By Jessica Croudace (YES 2016-2017, South Africa, hosted with FLAG in Myrtle Beach, SC)
I was fortunate enough to live in America for 10 months on the Youth Exchange and Study program. I was hosted in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and as a result I now have a second family! I went to a small school with about 140 students, which was a huge change compared to the big, all-girls school I attend in South Africa. In America I had many firsts, my favourites being Halloween, prom, roller coasters and how could I forget all the amazing food!
I learned so much in America and definitely became more confident and mature. Although I have always enjoyed volunteering and helping people, my many hours of volunteering in America taught me how to give more of myself and form more authentic connections with people.
The most significant change that occurred in me was that I became more open minded. My exchange year in America broadened my horizons and made me realize there is a lot more out there. Just like South Africa, America has many different ethnic groups from all over the world that are unique and important in their own ways. Befriending, living and going to school with people who have different beliefs, customs and cultures taught me to be more accepting and tolerant. I now realize that although we don’t look the same, we eat various traditional foods and speak different languages, we are human beings first and foremost and have many more similarities than differences. I now have friends all over the world and I truly realize that we are all part of a global family.
Something I didn't realise about going on an exchange is that adjusting to life back at home can be as challenging as settling in to life in America. I realise that I have a huge opportunity in which I can teach people what I learned about America and try to use my American experience to improve life for myself and others in South Africa. My advice to anyone thinking about going on an exchange would be to go for it! It truly is a once in a life time experience.