Current YES student from Nigeria, Comfort Dum Maude, placed in Milford, N.H. explains how “the lessons (she) has learned will stay with her forever,” and why her newly formed opinion on cultural exchange will never change.
I was an “exchange student,” but I didn’t believe the power of being in an exchange program until last year when I participated in the U.S. Department of State’s Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES).
After my own experience, I now believe that exchange students can help change some of the assumptions and preconceived ideas in their societies because people are more likely to accept the change from within their society rather than from the outside.
That is why I strongly believe that an exchange experience is one of the most powerful ways to promote human beings and help end centuries-long conflicts, which take our focus away from real problems. I’d like to share a couple of the hundreds of experiences I had while in the United States that continue to amaze me.
When I came to New Hampshire last year, I was a sixteen year-old Nigerian student who did not have much experience outside my own culture. I learn a lot going to school in the United States, but the most important lessons I learn are outside of the classroom.
I never thought I’d travel across the world and be invited to meet an important official of the United States, let alone the Nigerian Ambassador. On Oct. 27, 2011, I went to the New Hampshire township meeting and saw Gov. John Lynch. I was really excited, and got the opportunity to take pictures with him. It may seem like a small thing, but this experience was the first of a long list of very interesting experiences that will change my life forever; Most of which I never thought I would have.
I was fortunate enough to be in the U.S. for the primary elections that took place in New Hampshire. I went to see how people were going to vote, and saw it was free and fair. That experience encouraged me to challenge myself and set some goals for my year in the United States. The excitement on that day was incredible.
Schooling in America has been the best part of my life. I loved all the courses offered to me. There was a particular course called We The People, and it really inspired me. The course was all about the government and history of the U.S. We had a regional competition for We the People courses, which we won. I was happy to receive a medal! That competition qualified us to compete at the state competition where we came out victorious, emerging as the New Hampshire state champions. I was amazed. Now we are qualified for Nationals which will be held in Washington D.C. in April (more information can be found here).
During my stay, I was invited to speak about Christianity to 7th and 8th graders at the Methodist Church in Milford. The hour I spent there showed me once more that coming to the U.S. was the best decision I have ever made. I learned about different religions, which is something I couldn’t have done as easily in my country, where we only have Muslims and Christians. I visited several churches where I learned about different practices and beliefs. I was, in turn, able to share my practices and beliefs with them. This year has taught me to be more tolerant, while helping others understand more about my cultural heritage.
These are just a few of my experiences. There are too many to list, but through all the diverse community service activities, my time at school, with my host family and with new friends, I have seen different faces of the United States. From the Milford citizens filling the lines of soup kitchens, to the elderly in nursing homes who want nothing but a little bit of attention and care, I was lucky enough to see the true diversity of the world’s biggest melting pot.
Being thousands of miles from home was not always easy. Like everything in life, my experience had it’s ups along with it’s downs. The hard times helped me grow up and move away from my comfort zone to gain maturity and independence.
Every time I think about my host family, my local coordinator, friends, teachers or fellow volunteers, I cannot help but get emotional. They do so much for me. My host family has given me a place in their hearts and minds. My local coordinator, Dolores Siik, is always there for me when I need her, always making sure I am adjusting and enjoying my stay here. My teachers and friends have volunteered to help me in academics and took my situation into consideration whenever I did not understand something that came easy to the other students. The volunteers I worked with tried to make my experience enjoyable and taught me all I needed to know.
I know I am one of the lucky few to live overseas for a year, but I also know that too few people know about my story and those of thousands of other young people who are part of exchange programs every year. When go home, I will feel as if I had seen America’s true face and heart. I knew more than what the news told me and I helped others learn more about my culture.
The lessons I have learned will stay with me forever and my belief in cultural exchange will never leave me. This is how we can really learn about others.