YES Programs



To Women Who Inspire Us

YES student, Vesa, in a prom dress standing next to her host mom and host sister

By Vesa Sherifi (YES 2017-2018, North Macedonia, hosted by AFS in Kansas City, MO)

We all have someone whose work and the way they have chosen to spend their life motivates us to follow their steps or just do what we are meant for. For some of us, it may be a famous figure like Marie Curie, or Oprah, or Anne Frank, or Princess Diana. For many of us, it is also our mothers. My mother has been an inspiration to me for years now. This year, however, following my exchange experience in Missouri and after, I have realized that another very strong woman has entered my life for good.

This one goes out to Melissa Read Jackson, my host mother.

My host mum is a lactation consultant, a wonderful spouse, an amazing mother of four. I saw her go through a lot in a period of ten months, and each time something came up, it would fascinate me to see how she dealt with it. Seeing her keeping a balance with everything going on in her life was amazing. She had three teenagers (counting myself) in the house, but she stayed sane. And I am pretty sure she helped each and every one of us to stay sane, too, no matter what struggles we faced. She was always there to ask “what’s wrong?”(and most of the time to understand what was wrong without even asking). In such a short period of time, her words became very important to me. She would easily calm me, and her hugs would be a good way to start the day. My host mum became a grandmother last year, and seeing her excitement and the unconditional support she gave to her daughter was so inspiring and heartwarming. 

Besides being an awesome mother of four amazing daughters, through the years she was a host mother to five more, from all around the world. My host family hosted four times before me, and it was amazing to see them mention each one of the girls and remember their time together. I think my host mum did a great thing hosting five times, but I’m sure it is not easy to love people that live all across the world. I know because I feel this myself.

Besides all of this, my host mum being in the medical field was one more reason she inspired me every day. I saw her go to work and help new mothers, and every time she came back it was like seeing her coming back from therapy or after a long chat with someone who makes you feel good. She would never complain about her work, even though I’m sure it was exhausting to work all those hours. Regardless, she would still come back, sit at the table with us, and be the funny, sarcastic person she is.

Maybe this is the greatest power of exchange programs: thanks to that amazing year, I have a person across the world that I call mama who inspires me even from miles away. Here's to all the strong mothers out there; to the amazing grandmas, sisters, daughters and friends; remember you are inspiring and motivating someone every day just by being yourself. And here's to my host mother!

Vesa visiting a museum with her host family
Vesa enjoys a moment with her host family