By Laraib Aima (YES 2018-2019, Pakistan, hosted by STS Foundation in Wayland, MI)
Hello YES students, alumni and host families. I am Laraib from Karachi, Pakistan placed in Wayland, MI. I recently completed my exchange year successfully and now I'm part of the alumni community and a new journey, which I am really excited about. After spending a year in the U.S. I am not the same person. I have changed in so many positive ways and I am so looking forward to serve my home community using the traits I developed. I know that I made the most out of every day I spent there and brought so many lovely memories home with me. During my exchange year, I did so many fun activities and tried things out of my comfort zone. Every single thing I did & decision I made in one way or another had a positive impact on me and each time I learned something new. But the two things I will miss the most is my host family and my school.
I became a part of my host family as soon as I arrived. My host family included my mom & dad, my host brothers; Steven who is my age, Caleb who goes to college and Russell who is in the Airforce and a 13-year-old host sister Naomi. First of all, I received a very warm welcome at the airport. Everyone was so excited to see me and seeing my host family for the first time was a really emotional moment for me. My host mom made mac n' cheese for me which was delicious and I knew immediately that my host mom is a great cook. I started to make myself at home instantly because of the love I got from my host family. I had four days before school started so my host mom and Naomi showed me around town, we went shopping and I got to visit my school. My host family helped me a lot with school. In a few weeks, I was totally comfortable in my host community mainly because of my host family.
My host mom was so sweet and it would not be an exaggeration to say that she was like my second mom. She was so much like my own mom. She would literally care for me and love me like I was her daughter. I became very close to her. I hardly ever needed to talk to my local coordinator about any concerns because my host mom helped me with most of my problems whether they were about school or anything else. She was always there, we would chat and laugh and cook together. My host dad was really funny and just as caring. I love to watch movies and so did he, which is one of things I will miss the most. We finished all the marvel movies and a lot of shows on Netflix.
It was so fun to be around my host siblings especially on holidays like Christmas, Halloween and Easter. On holidays, we would go to my host grandparents' house and my host aunts and cousins would be there too and we played games and chatted. They were all so excited because sometimes I would cook my cultural food and talk about my home country.
It is really nice to have a whole another family in a different part of the world. I don't have natural brothers so it was so nice to experience what it's like. Naomi and I were really close too as she never had a sister. Having this new family has a great influence on me in a way that they hosted a new student from a very different country just to experience and learn and out of love and showed me how important it is to do something like this and encouraged me to keep on doing this kind of work. We have a really strong bond now which will last forever.
I had a similar experience with school as well. I went to Hopkins High School. I think school was the thing I was most nervous about. But it became one of the best parts of my exchange year. My first day was a little bit overwhelming but everyone there was really supportive. I learned all the important things within a week. I started giving presentations and everybody loved them so much that I started making friends quickly. They loved listening about my culture and school in my home country. There were eleven more exchange students with me in the school too. The classes were so fun, especially choir. Having a locker was so cool. I joined student council and planning the dances, school activities, and decorating the hallways with friends was so much fun.
Watching the football games and spirit weeks were two very new and interesting things for me. Everybody was so enthusiastic. Lunch was really different but fun for me too.
Two of my friends, Cassidy and Olivia are really special to me. They loved knowing about my life in Pakistan and about Pakistan itself and are planning to visit me here next year. We became very close. Us three and few of my other friends would gather every weekend and bake something new which we called a 'baking club'. We also made a few Pakistani desserts which they all really liked.
In spring, I auditioned for the musical "Little Shop of Horrors" and I could not believe when I got in because it was something which I never tried and was completely new for me. Long practices and learning the dances and songs was so much fun. Some days the practice would go until 9 pm. The costumes, all the singing and dancing and the show nights with the cast and crew members was just amazing and I made so many good friends. On our last day, we were all emotional. Not only did I make memories but I also experienced and learned new things about theatre and music. I also learned that sometimes you can make mistakes on stage and everything is not perfect but doing your best, just keep going on if you forget your line and most importantly have fun and help each other.
No words can describe how proud of myself I am as I made the decision of doing this exchange year. This was the best year of my life and I wouldn't have it any other way.
The end of my exchange year is actually the beginning of a new era for me.