By Yazan Adwan (YES 2022-2023, Gaza, placed by Greenheart in Wauconda, IL)
On March 3, 2022, I was informed of my acceptance into the YES program. After screaming for an hour and telling everyone I knew that I was going to America, questions began to pop into my head. What does the other side of the world look like? How big are the airports? Is the world a small-town like my father has told me? Should I start making a wish list of restaurants to try and places to visit?
On September 7, I finally made it to America! Every question I had was answered from the moment I stepped foot outside the airport. In that moment, I knew that I would never be the same again. From my first moments in my host community, I was a member of my community.
I was lucky enough to be hosted in a phenomenal area, the Chicago suburbs, or the toddling town as Frank Sinatra used to call it. During my exchange year, I have been lucky to have many unforgettable experiences, including developing my relationship with my host family, meeting other exchange students, participating in community service, getting to know my classmates, and attending Civic Education Week. My favorite part of my host community has been how open everyone is to discover new countries and cultures. I have had many great conversations where I shared my home country’s culture and history.
One of the things that I will always hold with me from my exchange year is teaching my host dad how to cook Palestinian dishes. We cooked maqlouba for Thanksgiving and Christmas and made shawarma and falafel at least once a week! He loves my culture very much, from the stories about Palestine to the food to the clothes to the traditional dances. When we go for car rides, he always plays Palestinian songs. I also enjoy spending time with my host brother and his friends answering all their questions about “the other side of the world.” My experience inspired them to become exchange students and experience that themselves! My host mom, the star of my year, has always been my support system. I will never forget the times she offered helpful advice in situations where I needed it. I am grateful for all the moments we spent together, and thankful for all the memories we created.
I will also not forget my wonderful experience with community service. My favorite activity was volunteering at the food pantry. I interacted with so many interesting people, and it made me realize that our world is full of people who are willing to help others.
The YES program has made me more open-minded and outgoing. Now, I know that our world is not a small town, it is bigger than we realize. It is filled with places to explore, and many cultures to experience, but with programs like the YES program, the world becomes smaller, a place where a Palestinian, a Bosnian and a Tajik are sleeping in the same room sharing their stories all night.