By Shaquille Bottse (YES 2007-2008, Suriname, placed by Ayusa in Irving, TX)
After I submitted my application to the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program, I was excited to see what would come of it. Five students, including myself, were chosen as members of the very first YES cohort in Suriname. We were given sessions on the importance of community service projects and how we can create change within our own community. It was safe to say that we felt honored to be chosen for such an enriching program, which also allowed us build friendships and bonds with each other.
All exchange students participating in the YES program remember their first orientation week in Washington D.C. I definitely have to say that it was a time that I will never forget. We were excited to meet all the other students that came from all over the world, exchange ideas with them, and share our points of views on different subjects. Through team building and cultural exchange sessions with other YES students, we got the chance to learn more about the world around us. In addition to that, so many lifelong friendships were formed.
I was placed in Irving, Texas, where I had the honor of having two great host parents who stood by me during my YES journey. I was placed as a junior at Coppell High School, the home of the Cowboys. Being a high school student in the U.S. is almost the same as being one in Suriname, or anywhere else in the world. The subjects are pretty much the same as the ones taught back home. There is something incredibly enriching about getting to know something you are already familiar with and learning about it from a different perspective. Knowing that I was learning something new every day, especially when it didn’t come from a schoolbook, made going to school in the U.S. a daily adventure and increased my cultural awareness.
I am so thankful for my exchange year in the U.S. and I am even more thankful for the lifelong friendships that I formed with my fellow YES peers. Through social media, we managed to stay in contact with each other about our lives, being back home, and how we were now starting our journey as YES alumni. Now it was the time to use what we had learned during our year abroad to fully contribute and improve our countries back home.
Over the years, the YES program in Suriname has continued to grow and we were able to establish an official YES alumni association. Together with our collective knowledge, we organized various community service projects, including Global Youth Service Day activities, visiting orphanages, assisting the elderly, implementing environmental cleanups, and so many others.
Doing these activities with my fellow YES alumni improved my communication skills in so many ways that I could have never have imagined. I was even fortunate enough to be the president of the YES alumni association for a few years. During that time, I definitely felt my leadership qualities appear, which I never knew I had. A leader is nothing without the people they are leading and that was reflected in the incredible YES alumni that I had the privilege of working with. The association had grown so much at that point, with so many students represented from all over Suriname, and we exchanged stories and ideas about how we could change and better our country.