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Turned Upside Down

Anas stands with his host parents on either side of him. All three smile

By Anas Alhaddad (YES 2013-2014, Kuwait, placed by AFS in Waukesha, WI)

Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped turned upside down, and I’d like to take a minute and sit right there, I’ll tell you how I had one of the best years of my life in Waukesha, Wisconsin. 

No story is great without its lead characters, but in this story, every member was a lead character and held a special spot in my heart. Mike and Ellen, my host parents (or I shall say, my host friends) were two people filled with life, joy, knowledge, and most importantly, compassion and understanding. Mike could easily start a stand-up comedy gig. Everyday I’d wait for a stomach curling funny story from the events in the middle school where he is the principal (he’s funny but also tough). Not to mention his cooking skills; the “Mikey Special” has won meal of the year for eight consecutive years. 

YES student and host parents during the first weeks of his YES exchange year.

Photo: the author and host parents during the first weeks of his YES exchange year.

Now to his other half, Ellen. Without her there is no Captain Mike (a nickname we developed between us). Ellen cared for me as her own kid. She always looked after me but also gave me my space. Her eye for little details and her quirky comments always get me cracking up. Not to mention the fact that Ellen is a well-known doctor. She is incredibly insightful and somehow she kind of predicted my future eight years ago.

Between the three of us, love and care was always present. We dedicated time once or twice a week to watch one of the best shows ever made, Breaking Bad. Up to this day, we make jokes and remarks about the show. We also dedicated a timeslot for Arsenal Football Club, since I was a die-hard fan. Mike and Ellen put up with my screaming for a goal at 5 AM and my depressed days when Arsenal lost. They even got me a shirt of one my favorite players, Mesut Ozil. Mike and Ellen also attended my drama shows in school multiple times, and threw me a birthday party at the house with all of my friends (three quarters of the school by then). 

Anas enjoys time with his host parents and their friends in 2021.

Photo: Anas enjoys time with his host parents and their friends in 2021.

Our story did not end when I left the United States. It resumed when I went moved to San Diego, California for my undergraduate studies and I have been visiting them once every year since then. They also visited me in California. This connection could not have been kept up if it wasn’t for effort from both sides. I was on the phone with them less than 24 hours before writing this and realized this advice for any upcoming YES students: do not lose contact with those who are dear to you. 

I started this story wanting to talk about my experience in the U.S. in general but ended up focusing on my host family, Mike and Ellen. To them, I will be forever thankful for one of the best years of my life. Here's to many more, my friends!


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