By Kehkashan Jamil (YES 2021-2022, Pakistan, placed by PAX in Cottonwood, AZ)
"Exchange is not a year in your life. It is a life in a year."
Growing up, I always wanted to travel the world, but didn’t have the courage to actually pursue that. But now, I am so glad that I made the decision to apply for the YES program.
When I first applied for the YES program, I never thought that I would actually receive the scholarship. Even as I began to learn about my placement, my host family and my school, I still couldn’t fathom that I would be spending ten months in a whole new environment. It only dawned on me when I finally arrived in the U.S. Although I was incredibly excited to be here, I wanted to go back home. I missed being around my parents and siblings, and I didn’t know what the year had in store. Fortunately, I soon realized that if I wanted to be happy, I have to make the most of this experience.
There are many obstacles I have had to go through as an exchange student, such as making new friends, keeping up with my grades, answering questions about my country and culture, adjusting to a new culture, adapting to my host family, and so much more that every exchange student can relate to. Luckily, my host family, friends, and teachers at school have been my greatest supporters and with their help, I have been able to conquer all of these obstacles.
I had always been afraid of public speaking, but once I started giving presentations about myself and my country, I could not restrain myself from sharing more. Therefore, I sought out a new opportunity to present my culture to elementary school students. My host family also gives me opportunities to experience new things, such as playing in the snow for the first time and seeing the musical, Hamilton. I am so grateful that I have gotten to do these tremendous things! I was also able to meet other exchange students from Cottonwood and Flagstaff. It is such a relief to be able to meet other exchange students who are in the same boat as me, and to be able to share our cultures and experiences in America with each other.
In order to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, giving back is as important as receiving new experiences and information. I believe it is essential to give back to my host family, teachers, and friends by sharing my culture with them; give back to my community by volunteering; give back to my natural family for believing in me, and give back to my country and its culture.
In my culture, there is a saying, "تجربہ سب سے بڑا استاد ہے " which means “experience is the greatest teacher.” For me, this exchange year has brought a home that I never knew I needed.