International Education Week (IEW) – a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education – is a part of a national effort to promote programs that prepare Americans with 21st century skills in today’s globalized world and to attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange life experiences with Americans. Each year IEW takes place the week before Thanksgiving, allowing YES students across America to give thanks for the once-in-a-lifetime scholarship opportunity by sharing about themselves, their countries, and their cultures. YES students gave over 3,650 presentations to an audience of nearly 97,000 Americans in over 480 communities across all 47 YES-hosting states plus the District of Columbia!
IEW gives YES students across the United States the opportunity to educate Americans about their countries and cultures, and gives YES alumni around the world the opportunity to educate their countrymen about America and her peoples. In sharing of themselves, YES students and alumni simultaneously build bridges of mutual understanding and friendship in the place of negative stereotypes, xenophobia, and islamophobia. This year alone, IEW presentations took place in over 480 schools across America, and nine out of every ten YES students shared pictures, postcards, or artwork from their country as a part of their presentation. The impact of their week-long efforts creates a ripple effect that can only be described as monumental and enduring!
Viktoria Panayotova from Bulgaria hosted with Ayusa in Stewartstown, PA made a poster and drew a tree on it for the international day of tolerance that is celebrated on November 16. During one of her presentations she asked classmates to write on a sticky note what tolerance is for them, then they put the stickies on a poster as the leaves of the tree. She noted too: “Also, I am part of the school newspaper so for IEW I wrote two articles – one about tolerance and one about the differences between the high schools in Bulgaria and the U.S. The whole experience was amazing but the most exciting moment was when I showed my country’s folklore dances and everyone came and we danced together.”
Amen Allah El Hechi from Tunisia hosted with AFS in Greendale, WI shares: “International education week is one of the best things that happened to me in the U.S. so far. I realized what it means to be an ambassador for your country, and how stressful and joyful it can be in the same time. It moved me closer to my goals and boosted my confidence and improved my communication's skills. I have discovered something I didn't know before: I have really good public speaking abilities and I felt like it's an obligation as a YES student so I found myself just embracing it. I was literally in tears when I realized the international education week is done and now almost 1000 people know about Tunisia and how unique my culture is. Yes, I couldn't hold my tears because this experience allowed me to see how much I love to talk about my country and educate people about it and how much creating an international understanding means to me. I realized how important IEW is for me as well as for other people and my mission now is to make my whole year an international education one because I believe that's what this week was all about.”
For YES students, the week is packed full of presentations, questions, dancing, and purpose. Over 700 YES students made presentations about their home country to elementary, middle, and high school students, as well as to places of worship and community centers throughout their host communities. Taha Ferfir from Libya hosted with Ayusa in San Antonio, Texas describes his IEW experience in three words as “outstanding, wonderful, eye-opening”.
International Education Week brought a wonderful exchange of ideas, culture, and respect to YES students and their host communities. To the YES Alumni community worldwide, thank you for continuing to share about your unique American experiences in your home communities.
Thank you to each YES student for sharing about themselves and their country and culture and thank you to each host family for sharing your home with an exemplary YES student!