By Siya Joshi (YES 2018-19, India, hosted by World Link in Exeter, CA)
It all starts with a dream. A dream to do something different from everyone, a dream to make my family proud. I am a normal teenage girl from a middle-class family who lived in her own small world, who had not been out of her country, who has a small happy family of a loving mom, a caring dad and an overprotective brother. I am just a girl who never could have imagined herself somewhere without her family, until about a year ago, when some YES alumni walked into my class. It was so exciting to hear them talk about the YES program and I imagined myself taking one step towards my dream. Right away, I decided to apply. When I was notified I was a finalist for the YES scholarship there were no limits to my tears of happiness. I was flying, jumping, and running everywhere. I had 4 months to get packed for a new life of 10 months.
Here I am. After so many efforts by many people, I cannot thank those alumni enough for their help and advice. I still remember before departure, some alumni replying to my unnecessary questions anytime and anywhere. At that moment, I decided to be a part of this amazing exchange family across the world, as a youth ambassador of my country.
After orientation we flew to our host families, and I fell asleep on the plane. After a few hours, I opened my eyes, looked outside of the window, and time stopped for me. I kept staring at the golden state - California. The beautiful mountains, trees, roads, houses, etc. Butterflies were fluttering a storm in my stomach. How would my host family react when they saw me? What about my new school? What about my new friends? Food? Life? I had so many questions, confusion and hesitation at the same time. When I saw my host family and my sweet host sisters ran to me and gave me a tight hug, all my nervousness flew away in a second.
I still remember my sisters being so excited to give me a tour of the house, my host parents debating who would cook the food, my host mom taking me shopping. Those cute moments of love. Since my host dad is Mexican, I’ve had a chance to learn about two cultures together, Mexican and American. It is an advantage for me to try two different lifestyles, food, languages, etc. On the very first day of school I made so many friends. I have a wonderful relationship with my teachers. They are always ready to help me, even my history professor who tried to make separate assignments in my native Hindi language!
My host family helped me a lot to fit in a small community. They always encouraged me to do different things with organizations in the community. I always love to do volunteering and my host family helped me to find various places to gain new volunteering experiences. By volunteering at the local Boys and Girls Club, I discovered my new ability of working with younger kids. It was unbelievable how much I loved it. I have done more than 40 presentations about my country.
At school I am also in Key Club, which gets me more involved in the community, Drama Club, which gave me confidence in public speaking and performing, and Mock Trial, a club that taught me about the American judicial system. I participated in a competition playing the role of an “expert witness” in linguistics. My school does not have any dance classes, which disappointed me at first, but I found a new talent-- I started learning guitar and later joined the choir. I tried something out of my comfort zone. I sang an Indian song during our school fundraising concert.
I’ve been fortunate enough to experience living with two different families. My new host family is really nice as well and I learned that change brings with it a whole new learning experience. My new host family is so awesome! I have three older host sisters and one brother; I love them so much. Traveling with my sister is fun. My host mom is Filipino, so I am also learning about her culture. Exchange is about experiencing different traditions and sharing cultures. My host families gave me three different cultures plus my exchange family from all over the world. I could not be luckier than this.
People have stereotypes about exchange programs, that it’s so much fun and adventure. Yes, for sure, but there are ups and downs as there are with all things. I was lucky enough to have help along the way-- from my friend Jule from Germany; from my local coordinator who is always supportive and encouraged me to work hard. I was selected as the national YES student of the month for February. I could never do that by myself.
The YES program has truly changed me and given me a lot. I have become self-confident and learned so much about myself. I am going back home in a few months, but it doesn’t mean my journey will end, it means I am preparing for a new long journey.