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Reflection on My Exchange Year

Rihem Senior Picture

By Rihem Sassi (YES 2019–2020, Tunisia, hosted by ACES in Harrisburg, SD)

My name is Rihem and I was a YES student placed in Harrisburg, South Dakota, but I had to return home early due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a reflection on my exchange year. When I first started the YES Program, I was just a teenager who had been dreaming about going overseas for a whole year. I’m proud of how brave I was to take that decision as a 16-year-old. I felt prepared for the year thanks to all the orientation workshops we had before leaving Tunisia. 

Rihem Saying Goodbye To Host Family

I had goals and a plan for each goal. I ended up achieving most of them thanks to my efforts, my host family, and all the people who believed in me. One of the highlights of my exchange year was completing 130 hours of community service. I gained so many leadership skills and I thought of so many initiatives I want to start when I get home. Doing so many presentations about Tunisia was also another highlight of my exchange year. I cannot describe the pride I felt as a Tunisian in each presentation. I made different presentations about our faith, culture, our social life, and our school system. I gave these presentations at schools, churches, and nonprofits organizations. I think that’s very important so that the world can grow closer together. Giving these presentations helped me gain a lot of confidence and public speaking skills.

Rihem At The Airport In Tunisia

I also gained a whole new family. I’m beyond grateful for my host family who opened their hearts and home for me. I’m beyond grateful for all the memories we made together. Christmas was one of my favorites. I already miss them terribly. I still call them from time to time, and we talk about how much I gained from my exchange year.

I know this experience didn’t end as we thought it would. I personally went through a very rough time when I found out that all my plans fell apart, and all my trips got cancelled. But it’s okay! This generation is very special and our experiences are very special. I think quarantine brought us all together. It was a good chance for us to reflect on our exchange and start thinking about what’s the next chapter in our lives. I’m proud to be officially a YES alumna!

Read about the beginning of Rihem's experience here!


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How did your YES experience change you? What have you learned about yourself, the U.S. and the world?

Check out this month's story prompt at bit.ly/YESstorywriting and submit your story!