YES Programs



Janell’s Journey: From Liberia to Ohio

Student posing with host family at graduation

By Janell Bordor (YES 2022-2023, Liberia, placed by AYA/AIFS in Cortland, OH)

I am Janell Borbor, an alumna of the YES program 2022-2023. I am from Liberia, and I was hosted in Cortland, Ohio, by Nicole and Tim Hanna.

During my exchange year, I attended high school outside of my host city (Cortland), because it is an all-white city, and the school there doesn’t accept foreign exchange students. Even though that was a challenge for me, I still made my way through, by feeling comfortable being a part of the new environment, making new friends, and living life as an American.

I attended Liberty High School in Youngstown, Ohio, which is approximately thirty (30) minutes from where I lived, an hour in total. At the high school, I made new friends, played a few sports, attended prom, and made every moment of my last year of High School count.

Furthermore, my experiences in an American high school extend far beyond the brief details I noted above.

However, my participation in the YES Program is aligned with many factors and great motivations. Here are a few; I was motivated to participate in the YES Program to experience and live in diversity, gain more knowledge, both academically, and socially about the U.S., feel independent, explore, and be proud of myself and the impact that and parents and mentors have made in my life by pushing myself to being the better version of myself- the mamba mentality.

I can assure you that those motivations led me to have a great exchange year.

Student smiling with friends from church

The YES program made me understand the American culture not just by learning it and seeing people’s everyday life, but also by living it. I got to live as an American, for a while after my period of cultural adjustment, and also realized that I was a cultural ambassador from my country to the U.S. By living the American culture, I learned about punctuality, values, priorities, and maximizing every opportunity.

When I was a YES student and an ambassador, I knew the goals of the YES program and I took all of them into careful consideration. One of them which is cultural exchange is my second favorite, that is, I told Americans about my home country and its unique culture; I made them some African food like Jollof rice, FuFu and soup, and much more. I also told them about the nation’s educational system and showed them photos of the national parks, and other natural resources in my home country. I didn't stop there, I further told them about the traditions, or norms of conservative groups, like the Poro and Sande society in Liberia. For a fact that I lived the American life for 10 months, it was my duty to make my host family and host community feel a part of my country and its culture too, not just by meeting me, but by hearing about my home country, seeing images of my Mother's land and much more.

My host family has shared so many valuable things with me, starting from life lessons to its values. They were aware of the high level of poverty in my home country, yet, they didn't use that as a way of making me feel inferior, rather they made me understand that not every condition is permanent and that if others can't make a change, I can be a change to many people through the impacts I will make in their lives, socially, academically, and mentally. They made me understand the value of valuing myself.

Not forgetting this, they also shared lots of their recipes with me.

Ps: I made buffalo chicken dip for my real parents and a few of my friends by using my host mom’s recipe during Liberia’s independence day celebration, on July 26.

We all have those moments in our lives that are sometimes classified as touching, emotional, memorable, or awe moments, therefore, I am not an exception. My memorable experience in the YES program was helping to keep my lil host brother calm. He is autistic, and very quick to anger. When he’s angry he normally hits, yet he regrets his actions after he has calmed down. I felt happy helping to keep him calm and calming him down whenever he gets angry. He’s eleven years old but looks like a seven-year-old. He’s so adorable and I miss him a lot.

However, I was surprised by how much care, love, and attention disabled kids receive in the U.S. It's unbelievable how the disabled aren't catered to in most parts of Africa, like my country, Liberia. I hope we understand that they are humans just like us.

Even though I have mentioned lots of great moments during my experience as a YES student, there were times that I felt like packing my bags and going back to my home country. Those times were during my adjustment periods, like trying to make new friends, fitting in, improving my English, getting schoolwork done on time, and spending time with my host family.

But, I struggled with balancing my life as a host child, host sister, friend, and host student. I felt overwhelmed by having many people in a single body.

Furthermore, I am mostly excited about the impact that I am to make in my home country. I can't wait to manifest my plans as a YES alumna in the most effective way I can. One of the goals of the program states that, after our exchange year, we must translate the knowledge gained in the U.S. to the people in our home country. Which I’ve already started doing by sharing my experience.

Finally, the YES program is life in 10 months. You have to make the best out of it. Thanks to iEARN and the US Department of State for the opportunity.