YES Programs



The Journey Continues

Marija and her families eat a meal

By Marija Arsovska (YES 2018-2019, North Macedonia, hosted by American Councils in Port Angeles, WA)

Five years ago, in August 2018, I jumped on a plane and embarked on a wonderful adventure in the United States. In August of this year, my host mom visited me in North Macedonia while traveling around Europe.

Since coming back from America, I have changed a lot. I have grown, met new people, and experienced much more of the world, but the 16/17-year-old Marija, who went on an exchange year, formed the basis of who I am today. Because of her courage to say yes to YES, I carry so many dear memories and people in my heart, even after all these years.

Lena, my host mom, is one of those people who made my exchange year what it was—wonderful and exciting. She was the laugh I needed when I was homesick; she was always helpful and ready to hear me about my culture. Most importantly, she gave me a second home, for which I will always be grateful.

The last time I saw her was through teary eyes when we said goodbye at the Seattle-Tacoma airport. This year, with my natural mom and holding a big Welcome sign, I welcomed her and her friend, Melanie, at the Skopje International Airport in Macedonia. To me, seeing her again was surreal. She awoke so many memories in me; just like that, it was as if I was back in the U.S.

Lena has always been curious about my hometown, Kumanovo, and wanted to meet my family. When I was in the U.S., she asked me what I wanted to see or where I wanted to go. "Costco," I said because I just wanted to experience the everyday things Americans do. She laughed at the simple answer but made my wish come true. This year, when I asked her the same thing about Macedonia, she just said she wanted to see my hometown and the way we live. I think that's the heart of the YES program – putting culture sharing first and learning about the "simple" things of the daily life of someone across the ocean.

Marija and her host mom

So we did the everyday things in Macedonia – Lena learned that people here like going out later in the day; she learned that lunch is our main meal of the day (instead of dinner) and that food is a big part of socializing. It reminded me of myself in America, when I was initially unsure how to serve new food or greet people. Luckily, it's something you pick up on quickly!

My family and I welcomed Lena and Melanie to a traditional lunch at our home. We had 'selsko meso' (mixed meat in a pot), 'tavce gravce' (Macedonian-style baked beans), and 'sopska salata' (traditional salad), all homemade and authentic. We walked around my hometown and took them to some historical monuments in Macedonia, like the ASNOM memorial center, to show them some essential parts of my country's history. In the U.S., besides school, I learned a lot about the country's history through visits to tourist sites in Washington, D.C., and I loved it.

We also showed them the Saint George orthodox church near Kumanovo, built in the 11th century, which they were so excited to see! Churches in America are newer buildings and usually have a close community tied to them. Besides churches being worship places, they're a big part of our historical heritage, with many old paintings of saints. I'm glad they got to see one.

Those few days, not only did my host mom, Lena, visit me, but a few days later, my local coordinator, Connie, also flew in! I'm so lucky that they both visited me during their trip around Europe. My heart was full from reconnecting with these people, who were a big part of my exchange year. Together, we strolled around Skopje's capital and tried even more food.

I was so happy to see my family connecting with them, too. Different languages and different cultures, yet now my mom can say she has friends from America, too! I'm so thankful that my host mom kept an open mind when she came to a country so different from hers. She was curious, non-judgmental, and excited to see and learn everything, just like when I came to America. Lena, Melanie, and Connie brought so much positive energy into our home, and they reminded me of all the best things about the U.S.

I cannot express my gratitude for these meaningful connections that have lasted for five years and will continue for many more. Meeting Lena and Connie again was nostalgic, and I was so emotional to revisit such a big part of my life. I'm so thankful for the YES program, my supportive local coordinator, Connie, who placed me in this host family, and everyone else included in this experience.

The reunion ended again, with teary eyes, when we were saying goodbye. But this time, knowing that our relationship is still strong, I know there will be another reunion. I hope to reunite with the rest of my host family, friends, teachers, exchange students, and everyone who has entered my life through the YES program. Until next time.