It almost feels like as if it was just yesterday when I was on my own on a plane not really knowing what to expect but excited for what the future had for me. Now I’m going back home with a ton of memories, e-mails to answer, and a lot of stories to share. I don’t even know where to start now that I’m writing about my experience of being an exchange student in Colorado Springs, Colorado for a whole school year.
Well, I’ve wanted to be an exchange student my whole high school life. I thought then that living somewhere else for a while and having friends from another country would be the coolest thing in the world. I would be on my own, have my own Indiana Jones adventure, and fulfill my dream of having something different. Pretty soon, I applied for YES program and the process started. After qualifying different stages I got an email saying I am the finalist. I had workshops about rules, how to survive, homesickness, etc. Then later I had a host family! Next thing I knew, I had a flight booked.
And I came to the beautiful place called Colorado Springs and started my year. Time flies really quickly but at the same time I saw and experience things I couldn’t even imagine. After my own experience, I now believe that exchange students can help change some of the assumptions and preconceived ideas in their societies because people are more likely to accept the change from within their society rather than from the outside.
During my stay I was invited to speak about Islam at the Unitarian Church of my town. The time I spent there showed me once more that coming to the United States was the best decision I have ever made. I learned about different religions, which is something I couldn’t have done as easily in my country where 98 percent of the community is Muslim. I went several times to different churches and learned about different practices and beliefs and I was able to share my practices and beliefs with others. This year taught me to be more tolerant and I think I helped people understand more about my heritage.
These are just a few of my experiences. There are too many to list. But through all the diverse community service activities, my time at school, with my host family and with new friends, I have seen different faces of the United States. From people who live from paycheck to paycheck and fill the lines of soup kitchens, to old people in nursing homes who want nothing but a little bit of attention and care, I was lucky enough to see the true diversity of the world’s biggest melting pot.
Every time I think about my host family, my local coordinator, friends, teachers or fellow volunteers, I cannot help but get emotional. They did so much for me. My host family gave me a place in their hearts and minds. My local coordinator was always there for me whenever I needed her, always making sure that I was adjusting and enjoying my stay here. My teachers and friends have volunteered to help me in the academics and took my situation in consideration whenever I did not understand something that was common knowledge to the other students. The volunteers I worked with tried to make my experience enjoyable and taught me all I needed to know.
Being away for 10 months and living alone in a completely different world has taught me a lot of things. I have grown and my perspective has changed in ways I never would have imagined. I now can say that I am independent, appreciate my family and friends here more, open to new ideas, aggressive, and more confident about myself. Having my own adventure has proven to me that anything is possible and that I can do anything. It was the best time of my life and I will always remember how choosing to go out and discover what the world has in store for me was life-changing and will be something I will always cherish.