YES Programs



Volunteering for YES, Making an Impact

Yes Arrivals

Photo courtesy Carolyn Sharratt

This article was originally posted on the AFS Volunteer Blog
by Carolyn Sharratt
I had the pleasure to be a group leader for the Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program arrivals in Washington DC from August 8 to August 11. YES is an innovative high school exchange program funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. This public diplomacy initiative builds bridges of international understanding, especially between Americans and people in countries with significant Muslim populations.
The first day the students arrived was amazing. Watching high school students from 13 different countries come together, share stories, and teach each other new games was the realization of the AFS and YES missions being fulfilled.
Day two was DC day. We all got to visit the Department of State and listen to Ann Stock, Assistant Secretary of State for Cultural and Educational Affairs. Ann Stock shared with all of us her vision for the future of the YES Program and was grateful to meet all of the students that make this program a success. While waiting for all the students and speakers to arrive, country groups and students took advantage of photo ops at the podium and the American flag.
After visiting the Department of State, each country visited their own embassy and met with a representative or Ambassador. I was able to visit the South African Embassy. We met with the First Secretary of Political Affairs. The students really surprised me with the questions they asked the First Secretary. Their questions included the topics of education, immigration, and health care. The Embassy representative also spoke about how he sees programs like YES impacting the future of South Africa.
After the Embassy, all of the students went to the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. It was extremely hot and humid but we managed to take a group photo.
After a very long and hot day in DC, day three consisted of small student groups working on orientation activities that covered the topics of journaling, being an ambassador, conversations about religion, host family conflicts, and other difficult discussion areas. The students did role plays and played games that would prepare them for such situations during their 10 months in the US.
Since Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, began on August 11, the YES students had a Ramadan party on the last night of orientation. There was lots of food, music, and a few countries performed for everyone.
The next morning began very early (1:00AM!) with students saying goodbye, tears of sadness, excitement, and nervousness of the unknown that awaited them in their hosted community. These YES students learned a lot during these quick three days, but so did I. I learned that these YES and AFS programs mean so much to these students. What we do as volunteers and host families leave a lasting impression on these young adults. I learned more about Islam in these three days than I have in all my years in school, I learned DC was named after Christopher Columbus, and I learned that a group of 400 students from other countries can impact my view of the world and how my presence in my community is a part of a larger mission to build cultural understanding.