By Minahil Fatima (YES 2018-2019, Pakistan, hosted by ASSE in Maplewood, MN)
In January 2018, I had my first orientation with YES and was tasked to make a video about my goals in the U.S. I didn’t have any idea of my goals at the moment but the only words that came out of my mouth were to travel and explore the U.S. as much as possible during my exchange year. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to experience this or not. However, I’m blessed to have a host family who made my wishes come true.
My host family was planning to travel to Texas for Thanksgiving and they were also taking me along. Initially, the plan was to fly straight from Minnesota to Texas but then I got to see a sudden change in the plan when Mom decided to do a road trip instead, so that my appetite for travel could be well satisfied. This journey consisted of around 1,400 miles each way, as she decided to take a longer route so that we could visit as many states as possible. I was in the seventh heaven when she decided this plan.
The journey took its start on Saturday- 17th November at 5 a.m. when we left for Iowa. We visited the state capital and also made some other stops there. The best place there, was the stunning Bob Kerrey Bridge connecting the two states, Nebraska and Iowa. The best thing about it was the impressive structure- in both its architecture and especially in its quirky new personality, which gives a spectacular view of Omaha’s skyline and an almost airborne experience for the visitors. We stayed in a hotel for one night and visited some more places.
The next day was a bit different as I had a volunteer work commitment. This was another achievement as not only did I volunteer in the state where I was placed, but also in another state during the trip. After finishing the volunteer work, we left for Kansas City, Missouri where we went straight to the Kansas City Zoo. The best thing about the Zoo was the penguins as I always wished to see them in real life but couldn’t find an opportunity before this visit. When I first saw the penguins, I was in sheer heaven and could easily imagine the continuous smile on my face. We spent almost five hours at the zoo because there was a lot to witness. There were some other places that we visited and stayed overnight in Missouri.
The following morning, we started our journey towards Tulsa, Oklahoma where we had our first stop at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium, which is an important element of U.S. aviation history and considered to be the regional leader for the purpose of promoting science-based education through hands-on interaction and discovery. It was my first time in a Planetarium, which was wonderful. The next stop was at the famous Golden driller of Tulsa. This is a huge statue which was originally built in the 1950s for the International Petroleum Exposition that used to be held in Tulsa every four years. The giant Oilman has become a symbol for a city once known as the “Oil Capital of the world” since its first appearance at the 1953 International Exposition. Later in the afternoon, we started our journey to Texas and we arrived there at night.
For the next four days, we stayed in Texas. The first place that I visited in Texas was Six Flags which was the famous amusement park. The interesting thing about the Park was the flags of six different nations that had governed Texas: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, USA and the Confederate States of America. The following day, guests started arriving in Texas for the family reunion on Thanksgiving. Those days in Texas were amazing as all of my host mom’s relatives were so nice and welcoming that I didn’t feel left out for even a single second.
Thanksgiving was the main reason for traveling to Texas and truly the best part of the trip. We had our Thanksgiving dinner around 5 p.m. As soon as I entered at the house, I was welcomed with the tremendous aroma of all the foods that made my taste buds salivate in anticipation for the meal. This made me believe the facts that my seniors at YES had shared about this holiday: that it would be fun because you would get to eat a lot. The family time after dinner and playing games with everyone added more memories to my exchange year. The next day, I went Black Friday shopping which was another new experience. Having no prior experience of shopping on Black Friday, I realized that one should really have a strategic approach towards shopping at this event.
We started our journey back home on the following morning. We left for Kansas and had our lunch in the city of Wichita. After spending some time there, we left for Topeka. Having some hours of rest there, we left for Minnesota. After traveling the whole night, we reached home before sunrise. We had to shorten our trip home as there was some news of bad weather, so we decided to travel straight home instead of visiting some other state. I am so grateful to my host family especially my Mom for driving more than 2,500 miles through all these states. I feel highly blessed to have such amazing people around me.
Thank you Mom!
Thank you Dad!
Thank you YES!