By Ian Oedayrajsingh Varma (YES 2019-2020, Suriname, placed with CIEE in Parsons, KS)
Studying abroad to explore different cultures has always been a dream of mine. It’s so exciting and such a privilege to learn about new cultures, just as it is to tell others about your own. The YES Program gave me the opportunity to do that. I was hosted in Parsons, Kansas by the most loving and caring host family.
At first, I was pretty nervous to say goodbye to all my friends and family. I’d be traveling for the first time in my life, living in a completely different environment, and staying with a family I only knew over the internet. But at the same time, I was very excited to meet new people, try new things, and take on a whole new adventure!
In the U.S., everyone was so kind and welcoming; everyone was so excited to get to know more about me and my country, Suriname, which they didn’t even know existed! I had promised myself to not get too attached to anyone, knowing that it’d be incredibly difficult to say my goodbyes once I had to return back home. My host family welcomed me into their home and made me a part of the family, as if I was their own son. Now they feel like a second family to me. In school, I quickly made friends by signing up for different sports, participating in clubs, and experiencing different school events. I ended up making many friends who I grew very close to throughout the year—almost like siblings. Even in a town as small as Parsons, having sleepovers while munching down on pizza never got boring.
Once clubs started up, I joined the math club. Once a month, there would be math competitions. At the end of the school year, our math team ended up in first! During the spring, I signed up for baseball, and I absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, right before our first baseball meet and right before the math club nominations, the school shut down because of the pandemic. Doing sports, attending different events organized by your school, and joining clubs are fun ways to get to make new friends!
Living in a small town, there weren’t that many community service opportunities. However, the community service projects which I was able to do were unforgettable. I got to offer my services to good causes. Right before my return home, I made COVID-19 posters, with ideas on how to stay busy during quarantine for the elderly of my church.
The coronavirus has drastically changed the course of my exchange year. It came up when the best times of my exchange year were about to happen. School trips, church trips, family trips to different states and parks, and so much more got canceled all because of the coronavirus. Even with the coronavirus ending my exchange year a few months too soon, I still had the most amazing experience of my life. I had the best host family and friends and got to experience American History at its finest during Civic Ed Week. Becoming a YES student was the best decision I have ever made.
Going on exchange isn’t about the luxuries of living in a different country, it’s about emotionally connecting and creating lasting bonds with the people you meet. My message to future exchange students: Don’t miss out on any opportunities and make sure to live your exchange year to the fullest!