By Aleksandros Metaj (YES 2021-2022, Albania, placed by YFU in Greenbelt, MD)
It is quite common for exchange students to set high expectations for their exchange year before coming to their host country. There is not much to blame for that. However, (as I consider it being one of the biggest lessons of my exchange year) I realized that having none is truly the best thing that an exchange student can possibly ever do. Coming from a generation of YES students with a deferred program year due to COVID-19, I want to share how my exchange experience shaped me and how it eventually led to me working with the U.S. Embassy in Tirana.
Looking back to my exchange year in the U.S. I am grateful for all the great experiences that I have had with my host family and my dearest friends. I had the chance to visit various states and I believe that it made me see parts of America that I would never have seen otherwise. That played a big part in making me understand the U.S. better, and I will always cherish the memories that I made with my host family. I also had the chance to meet a lot of exchange students from other countries as well, which made me realize how despite coming from different parts of the world you can always find common traits or beliefs that unite people; ours included openness and unconditional love.
There was always a great atmosphere in the room when we would gather someplace, and there was this sense of understanding regardless of living miles away which I really appreciated and will always consider as one of the most beautiful parts of being an exchange student. I am very grateful for having made such amazing friends, which taught me a lot and reminded me of how important it is to connect with people regardless of their background. As I attended high school, I was able to participate in different clubs and volunteer opportunities which were related directly to my interests and topics that I’m passionate about. One of them being youth activism.
I have been a youth activist since the age of 13, when I was active and present in the Youth Center of the city where I live. As time went by, I started expanding my network and participating in seminars, conferences, workshops, trainings and other events on a national level which led to my introduction to the National Youth Congress of Albania (one of the biggest NGO Umbrella Organizations, with more than 140 NGOs part of its network). Eventually, I became a Governing Board Member on this structure, and I am grateful for all that I have learned throughout this journey so far.
Recently, we had the pleasure of working with the U.S. Embassy in Tirana for this year’s edition of Mobile American Corner; and I had the greatest honor of being part of that incredible team.
During the end of May - Early June we traveled from the coast to the mountains of Albania on a mission: bringing American culture to the Albanian people and their cities! Thousands of youth joined in the tour and learned how they can participate in the Embassy’s youth initiatives throughout the year, from youth leadership programs to opportunities to study in the United States. This year, the Mobile American Corner bus tour visited seven cities, including: Tirana,Elbasan, Fier, Saranda, Shkodra, Rreshen, and Tropoje.
Being an alumnus of a U.S. Department of State Exchange Program such as Youth Exchange and Study (YES), I was more than happy to share my U.S. experience and give back to the community; especially through this opportunity to work with the U.S. Embassy in Tirana to accomplish such a goal.
After all this I can proudly say that I feel fulfilled from my exchange experience more than ever, because I believe that I gave my best towards everything and in return I got a life changing experience which shaped me into who I have already become, and what I strive to be and accomplish in the future.