By Habiba Gahlan (YES 2017-18, Egypt, hosted by World Link in Visalia, CA)
When I was traveling to my host community after the welcome orientation in D.C., I was worried about how I would adjust to people I didn’t know and who didn’t know me, and how I would handle a whole year away. I was very nervous when I first saw my host family. After my host parents picked me up from the airport, we went to get my host siblings from their school. I remember that I cried when I hugged them because I felt as if they were my actual siblings, who are the same age as my host siblings.
The people who I now call my second family treated me as their daughter as soon as they knew that I was to be their exchange student. My host mom, Lisete, took care of me in so many ways—helping me with difficult situations, moments of homesickness, projects and homework. My host dad, Juan, always supported me whenever I felt down, encouraging me to keep getting straight A's in my classes in the U.S. and in my home country, encouraging me with cross-country and track and field meets and to keep tracking my volunteering hours.
I have a lot of unforgettable memories with my host family, such as spending my first American Thanksgiving with my host mom's family in San Fernando, Los Angeles, and starting my winter break with a visit to Disneyland, which was a dream come true. I loved playing basketball with my host siblings, having move nights with my host family, having talks about some funny things in my home country and singing along with the latest hit songs with my siblings on our trips. All these things made me feel like home--from the way my host parents treated me to the little games with my host siblings.
I'm very grateful for my host family for letting me be a part of their family and I will always be thankful for them for being by my side to help me throughout my ups and downs. For all the host families who are thinking about hosting, I would tell you that an exchange is not a year in your life, it's a life in a year. You will learn a lot about yourself as well as another culture.