By Hayat Louihi (YES 2019–2020, Morocco, hosted by AFS in Washington, DC)
I remember when I stepped out of the airport onto the United States, with so many expectations — I was really young and naive compared to how I am right now! It is true that my experience wasn't always perfect because, when I first came to United States, I felt a bit lost and didn't really know what I was trying to achieve during my exchange year. However, throughout the year, little by little, I started to open up and set goals that would make the year count for me.
I realized that I don't really know myself (what I can do, what I want to do, what makes me happy, and what makes me unhappy), so that was my first goal. First, I discovered my talent for drawing. I always assumed that I couldn’t draw and never really tried it, but I ended up in a drawing and painting class, where I realized that I really enjoy drawing (especially with pencil). I learned through my art class that I should never put limits on myself because the world has a lot of new experiences and amazing opportunities that I may or may not like, but they are all worth trying.
My second goal was to volunteer at least once a week and do more than 100 hours of volunteering — which I achieved! My third and last major goal was to meet as many people as I could and sustain these relationships. The fact that I was able to meet and make friends with people from all over the world fascinates me.
When I came to the United States, the new life dynamics completely changed me as a person. My American family’s dynamics are different than my natural family’s dynamics. For example, here in the U.S., everything is planned and structured compared to my family's lifestyle back home where we usually let everything fall into place as time goes by (again not bad, not good, just different). The first thing that I will miss sometimes is having such a planned and organized day. My host family and I played lots of family games, and I will really miss how everyone could read the expressions on my face to figure out what cards I had because I have a bad “poker face.” I had a lot of fun playing these games, which not only made me discover a new side of myself (that I could be competitive sometimes), but which also allowed me to get closer to everybody. Every day after dinner, we cleaned up the kitchen; I am really going to miss how we listen to music while we cleaned. So, kitchen cleaning was actually one of my favorite times of the day.
Coming to the United States gave me the opportunity to talk in English often, and so this is something I will also miss back home in Morocco. In the U.S., specifically in my host family, dinner is the main dish of the day where we sit down together, eat dinner, and talk to each other. I will miss all those conversations that we had during these dinners: the deep ones, where we talk about politics and religion, the educational ones, and the easier conversations, where we ask about everybody’s day. I will basically miss everything that is related to me being in the U.S., because everything in the U.S. is different to everything in Morocco.
I had a lot of experiences this year, and every single one of them changed me at least a little. One special memory was when I volunteered at a church in Bethany Beach. It was around November, so I thought that I would not want to swim as the weather was too cold. However, as I was standing, watching the sea and the waves, a big wave came and made me halfway wet. Then, I just took off my glasses and put down my phone and started swimming. The fact that I just did what I really wanted and swam without thinking about anything gave me the most amazing feeling ever, a feeling of freedom and that I could do whatever I wanted, not caring about what comes next. This was one of the most exceptional moments of my experience in my life because I usually I weigh the consequences and thoroughly think about something before I do it. Instead, this was a moment where I felt free from all the limits that the world or I put on myself.