By Zainub Waqas (YES 2020-2021, Pakistan, virtually placed by AFS-USA in Pittsburgh, PA)
My name is Zainub Waqas and I am a YES exchange student from Pakistan. I was virtually hosted by the Ochoa family from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Meeting my wonderful virtual host family made my experience unique. I'm not going to lie; when I first found out that I will be virtually hosted this year instead of having an in-person exchange, I wasn’t thrilled. However, looking back, meeting my virtual host family was one of the best things that have ever happened in my life and I'm so thankful for that.
From the very beginning, they opened their home and their hearts to me. They have stayed up late to talk to me countless times, they have patiently listened to me rant about anything and everything, they have given me guidance, they have been there to listen to me when I just text and tell them about how my life is going, they have been there to encourage me, and they have always reminded me that I am capable of doing so much more than I think I am, and for all of this I am so thankful.
I had the most memorable time of my life with them and now we are family and are obviously attached for the rest of our lives. I love all of them so much and they have a special place in my heart. I am very overwhelmed by the love they shower on me and I can't wait to meet them someday in my life. They have become a part of my life and heart forever. I have learned from this virtual program that blood ties are not necessary for family or love. All my moments, memories, and meetings with my host family are very close to my heart. From baking Christmas cookies, watching The Nutcracker, going to see the Christmas Lights, going on several virtual field trips with my host family, to endless discussions and lots of fun—I had the best time.
This virtual cultural exchange program has been very beneficial for me and has impacted me in many positive ways. It has increased my knowledge about the world, especially the USA. It has provided me an opportunity to experience another culture and learn about another language, customs, traditions, lifestyles, food, social structures, festivals, holidays such as Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and more, through virtual sessions and enhancement activities with American host family and peers. Hence, such opportunities have made me view the world through a different lens. This has provided me an alternative perspective! It has broadened my horizons and increased my tendency for acceptance.
At the same time, it had provided me an opportunity to better understand my own culture and traditions. It has acted as a gateway of self-awareness for me. It has helped my self-development and self-awareness, which has increased my self-confidence and self-esteem. I have also achieved fluency in a new language—English—through several interactive sessions with my American host family and peers. I have also shared all the knowledge about the USA, its people, culture, lifestyles, traditions, etc., which I have learned from this virtual program, with my family, friends, and community members here in Pakistan, too. It has played a part in removing their misconceptions about the USA and the American people. It has contributed to friendly and amicable relations between Pakistani and American people.
This journey has been amazing and, as it comes to an end, I plan on practicing what I have learned during my virtual exchange year about volunteerism, community service, and civic responsibility. I am excited to take an active part in alumni activities and play my part in the betterment of society by initiating and then executing different projects with my fellow alumni, such as food drives, planting events, awareness campaigns, fundraising for social causes, and more.
Thank you to the YES virtual program for the wonderful experience! I can't describe how happy and blessed I feel to be a part of the YES family.
Watch a video that Zainub made for her host family!