By: Mohamed Elmarzugi (YES 2018-2019, Libya, placed by AFS-USA in Sheboygan, WI)
When I first heard about the YES program, many words sprung to mind to describe the experience: once in a lifetime, life-changing, outstanding, thrilling and unusual. I never thought that one of those words would be lifelong. Yet, after returning home several years ago, I am relieved to know that this experience does not end upon one’s departure from the U.S.
During my final hours in the U.S., a sense of melancholy about the end of my exchange year set in. It was hard to leave behind the life that I had built over the course of the year. Nevertheless, when I returned to Libya, I was thrilled to realize that the YES program would continue to play a significant role in my life. The saying “once a YESSER, always a YESSER” rings true for me and my experience.
The YES program has opened new doors and provided me with new opportunities. As an alumnus, I was excited to start giving back to my community as soon as I came home. I participated in many different alumni activities ranging from clothing drives to program info sessions to assisting with the testing and interview process for applicants. Although my individual contributions had a great impact, I knew that we as alumni could have a greater impact on our communities if we worked collectively. Along with several other alumni, we established the YES Alumni Association Libya, which promotes civic engagement, cross-cultural understanding, diversity, and the empowerment of young people.
Thanks to my experiences on the YES program, I can now make friends anywhere I go. When I moved to Jordan for university, I began actively attending YES alumni events in Jordan, such as get-togethers, the yearly iftar, and volunteer activities.
Another great opportunity I had as a YES alumnus was participating in Global Village on the Move. Global Village on the Move is an intensive leadership experience which combines worldwide connections and cross-cultural engagement with leadership development and collaborative team projects. Through this, I reconnected with U.S. Department of State alumni. The program had a virtual and in-person component. During the virtual session, we were divided into groups and given a company and project to focus on. We researched target clients and strategies to launch the project for our assigned company. Then, we gathered in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to come up with a project focused on a Sustainable Development Goal. Over the week, we engaged with people from all over the world, as well as representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan. In our spare time, we explored Bishkek and got to know the other participants. Through this experience, I learned new ways to apply my YES experience and useful skills for collaboration and project management.
My message to all future YES participants and alumni is to never think of the YES program as an experience that ends when your time in the U.S. does. Rather, you should think of it as an experience which gives you a blueprint to take advantage of many different opportunities in your life.