By Hiba Ouzaouit (YES 2017-2018, Morocco, placed by World Link in Grimes, IA)
What are some of your biggest accomplishments since becoming an alumni of the YES program?
Since becoming an alumna of the YES program, my life has completely changed, and I could only say that I have finally found my purpose in life.
Discovering my passion for community service has helped me realize many accomplishments. In 2021, I was selected as one of the TOYP (Ten Outstanding Young Persons) of Morocco by the JCI Morocco. I also founded the Future Leaders of Governance club in my university, in which we have been able to organize many workshops and projects. One of the projects I am most proud of is the Let Youth Lead leadership boot camp. During three days, we worked with thirteen Moroccan youth on project management, fundraising, public speaking, etc. I have participated many times in such workshops, but organizing one is definitely a different kind of pleasure.
Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a semester (an academic one this time) at Sciences Po Paris for the last semester of my bachelor's degree. When I saw people who traveled abroad for the first time, and how they got to experience what I have already lived at the age of 16, I feel extremely grateful for the YES program.
What are some of your favorite memories from the YES program?
The whole year of my exchange is full of great memories, and picking a few is always a hard thing to do. However, the first thing that comes to my mind is definitely Christmas and the ambiance it brings with it. I still remember opening gifts with my host sister, decorating the house, and baking goodies. It was a moment where my ties with my host family got even stronger.
Then, I think of the Civic Education Workshop, which literally changed my life because it's during that week when I decided that I wanted to pursue my higher education in political science and international relations. That week was full of learning, but also creating unforgettable memories with brilliant students from all over the world.
Last but not least, prom night was also one of my favorite experiences. As a teenager, I watched many American high school movies, and since I was a little girl, I dreamed of wearing a dress and attending a prom. My childhood dream was realized, once again thanks to the YES program.
What are some of the ways you’ve stayed connected to fellow alumni since your exchange experience? What about your host family or friends?
One efficient way to stay connected to fellow alumni is participating in alumni events and saying "yes" to alumni opportunities. For fellow Moroccan alumni, we always meet during pre-departure orientations, at U.S. Embassy events, or YES information sessions. For my international alumni friends, we virtually meet on webinars, and if the opportunity comes, we meet during YES alumni workshops. For example, I met friends during the YES Voices Podcasting workshop organized in Tirana, Albania. Besides this, we try to talk on social media every now and then, wish happy birthday to each other, and cheer on each other's accomplishments.
As for my host family and friends, we try to talk on holidays and birthdays, and we remind each other that no matter how far apart we are, we will always love each other and be there for each other. The previous summer, I was extremely lucky as I was able to visit them and be present for my host sister's graduation, a promise I made four years before when she was still in eighth grade.
How did the YES program impact you professionally? What about personally?
Professionally speaking, the YES program, and specifically CEW, was the turning point where I decided that I want to pursue my education in political science and international relations. Today, I have my bachelor's degree in political science with a major and minor in international relations, and I'm currently studying for a master's degree in global affairs.
Furthermore, the YES program has helped me to gain a huge network, whether in Morocco with my fellow alumni and the U.S. Embassy, or abroad with my international alumni network and other organizations. It also taught me many skills, which are helping me as a human rights activist, such as fundraising, negotiating and public speaking.
On the personal level, the YES program made me a better person by becoming more tolerant, more selfless, and more compassionate towards people. It has made me believe in humanity. Thanks to the YES program, I have become a citizen of the world.
What is one piece of advice you would give to current or future YES program participants?
Say YES to new experiences, get out of your comfort zone, and just be courageous enough to make the most out of this year. Be tolerant, be kind, but also be yourself.
In 10, 20, or even 30 years, what do you hope the legacy of the YES program will be?
In these years, I hope the legacy of the YES program remains the same. I hope it would still foster cross-cultural understanding and empathy. It should still believe in the human capacity to build bridges of communication and peace beyond the differences of language, beliefs, and background. And I hope the cycle of inspiration, growth, and learning keeps going from one cohort to another.
Read more about Hiba's story in our archives.