Throughout the YES 2022-2023 program year, we received several submissions from students about their experiences while on the program. As we facilitated their departures back to their home countries earlier this month, we thought it fitting to share some of the reflections we received in honor of the latest cohort of YES alumni.
By Nadia Ahmad (YES 2022-2023, Pakistan, placed by STS Foundation in Tacoma, WA)
This year, the YES/FLEX program arranged a storytelling workshop for students at the Mall of America in Minnesota. A total of 16 students from 15 different countries from all over the world were selected to attend this workshop. The thing I loved was that with just 16 students in a workshop, I got to work with everyone. Our reach was not just limited to some people around us, but everyone got to know each other.
The first day of the workshop fell on Eid, and I was excited to celebrate with everyone. The night before Eid, me and my roommate put henna on each other’s hands, which is a tradition. We got ready for Eid in the morning by putting on our traditional attire, and wished everyone a Happy Eid.
On the second day of the workshop, we learned about digital photography and took a tour of the Mall of America to learn about its history and its significance, then we visited the amusement park and did some shopping. Finally, on the last day of the workshop, we all presented the video projects that we had worked on, which were based on an interesting experience from our lives. It was amazing to see how much we all learned from this 2-day workshop. We all have so much potential to create amazing stories.
This workshop was one of the best memories of my exchange year. I can never forget this workshop and the amazing people I met. We made so many unforgettable memories together and learned so many things. I made so many wonderful friends, whom I will cherish forever.
I would like to thank American Councils and the YES and FLEX programs for arranging this workshop, as well as the four instructors for all the hard work and effort they put into it. The workshop was a rollercoaster of emotions, and maybe someday, somehow, I would love to reunite with this workshop crew and participants, and we would make more memories together.
By Fyka Muneer (YES 2022-2023, Pakistan, placed by AFS-USA in Machias, NY)
I traveled to the U.S. from my home country in September of 2022, not knowing what I was going to do. I was very determined and hopeful for the 10 months that were ahead of me, and guess what? Time flew by with the blink of an eye.
I have loved every minute, every second of my exchange year, even the sad gloomy parts where I had to say goodbye to my friends from all over the world. They are my friends for life. I will be forever grateful for this unique and emotional experience.
By Umaima Hussain (YES 2022-2023, Pakistan, placed by ASSE in Panama City Beach, FL)
Better Understanding for a Better World (BUBW) was a five-day conference about leadership and interfaith understanding for YES, FLEX, and CBYX scholarship recipients held in April 2023. During the conference, we learned about political and religious wars around the globe and met a delegation from Kenya, which was beyond a wonderful experience. We had leadership sessions and visited the Washington Monument, but my favorite part was the interfaith day, where we went to various places of worship, including a mosque, a synagogue, and a church.
I'm so thankful to BUBW for giving us the safe space for discussing such a sensitive topic like religion. We talked about religious biases with respect for each other and our beliefs, which is something that people don’t really talk about. I met so many amazing people and I cannot thank the YES program and BUBW enough for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity. I feel like I am a much better and more aware human being than I was a year ago, and I have connections that I will cherish for the rest of my life. BUBW changed my perspective on how I see the world.
By Shahjan Munir (YES 2022-2023, Pakistan, placed by AYA/AIFS in Veneta, OR)
BUBW was a conference that worked to achieve balance in the world by targeting cultural, social, economic, and political problems in a variety of ways through lively conversation and workshops. I was over the moon when my host mom told me I was selected to attend and be a part of such a prestigious conference, where I could work on the things that make the world a better place.
During the conference, we had opportunities to debate and learn more about the world and what was going on. We also visited places of worship, including a synagogue, a church, and a mosque, where we prayed the Friday prayer. It was the most beautiful moment for me to pray in such a peaceful mosque.
BUBW gave me so many good perspectives, memories, and understandings, as well as mutual respect and a view of the whole world as one. It helped me make a lot of friends from different backgrounds, and I learned a lot of things that will help me in my life. I never thought I could learn so much in a short time about current world affairs, and before leaving, I pledged that the conference was the beginning of a new story, and that I would play the main character by making the world a better place.
I appreciate the efforts of the Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (CECF) for teaching me so much in a short amount of time. I assure you that I will pay you back with my work and the interests that you awakened in me.
By Hina Kaleem (YES 2022-2023, Pakistan, placed by AYUSA in Hanover, PA)
I was nominated to attend Civic Education Workshop (CEW), which provided students with an opportunity to gain an understanding and the importance of civic responsibility. By engaging in civic education, we got to know that citizens ensure and uphold certain democratic values written into the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. CEW also provided the possibility to develop the civic agency and confidence to vote, volunteer, attend public meetings, and for overall community engagement. We learned about the U.S. government structures for collective decision-making and being a responsible citizen, and how these structural platforms are an effective method of elevating one’s own voice while respecting the voices of others.
During CEW week, my involvement and interaction with other exchange students showed me once again that admiration has no limits, and I cherished an individual from another nation and social foundation. Besides that, I understood that there are no restrictions to what one is capable of–as long as there is radiance of enthusiasm, the assurance to succeed, and the energy to learn, one is proficient enough to sharpen herself.
By Aleena Tanveer (YES 2022-2023, Pakistan, placed by AYA/AIFS in Almond, NY)
In 2023, I boarded my flight and landed in Washington D.C. for the Civic Education Workshop (CEW), and couldn’t hold my excitement back when I met some of my old friends from my home country. On the second day of the workshop, I heard some students talking in a familiar language and I guessed correctly that they were from India.
Pakistan and India were at one time the same country, but were separated in 1947. We share the same traditions, cultures, languages and even the same history, but the countries do not have a good relationship due to some political issues, and have had four wars in the past. I wanted to talk to those students, so I went over to them, cracked a stupid joke, and guess what? They laughed. We became best friends.
The same evening, I offered to let another student sit with us for dinner. He was from Bangladesh, which used to be a part of Pakistan, but became independent in 1971. Our countries also don’t have a good relationship because of some historical events. He taught us some words in his language, and we taught him our languages, too. All of us became good friends. The whole week, we supported each other and stood by each other’s side. Those jokes and laughter will never fade away from my ears. I felt like I was living in a dream, and didn’t want that time to pass away.
Then came the last day. We all hugged each other and cried like babies. Deep down, we all knew it would be almost impossible for us to see each other again because of our nationalities. It was at that moment that I realized we had achieved the real goal of exchange: I have best friends from the country mine has had wars with. I have best friends from the country my country didn’t want to be with.
We promised each other that no matter how hard it is to change the present, that we will change it. We are the youth of our countries and we can build a better future with peace. Borders faded away in the week of togetherness.