By Yasmin Alshafei (YES 2019–2020, Saudi Arabia, placed with BFF in Garner, NC)
Sometimes people ask me, "What is the most memorable year in your life?". My answer is always my exchange year. I was in the United States from 2019 to 2020, a year when the world entered a very strange time in history. It was an experience that helped me mature as a person. What I loved the most about the YES program was my host state, my American high school, neighbors, and friends.
Before coming to the United States, I lived in Riyadh, the largest city in Saudi Arabia. Getting the chance to live in the United States for ten months was a new and interesting experience for me. My placement organization hosted me in Garner, North Carolina, a suburb in the ninth most populated state. North Carolina has stunning weather and outstanding nature sites that never made you feel bored for a moment. Anything I saw in North Carolina, like squirrels or deer, caught my attention because it was so different from what I am used to seeing at home in Riyadh.
It was my dream since I was a child to live the American high school experience that I saw in movies and TV shows, and last year my dream came true. In ten months, I learned so much from my high school. My school taught me that kindness is more important than anything else. My confidence quickly increased as I introduced myself to new groups of people and made friendships that cross over countries and borders.
Finally, my neighbors and friends made a huge impact on my YES year. I met so many people in my neighborhood as I took frequent walks or bike rides with them. During our strolls, we talked about the differences and similarities between Saudi Arabia and the United States. We learned so much about each other as they took me to spots in North Carolina that I had never seen, and in return I showed them pictures of my life back in Saudi Arabia.
My time in North Carolina is a year I will never forget!