By Isra Moussaoui (YES 2019-2020, Tunisia, hosted by AFS-USA in Bainbridge Island, WA)
After I said, "see you soon," to the life I created in the United States, and the people who helped me along the way, I hopped on a plane back to Tunisia. During the flight back home, the question that kept coming to me was, "What did I gain from this?" Was it that I got to live in America, the land of opportunities? Was it that I got to improve my English skills? Or that I got to make friends from all over the world? After a 14-hour flight, a lot of thinking, and little sleep, all these thoughts started to fade away, and the remaining one was how much I grew.
Before I went on the YES Program, I was a 16-year-old girl who had never even flown on a plane. I never experienced what it was like to be fully independent, to have a stipend, to look after myself, and to present my country in the best way possible. The best thing that I gained from the YES Program is this new version of myself, the one that kept pushing me to do sports like cross country and to volunteer at the Helpline House. The new version of me stood up in front of hundreds of people and gave multiple presentations about my country with confidence. The new me is less protective of my opinions, and more open to other people's perspectives, and sees the beauty in diversity.
This year didn't just help shape the new me, it gave me a sense of responsibility for my country, and a sense of belonging in my host community. My exchange experience helped build who I am today, and I plan to keep on pushing myself to give the best I can and help make a difference.
Check out Isra's face mask sewing project here!