YES Programs



How YES Led to a Lifetime of Learning

Oumaima presenting about Morocco in a classroom.

By Oumaima Elghazali (YES 2009–2010, Morocco, placed by YFU in Virginia Beach, VA)

My YES experience positively shaped every aspect of my life, including my academic career. After spending a year in the United States, I returned home with many questions about the different transformations that I experienced. These questions revolved around the impact of different cultural and psychological variables on exchange students, both before and after the exchange experience. With this motivation in mind, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Educational and Intercultural Exchange at Mohammed V University in Morocco to find answers to my questions. 

My personal experience, my curiosity about the topic, and my interest in cultural exchange fueled my studies. I had so much fun working with my former placement organization, Youth for Understanding (YFU). YFU supported my research and connected me with their current exchange students for my data collection. My study investigated the development of Cultural Intelligence (CQ) in students after spending one year in the United States. The study analyzed the various aspects of the students’ exchange year, such as their homestay, American high school attendance, and overall adjustment to the American lifestyle. My research also looked into how the experiences that YFU provided, including their own events and activities, affected the overall development of the students' CQ levels. 

The quantitative findings of my research suggest that exchange programs significantly impact the development of exchange students' CQ after one year of cultural exchange. Most importantly, students’ Motivational CQ levels, meaning the students' ability to direct their attention and energy towards functioning in intercultural contexts, and their Metacognitive CQ levels, meaning their ability to acquire and understand cultural knowledge, are both positively impacted through cultural exchange. I enjoyed reviewing the students’ responses and reflecting on their experiences using a CQ lens. 

I received the answers that I was searching for, but I developed new questions along the way, including how could students take the lead in developing their knowledge, skills, and attitudes as they go on an intercultural experience? My research in intercultural exchange has just started and I am grateful to the YES program for inspiring my journey. 

Oumaima defending her thesis in front of a group of professors in a classroom.