By Mohammad Barghouthi (YES 2022-2023, West Bank, placed by ASSE in Frederick, MD)
Participating in the YES program was one of my biggest goals, since I always dreamed of experiencing life in the U.S. My family helped me so much through my application journey, especially my mom who was the person to tell me about this opportunity. Over a year later, here I am, having come all the way from Palestine to be hosted in Maryland with an amazing host family.
There are so many things to do in my host community! I joined my high school’s varsity football team, where I met wonderful friends. My favorite part of the football team is Friday games. We wear our jerseys to school, and meet our coaches after school, who prepare us mentally for the game. Then, everyone starts hyping each other up by playing songs, giving speeches, practicing touchdown dances, and telling jokes. Sometimes it feels like we are going into battle rather than playing a game!
When the football season ended, I joined the swimming team. I grew to love swimming and improved a lot over a brief period of time. My swimming teammates used to call me Michael Phelps’ legacy because of how much I improved. Now, I’m on my school’s track and field team for the spring season.
An activity that has made my experience even better, as well as making me a better person, is volunteering. I have volunteered at marathons, school events, track meets, the animal shelter, and food banks. Another wonderful experience was volunteering with the fire department. Not only did I learn so much about firefighting, but I also helped the firefighters on some of their missions.
Celebrating American holidays such as Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Christmas with my host family has also been nice. For Thanksgiving, my host family cooked a roast turkey, and then we walked to downtown Frederick to walk along the creek. On Halloween, I carved my first pumpkin, went trick or treating, and went to a Halloween party. I was most excited to celebrate Christmas! I woke up at 6 am to my host siblings’ excitement about opening Christmas gifts.
In addition to learning about American culture, I have also loved representing my country of Palestine. I take every opportunity to share my country and culture. I have given presentations at my school, the local library, and a church. For my presentations, I taught dabke, a traditional Palestinian dance, and shared traditional foods. Once, I invited my swim team for a traditional Palestinian team dinner. I cooked Makloubeh, two traditional salads called fattoush and salatat hummus, and made a soup called adas. I also brought souvenirs, traditional clothes, and sweets from Palestine to share with my host family. I have taught my friends some Arabic words and shared my favorite music.
After being in the U.S. for eight months, I have grown so much as a person. When I go back to Palestine, I want to volunteer and give back to my community. I plan to start a volunteer club at my school and share my experience with as many people as I can. I also want to spread awareness about inclusion for people with disabilities.
The YES program has been life changing. I have grown more confident and mature. I have made friends from all over the world. I gained and refined life-long skills, and I'm happier than ever. But the most valuable lesson I learned here is to appreciate my family and make them proud.