By Abdulrahman (Aboud) Baroud (YES 2010-2011, Gaza, hosted by Ayusa in Anchorage, AK)
Only an exchange student will be able to express what it is like to be one. My life started the minute I entered the United States in 2010 when I was sent to Alaska as an exchange student. Ever since I left, I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to return. Fortunately, six years later, I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of three alumni mentors for the Civic Education Workshop in Washington, D.C.
I have to admit, coming back here and interacting with the current exchange students gave me chills. It was similar to going back in time and seeing where I started off. While in D.C., I had the opportunity to be surrounded by a very talented group of students, and the privilege to serve as their mentor. I was able to share with them my own personal experience of being an exchange student and how that impacted my life. Most importantly, I was able to tell them how my YES year has changed my life and how my exchange experience impacted me after I returned to my home country. From organizing volunteering activities and community service events, my YES year made me realize how important I am for my community and how much I can do to help it.
I also had the pleasure of working with the two other alumni during CEW: Leah from Kenya and Rinë from Kosovo. These are two of the brightest and most insightful young leaders out there. Working with them allowed me to develop new skills, gain a broader perspective of the world, and get inspired to change the world.
I was also greatly influenced by the professional aspect of the CivEd Workshop. I had the opportunity to meet many inspiring characters, such as Senator Sherrod Brown; the president of the American Foreign Policy Council, Mr. Pirchner; and Acting Assistant Secretary of the State Department, Mr. Taplin. I also was afforded the chance to attend meetings with the chiefs of staff and legislative assistants of several states’ senators and representatives, where we shared stories and advocated for the importance of exchange programs. We also had the opportunity to present our experiences to the State Department and volunteers from American Councils about the community service projects we have worked on since we left the U.S. These projects were not the doings of just one person, but directly resulted from something absolutely wonderful and powerful called the Youth Exchange and Study program. Finally, I'm happy to share that I'm writing this article on the plane heading to the amazing family that hosted me, to visit my teachers, and to give back to the community that shaped me – Anchorage, Alaska.