. I was in disbelief the entirety of the journey and was only hit with the gravity of the situation once we landed in Germany for a 9-hour layover. Time became merely an illusion, and falling asleep was the single most natural thing to do. I vividly remember waving goodbye to my in-tears mom, whom I knew I wouldn’t see for a whole year but I was somehow happy and cheerful because I was with my friends, starting a journey I had only ever dreamed of.
I met a Fulbright Scholar on the first plane, slept, and found myself in Germany. After 9 hours, I boarded a plane knowing I was going to be the furthest away from home I have ever been in my whole life. There, I met the nicest American couple with whom I became instant friends and I still keep in touch with them to this day, the first American people I have met.
It was the most exciting journey filled with laughs, tears of joy, and coming to terms with my life for the next year. It felt absolutely surreal in every sense of the word, I had achieved a few dreams up to this point, but now I was achieving the single biggest dream I have ever had.
What's been your most unique experience in Carrollton so far?
I’ve noticed that every time I’m asked this question, I say the same phrase: “I have experienced in one year more than I have in my entire life.” This is all thanks to my American family that went above and beyond to ensure I have the best experience possible and exposed me to everything. From different restaurants to different states, we did it all. Therefore, I will say that an experience I had the honor of being a part of was working on a science competition with my science teacher and mentor. It was truly an honor to come before and after school every day for months to conduct a climate change-related science project with one of the smartest scientists I will ever have the pleasure of meeting. Every day here offers me a unique experience and a new story to tell to my kids one day, I could go on for days about how unique every day here truly is.
Where in Tunisia are you from?
I am originally from a city called Bizerte. It is the northernmost city in Africa and it was founded by settlers from the Phoenician port of Sidon around 1100 BC.
We rarely get to visit it despite the fact that it’s only 1 hour away from where I live because of the insanely busy and academically packed lifestyle I have in Tunisia.
What's your fondest childhood memory?
This question would have made me sob at the beginning of the year when I first arrived and felt homesick, I’ve thankfully come far enough where I’ve gotten close enough with my host family and friends to where Carrollton feels truly like my home. I vividly remember summers in Bizerte, when my brother and I would escape the busyness of the city we live in to spend a week without access to the internet or any other forms of entertainment besides the great outdoors in my grandma’s house. My cousins and I would do nothing except play outside all day, go to the beach to swim from sunrise to sundown and watch random horror movies we found on the TV all night.
What are you studying while in Carrollton?
I came here with no other hobbies besides studying, what a fulfilling life I led! I can proudly say that leaving here, I have picked up so many new hobbies that I can’t wait to pursue for the rest of my life. Being in the school orchestra and jazz band has spiked my interest in music and learning instruments. I have found so much joy in practicing the violin and guitar with my friends and during any free time I have. I’ve also been exploring theatre and simply fallen in love with the art of acting and directing. I truly admire everybody in the theatre department at my school and I am inspired by them and their passion and talent.
Although I still have days where I am only interested in learning about astrophysics, I now have options that I believe to be a true privilege.
What has been your experience acclimating to Texas culture?
I have gotten enough surprised reactions in the time I’ve been here that I have come to believe this is a fact many people would want to hear twice to believe. I speak five languages! I grew up speaking the Tunisian dialect which is a beautiful melting pot of languages from Arabic to Spanish, Arabic since it is our official language in Tunisia, and French thanks to the still-prominent French influence since our French colonization that was put to an end in 1956. I learned English at the age of eight through YouTube, and Italian in my junior year of high school!
In Tunisia, most people speak at least two languages, which is why I never grew up believing that it was “cool” to speak over one language so it's nice to finally get some recognition!