By Yusr Sale (YES 2019 – 2020, Bahrain, placed by AFS in Portland, OR)
It was around 3 PM PDT and even though I was jet-lagged, the excitement on my face was apparent. The first thought that crossed my mind when the plane landed at the international airport in Portland was, "Wow. Take a deep breath and say yay to new beginnings!"
My temporary host family and a volunteer from my placement organization, AFS, came to pick me up. We drove away from the airport, roaming in between the neighborhoods of Oregon. It was aesthetically pleasing and quite different than back home in Bahrain. Little did I know that it was the start of a strong bond with my “home away from home.” I was a week away from starting school, which was an experience that made me the person I am today.
One of my fondest memories of my exchange year was the first day of school. I attended Pacific Crest Community School. It is a private school and even though it was small, the learning opportunities were vast. I walked into the school by myself with my head held high. There I was, standing in front of the building with huge windows and a red brick exterior that gave it a rustic touch. After typing my entry code on the main door’s security keypad, I stepped inside and the school director, Jenny Osborn (whom I love dearly), welcomed me into the auditorium.
I sat next to two seniors who are now my friends. I felt so special as I was the only foreign exchange student that year. We were divided into groups of ten and started introducing ourselves. The school planned the day with a series of contests and competitions for students to enjoy.
There was an Oreo cookie eating challenge, water balloon basketball, and a poster contest, where a teacher asked me questions about the Arabic language. There were also some math exercises and a construction activity where we built a stick figure wearing prism glasses! On my way out, I made sure to grab one of the school’s t-shirts that were distributed to students. It was a purple shirt with a goat (the school mascot), the school’s name, and academic year on the front. Although the day ended, it still replays in my memory so vividly. As Jenny always said to me, “Once a goat, always a goat.”
I still remember the first time I walked to school, the first friend I made, the first person who mispronounced my name in a funny way, and the first time Portland felt like home. I am forever thankful for these first experiences.