By: Thalia Salloum (YES 2017 – 2018, Lebanon, hosted by ACES in Hammond, IN)
I grew up as an active kid. I loved to try new things and I loved to learn. From an early age I knew one of my passions- dance. I was really flexible in gymnastics as a kid. During my exchange year, I got the chance to tryout at my high school’s dance team and get in. Little did I know it would turn out to be everything I ever wanted.
In my home country, I watched lots of American dance shows and pretended to be in one of them. I’d always play the music and imagine I was a character myself standing on that stage with my group of dancers. I never knew what it felt like to have this group as my team, until I went on the YES program.
From earning a new family, to learning discipline, punctuality, and team bonding, I was able to make it to State finals with my team. Performing in front of over two thousand people at a gym and having judges studying every move was nerve racking. But moments before the music started, I closed my eyes. The world froze around me, I could hear the audience cheering from far away and I shed a tear, saying to myself, “This is all over you ever wanted, you got this.”
We had a successful season, winning first place in regional competitions and fifth at State.
Later on, I ended up performing at Hammond Academy of Performing Arts Program which took me from the gym to the studio and stage. I ended my exchange year with one last dance at the HAPA Spring Dance Concert. As the spotlight was slowly getting brighter on us, I turned to my best friends around me, I looked at myself, then at the audience, and started with a big smile on my face.
Everything I always imagined was right in front of my eyes. I was finally there!! It was my last dance.
When people ask about who I am, I define myself a proud YES alumna. I spent ten months of exchange learning, growing, and giving my all, only to realize that every end has a new beginning.
I came back to my home country with a new step, a new goal. From sharing about my experiences and applying them, to being an active member of the alumni community hoping to improve for the better, one of my recent goals was giving back to my country that has been giving to me my whole life.
On July 26th 2018, I found an opportunity, and I participated along with five YES alumni on a volunteer activity to help Lebanon set the world Guinness Book Record of the biggest mosaic made out of recyclable materials. We collected plastic, separated them and helped prepare a detailed final work.
We took the trash that people have been complaining about and found reasonable solutions to them. Small change is still a change. And this is what I encourage all youth to do. Less words, more actions. Your heart grows bigger when you live with a purpose of giving to the world.
We did not only have a wonderful time and got to meet unique people, NGO CLeverNes was able to achieve the goal of earning the record. The message and awareness of the importance of nature still continues. And I continue to dance.