Yazan’s world has gotten smaller as he has connected with people from across the globe.
By Saba Sharaf (YES 2019-2020, West Bank, placed with AFS-USA in Wilmington, DE)
In everyone’s life, there is a turning point where they start to see things in a new light. For me, this turning point was the YES program.
When I heard that the YES program provides students from all over the world with the opportunity to spend a year in the U.S., attend an American school, live with an American host family, and experience the American lifestyle, I knew I had to apply! When I got accepted, my journey to achieving my dreams began.
The day of my departure came faster than expected and saying goodbye to my loved ones was hard. That day, I thought about how I could either quit the program because it was too scary and go home, or see what adventures awaited me in the U.S. However, once I saw the pride in my parent’s eyes, I knew I had to embark on this adventure. This was my first YES lesson as I learned that you can’t let fear stop you from pursuing new opportunities.
Although my host family was very nice and loved me, I initially had my hopes set so high that when I arrived in Wilmington, I didn’t think I was going to find what I was looking for. However, I adjusted and started participating in different activities with my host family and friends. I finally began to experience progress! I also learned my second YES lesson, which is that when something does not meet my expectations, I should try my best to make the situation better.
When I reached out to other YES students, I recognized how unique all of our experiences were, which added a special touch to the YES program I had not realized before. This program brought us to the land of diversity. Even the schools were extremely diverse! The YES program offered me the chance to attend the Wilmington Friends School, a private Quaker school — something that I never heard of before I went to the U.S. Now I can say that I am a proud alumna. I obtained a lot of knowledge on the background of this religious community and the six testimonies that Quakers believe in: equality, integrity, peace, simplicity, community, and stewardship. I observed how Quakers apply these important values in real life, and I found ways to adapt these values and employ them back home. This was another great aspect of the YES program, as I was able to learn about the lifestyle of my host community and share elements of it in my home country!
I benefited a lot from the American school I attended because it offered a variety of classes that are not available in my home country. These classes gave me the opportunity to reach my full potential. The concert that I participated in with my chorale class showed me how much I love theater and performing. My peers at school also encouraged me to explore new opportunities.
Coming from a Muslim Palestinian family, I was faced with the challenge of educating people about my religion and background. Admittedly, it was scary to address harmful stereotypes regarding Middle Eastern people and face anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian sentiment. I often felt uncomfortable explaining to my peers the difference between Muslims and terrorists. Although sharing my culture was difficult, it was my favorite part about being an exchange student, as it forced me to step out of my comfort zone and discover myself. My YES experience also pushed me to decide to study law in college, which will allow me to practice my passion of defending the truth.
I started this journey as a teenager who was just trying to go to America, but ended the journey as a wise, mature young woman who had gone through the best experience of her life. If I had the power, I would send every young person in my country to this program because the situations that you experience and the decisions that you make allow you to become wiser, stronger, independent, flexible, and more mature.
The best part of the YES journey is that it leaves you with tons of amazing stories to tell your loved ones later. The YES program taught me that home is not where you live but where you believe home is. To get through this year, I made my own home in the U.S., and now I have two homes. There will always be a part of me that belongs in the U.S. — a part of me that will always remind me of my limitless potential. This exchange year was magical and filled with happy memories and wise lessons. I feel like I lived a whole life in one year.