By Xhonatan Mehmeti (YES 2018-2019, Albania, hosted by BFF in Cary, NC)
In September, I had the honor of addressing a group of YES program staff from around the world during the annual YES Consortium Conference, which this year was held in my home country, Albania. I was asked to talk about the benefits and importance of being placed in a host family with another exchange student, something we call a “double placement.” In my case, I shared a family with Ali Awwad (YES 2018-2019, Jordan, hosted by BFF in Cary, NC).
The group I addressed included YES recruitment and placement organization representatives, and, lucky enough, my host mom was one of them! I still can’t believe it. As a newly returned alumnus, this was one of my biggest YES-related achievements so far.
I would like to share some of the highlights from my speech. If you are an exchange student sharing or looking forward to sharing a host family with another student, this is for you!
1. Growing up as a “spoiled” child, I thought that having to share things with another exchange student was going to be the end of the world. It was not. At all. Of course you are sharing your family, but each one of you has his or her own part in the family. Nobody’s stealing anyone’s family.
2. You are sharing experiences with another person, but after all your experience is going to be your experience and theirs is going to be theirs. There might be times when you will hang out with each other’s friends or have the same activities, but that does not mean you are going to do the same stuff all the time. Everybody has their own friends and activities, but having a few ones in common is even better!
3. Imagine if you are having a hard time trying to make friends and you’re not hanging out that much. Guess who you can hang out with? The other exchange student you live with! You got it right! Starbucks sounds better with your best buddy.
4. I argued a lot with Ali, but it always ended well. We never really fought. It was mostly about little things, like who was going to sit in the front seat of the car - when our host sister was not around, of course.
5. Also, if you ever have to deal with homesickness, which you probably will at some point, guess who can help you? Another exchange student will understand you better than anyone. They have gone through it; maybe they’re experiencing it at the same time. They know how you feel so they will always be there to listen.
6. There are also cultural advantages. Ali taught me Arabic. I know the alphabet and I can write English but in Arabic letters. Isn’t that cool? I also learned a lot about Jordan, where he comes from. I would never have learned all that stuff if it hadn’t been for sharing a host family with Ali.
There are two phrases I would like to share with you, from Arabic. One is “Maktub,” which means “it is written” or “it is meant to be.” It is from my favorite book. And the other is “Akhooi,” which means “my brother,” because Ali really is my brother.