YES Programs



Christmas Trees on the Beach

Mahnoor smiling in the snow in a winter coat, hat and gloves

By Mahnoor Iftikhar (YES 2021-2022, Pakistan, placed by PAX in Goshen, IN)

Before coming to the U.S., I expected my first Christmas to be like the ones I had seen in every other movie - the perfect snowy Christmas day with gifts waiting underneath the Christmas tree for me to open. What I actually experienced for my first Christmas was quite different and unique, but even better!

Mahnoor and host mom smiling in front of outdoor holiday lights

My winter experience during my exchange year all began with my first snow. I woke up one day to my host sister shaking me awake while jumping up and down from excitement while screaming “Mahnoor, it’s snowing!” I sat up in bed to look outside my bedroom window and saw snow for the first time in my life. Countless snow flurries were falling to the ground and covering everything like a beautiful white blanket. The view outside had me wonder struck. Jumping out of bed with excitement, my host sister and I raced each other to the bathroom to get ready before heading out the door with our younger host siblings who were all ready to play with the fresh snow. The trees, grass, houses, driveways, and roads were all covered in snow! My younger host siblings were squealing and running around excitedly jumping into the snow as we all started throwing snowballs at each other. After a long snowball fight, in which I realized I have very bad aim, I laid down in the snow to make a snow angel for the first time and felt the biting cold from the snow touching my skin, embedding this precious moment in my mind forever. 

Mahnoor and two host siblings smiling on a deck

My first Christmas was just as memorable as my first snow as my host family and I went to Florida for the holiday! Before the trip, we drank hot chocolate, and watched a nice Christmas movie as we put up a beautiful Christmas tree in our house, making the memory a picture perfect moment as it snowed outside. Then we packed our suitcases and caught our flight to Florida for a completely different Christmas experience. 

On Christmas day in Florida, I woke up to a loud noise which had my heart racing. I looked around before realizing that the loud noise that woke me up was the thunderstorm raging outside with raindrops beating loudly against the window, a little different than the snow back in Indiana. Leaving my bedroom, there was no Christmas tree to be seen but the Christmas spirit could be felt in the air, which was brimming with excitement and chatter as I saw my host siblings crowding around the coffee table decorated with Christmas gifts. Excitedly we all looked for our gifts and sat down on the floor around the table to open them up!

Mahnoor on the beach with her feet in the water

After opening up our Christmas gifts, we all drank eggnog and baked donuts for breakfast as a family Christmas tradition. I ended up falling in love with the taste of eggnog even though I was a bit skeptical at first knowing it’s made of raw eggs. The rest of the day was filled with laughter, happiness, excitement and joy as my family and I shared with each other our cultures, traditions and experiences. I gave my host brothers traditional clothing from my country as one of their Christmas gifts and at the end of the day I put on my own cultural dress while my host brothers tried on their Pakistani kurta shalwar. Later, we took a stroll at the beach to watch the sunset and even found a tiny Christmas tree in the sand! From seeing Christmas lights and snow in Indiana to a Christmas tree on the beach in Florida, my first Christmas and snow are experiences I will cherish for the rest of my life.