By Klea Troka (YES 2011-2012, Albania, hosted by YFU in Delaware, Ohio)
They say the bond you create with everyone you meet as an exchange student is really strong and never fades, and so are the memories. It does not matter how many years have passed by, the memories are still there. There is also a strong desire to share these memories, the experience, and the things you learned regarding culture and cultural differences. This December in Albania, my fellow alumni and I did just that.
On December 14 in Vlorë, Xhonatan Mehmeti (YES 2018-2019, hosted by BFF in Cary, NC) worked with the local American Corner and gathered around 20 children ages six to 12 years old to talk about American holidays, the traditions followed in each of them, and the history behind them. Xhonatan also helped participants to compare U.S. holidays and traditions with Albanian ones. They talked about Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Labor Day, and, since it was around the Christmas holiday, they also sang Christmas songs. At the end of the workshop, they wrote letters to Santa Claus while eating cookies. Xhonatan was impressed by how well the participants spoke English, how much they already knew about American history, and how willing they were to share everything they knew.
On December 27, I invited ten high school students to take part in an informal conversation with alumni. Alumnae Aleksis Statka (YES 2018-2019, hosted by PAX in Lehi, Utah) and Katerina Hatija (YES 2013-2014, hosted by CIEE in Everett, WA) talked about what surprised them most about U.S. culture, their first experiences with their host families, and their host family Christmas traditions. Current YES participant Serena Canka (YES 2019-2020, hosted by ASSE in Lamar, Missouri) joined us through Skype to share how her exchange year has been going so far and to bring us all closer to the festive U.S. holiday spirit. Participants were really surprised to learn how extensive the festive spirit is in the U.S. Reflecting on the entire conversation, Aleksis shared: “The realization that Americans and America offer, in fact, a huge variety of lessons and experiences that differ from person to person--rather than a seamless representation of what the rest of the world assumes them to be like--feels like a superpower, as does talking about my experiences and contrasting them with those of other alumni.” Aleksis also noted that discussing her experiences and hearing other alumni discuss their experiences with non-alumni youth “who likely hold the same beliefs that I used to” was especially eye-opening for her.