By Marina Hiohi (YES 2019-2020, Struga, North Macedonia, placed with 4-H in Hugoton, KS)
My experience on the YES program was filled with everlasting memories and personal growth. The year that I spent in Kansas changed my life. I can still clearly remember when I first saw my host family when they picked me up at the airport, marking the beginning of this new chapter in my life. From the moment I stepped out of the airplane, my excitement for this new experience never left. There were so many new opportunities in front of me, and I was ready for it all.
I was placed with an amazing host family in Hugoton, a small town in Kansas. I attended Hugoton High School as a junior and, because I was placed in a small town, my school felt like one giant family. My year there was a year of many “firsts.” I attended my first football game, first spirit week at school, first Homecoming dance, first Thanksgiving, and so much more. Everything was new, and I was always ready for new experiences. I joined clubs and participated in various school activities, which helped me make new friendships and get the full American teenage experience. In my time in the U.S., I had the chance to live a completely different lifestyle and learn so much. I volunteered and gave back to my host community, I grew as an individual, and I learned about American traditions, all while sharing my own country and culture. I will never be able to pick a favorite experience from my exchange year, every single moment helped me build the best time I could have asked for, and I could not be more grateful.
Upon my return to North Macedonia, I have been an active member of the country’s YES Alumni community by attending meetings and events and participating in our weekly Coffee Chat. Being a part of the alumni community allows me to get to know the rest of the alumni around the country, learn about new opportunities, and improve my personal and professional development. One of the latest activities that I was a part of, which I really enjoyed, was the Virtual Secret Santa, where we exchanged gifts through the postal office with other alumni and YES finalists. On Christmas Day, we celebrated together online by opening gifts on camera and playing virtual Scrabble.