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.
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.
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!”