International Education Week 2013, a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education to recognize the many benefits that international education and global exchange provide, offered the perfect time for YES students to share more about their countries and cultures with their new communities in the U.S. During this special week, around 850 YES students stepped up to the plate and gave presentations, often numbering more than 10 in one week and often to 300 or more students, ages 5-18, about their countries and cultures.
The students addressed a variety of topics and used a multitude of creative and interactive methods to engage their audiences. They taught their peers words and expressions in their native languages; shared photos of their families and experiences from their childhood; played their national anthems; handed out flags; guided their peers in performing dance steps; taught their host families and peers how to prepare traditional dishes; served traditional foods; created designs using henna; and discussed topics such as religion, education, fashion, and marriage.
The students’ presentations drew a great deal of interest and enthusiasm from their American peers and teachers and gave the students an opportunity to practice useful skills. For YES students, the experience was also a very positive one. YES student Muhammad Umer Janjua remarked:
It feels very good inside when you present about your country and culture! You literally get goosebumps when somebody comes up to you and says that ‘Pakistan is next on my list for traveling’ or ‘thank you for making me realize that there’s a lot more to Pakistan than what meets the eye.'
YES Student Adnan Manzoor shared the sentiment: “That day was one of the best days of my life… I am so confident and glad after delivering something positive about Pakistan, in front of almost 300 people.”
As ambassadors of their countries, the students not only engaged and peaked the interest of their American peers regarding their countries and cultures and gained valuable skills; but perhaps most importantly, they addressed any misconceptions the students had about the places from which they come. “[I] talked to several people and removed their misconceptions about Pakistan. Nothing feels better than being an ambassador of your country,” said YES student Aqsa Khaliq. Similarly, Henry Byerly, a School Counselor from Frontier Academy in Greeley, CO, spoke about YES student Ariba Surani from Pakistan:
Watching Ariba introduce Pakistan, its culture, and history was inspiring. She laughed while confirming to a group of middle school students that ‘yes’ Pakistan has McDonalds, she brimmed with pride at the playing of her national anthem, and most importantly, Ariba addressed some very important misconceptions on the part of our student body concerning Muslim culture and the beliefs of Islam… she bridged a gap with our students through her presentation, and she brought a new level of global and cultural awareness to a student body very much in need of exposure to the unknown.
It is incredible to imagine that International Education Week was only the start of a year (and hopefully a lifetime) of cultural exchange and increased global understanding for these students, their peers, and their exchange communities. They will surely continue to share their cultures and educate others through many additional activities. YES student Adil Khalid is gearing up to be among these:
The pastor of the church asked me to give a presentation on the similarities between Islam and Christianity to the youth group in the next meeting. We will also be planning for an international party in the church in the coming month, where we all will together cook Pakistani food and will enjoy Pakistani folk music.
Many students have also taken the initiative to continue the conversation on social media, creating Facebook pages and the like. Considering all the outstanding things that YES students did for International Education Week 2013 only makes the YES community all the more eager to see all of the amazing things they are bound to accomplish in the future. As YES student Ahtisham Alam Khan so aptly put it, “The best comment I got was ‘you will be a great leader in future.'"