YES Programs



Living My Dream

Ind Naityik Singh With Hfam

By Naityik Singh (YES 2022-2023, India, placed by AFS-USA in Belleville, IL)

Time is relative. It passes swiftly if you’re having fun, which indeed has been the case with my exchange experience. I can’t believe I am halfway through what I was once only dreaming of.

I clearly remember each bit of the day when I boarded the plane from New Delhi in mid-September. We were two kids flying all alone from India, flooded with exhilaration, agitation, and a bunch of goals to accomplish. After an endless 17 hours long flight, which felt like an eternity in the dark passenger cabin, I witnessed the bright sunny day of Chicago. The day I had been dreaming about for almost a year had arrived.

After landing at the St. Louis airport, I was walking towards the exit hallway, extremely nervous, when I read a familiar name written on a banner resting next to a woman sitting on a chair. It was my name. It was her, my host mom. I had never seen or talked to her before. I hugged her, took my luggage, walked out to the parking lot, and rode home, talking about my host siblings. It was a beautiful evening with orange sunshine coming through the window and falling on the dark dining table while I was eating a Mediterranean sandwich, still chit-chatting with my host parents.

From then, time just started flowing. The last 5 months have passed like shooting stars for me. I got to see beautiful things and missed a few with so many things happening. Every new day was a unique experience for me, whether it was with my host family, school, or host community.

Naityik holding Indian flag poses with a group of his classmates in school classroom

Schools here are very different from the ones back in India. Adjusting to my new home was easy for me. I never got homesick, which is a sign of me enjoying my exchange. There are many things to do here that keep me involved -- Homecoming, Halloween, school plays, volunteering with peers, sports, and dinners with family, to name a few.

Representing India as a youth ambassador gives me a feeling of pride and opens many new opportunities. I have made many new friends in my school, including other exchange students. During International Education Week, I held half a dozen presentations and activities about India, introduced Indian food to my friends, and taught and wrote their names in Hindi, my native language. I didn’t miss any opportunity to share about my country and am happy I impacted more than a hundred people.

During the holiday season, I learned about American traditions. It was my first time celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas.

My favorite thing was when I created a movie, ‘‘My Definition of Love,’’ with the help of my aunt. I always looked for love in different forms in my host community and decided to create a movie to pass peace forward. We went to capture all the famous landmarks in St. Louis. I premiered it during my mid-year orientation camp; everyone absolutely loved it. I shared the movie at my school too. It contains all the beautiful moments I captured in my day-to-day life here and is very close to my heart.

Naityik selfie with several exchange students at orientation

The past five months have been full of amazing experiences and learning. I am doing what I once only wondered about and creating core memories. I am improving my interpersonal and public speaking skills by talking to new people and giving presentations. The YES program is giving me a kick start to my aspirations and teaching me to celebrate cultural differences.

What excites me while writing this story is that I have only made it to half of the program. There is a lot to accomplish in the other half to help make the world a smaller place so that when I go back home, I can say, “I made a difference!”