By Laiba Eiman (YES 2019-2020, Pakistan, hosted by AFS-USA in Grand Marais, MN)
When I started my exchange year, I never thought that it would be a roller coaster filled with emotions, joy and bravery. I started off as a girl who often asked other people for help and to provide motivation but, as time passed, I evolved into someone who is self-motivated and ambitious. While spending these seven months here in Grand Marais, Minnesota, I saw a lot of changes in myself. My host family was my strongest pillar during this time. They encouraged me to do all the things that I thought I wasn’t ready to do. From my host mom, I learned how to be a woman with a strong voice and vision. She was my inspiration to become part of the cross-country team at the local high school and then later join track and field. Furthermore, spending time with a family that is much like other American families gave me a chance to break all the stereotypes I had about American families before I started my exchange year.
In the middle of my time in the U.S., I got the chance to partake in Civic Education Week (CEW), which was held in Washington, D.C. This experience gave me the chance to explore and develop my leadership and communication skills. I got the opportunity to make new friends and learn from their experiences. Enrolling in activities, such as grassroots projects, gave us some initial ideas to help our communities when we arrive back to our home countries. In addition, it galvanized us to give back from what we learn here. My favorite day of CEW was Capitol Hill Day, when we got the chance to meet some Senators, or their staffers, of our respective host states. That was the day when I saw real and practical examples of leadership and credibility. For me, these seven days brought about a lot of change and gave me the opportunity to examine my true potential.
If you live in Minnesota and you have never gone skiing, then you missed an awesome opportunity to practice a new sport! I still remember the first time I went cross-country skiing; it was a cold and dry December afternoon. At the beginning, it was awkward and felt dangerous, but as the time passed it became easier and easier. Skiing is a fun and exciting way to enjoy the winter months. Also, skiing keeps you fit and active during what can be the laziest months of the year. I will never forget this experience! When I look back at my exchange year, I am so proud to see my accomplishments and achievements. This journey led me to discover who I really am and the meaning of being a true global citizen.