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YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

Dreams Come True

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Guest post from 2013-2014 YES Scholarship Recipient, Rabia While I was in the plane for the first time in my life I couldn’t wait to know what the future would be holding for me. I was ready to start my exchange year, one of the best years in my life.

Michael Hill & Rabia

Michael Hill & Rabia

I am Rabia from Pakistan and was placed in Suffolk, VA. I am 17 years old and got selected to be a cultural ambassador of my country, affiliated to the exchange program known as Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES) and my placement organization is Youth For Understanding USA (YFU).

The excitement to come to USA can’t be expressed. It was the first time that I was going to be away from my family for one year. All the feelings of excitement, nervousness, anxiousness and willingness to explore the world were jumbled up in my mind. On August 13, 2013 I came to America. The first three days that we spent in Washington DC were definitely amazing. I got a chance to meet the President and CEO of YFU which was a great encouragement for me to start my year.

I knew this year was going to be a lot of fun when I met my host mom, Narendra Pleas. She is so loving and amazing woman and helped me a lot to understand American values so I could fit in. I was totally prepared to go to American high school, which I knew would be a whole new experience. I went to Kings Fork High School as a senior. High school is the part which makes the exchange year even more enjoyable, wonderful and memorable. I made lots of friends by giving presentations in my classes and by telling them about my culture. They all got so excited when I introduced Henna Tattoos and it helped me to make more friends. It doesn’t matter wherever you are fashion always brings teenagers close. After my presentation in Chorus class one of the girls came to me and said: “I didn’t really know that much about Pakistan, but after you showed us everything it really changed my point of view about your country and I think it’s pretty amazing.” After another presentation another student talked to me and she said: “I was feeling like I was there (in Pakistan) while you were talking about your country and showing us different things.”

To make this year even more exciting I joined after school clubs and sports. I was selected as the secretary of the international club and I am also a member of key club. We did different projects with both clubs to help our sponsors like fund raising for UNICEF to help orphan kids. I also played Varsity Tennis and became stats and score keeper of Kings Fork Boys’ Basketball team.

I wanted to try all the new things during my stay in America. I joined chorus and Air Force Junior ROTC. Both of these courses were definitely new for me and I loved both of these classes. It’s always fun to try new things. In my ROTC class I earned the cadet of the quarter award for all the four quarters of this year and also the outstanding cadet of the year award was one of my big accomplishments. In chorus I started with the mixed group and made it to the selected chorus group. I will miss both of these classes. They taught me something new and I will take all these memories with me.

My high school year went great, made lots of friends, got involved in different activities and inducted as a National Honor Society member. I will never forget how everyone showed love to me and accepted me as one of them. My friends, teachers and Principal were always there for me. They always tried to make my year wonderful. After the induction ceremony of National Honor Society my principal took me to the cafeteria and surprised me. He put the Pakistani flag along with all the other flags that were already there and told me to go stand with it so he could take a picture. It was all beyond my imaginations. All these people have been an important part of this year and I love them all.

After being inducted into the National Honor Roll Society

After being inducted into the National Honor Roll Society

My exchange year in America gave me a chance to get up and help the community. I did community service at Greensville Volunteer Rescue Squad (GVRS) throughout the year and I was awarded for being a Junior Squad member this year. I also did community service at a church on Thanksgiving. We packed food for homeless people to make them feel that they have someone out there to think about them and to make them a part of their celebrations. I have done 188 hours of community service.

I had the full American experience of Thanksgiving with turkey, Halloween by being a pumpkin, Christmas with all the gifts, super bowl by sitting on a couch and watching the super bowl on TV with some food, I mean lots of American food  and last but not least New Year Eve. All these occasions taught me to be thankful for what we have, be generous and spread happiness.

My year kept getting better and better. I was selected to attend a week long Civic Education Workshop (CEW). It was one of the best parts of this year. I got a chance to visit Capitol Hill and that was an amazing experience to go in to the government buildings and to have meetings with government officials to tell them about our exchange experiences. It gave me a lot of confidence and a great experience to remember.

I always wanted to go to different places in America and learn more about it. I got a chance to participate in YFU's Southeast District contest to win a trip to Hawaii. I participated in the contest. I gave several presentations in my host community and high school about YFU and exchange programs which are affiliated to YFU, distributed informative flyers and put up information about YFU at different public places to spread the word. All this hard work earned me that trip to Hawaii. I was the happiest person on Earth. The trip to the islands was a completely different experience and I got to know about a different culture in America. The beauty of that place was breathtaking.

No doubt, my exchange year went great. I have had lots of fun. It was unbelievable for me that I was selected as YES student of the month for the month of April. My host mom told me this great news and I literally screamed because I couldn’t believe that I was the one out of 900 students. It was a great achievement and I was so happy that day.

This year is not just a year in my life, it is more than that. It gave me an opportunity to present the true Pakistani culture. I got a chance to remove the misconceptions between two countries and to build long lasting ties. During the last days in my high school, I took small interviews from some of my teachers and classmates. My English teacher said: “I never had a Pakistani student before, but it was a very good experience to know about different culture. I think it’s really important to have exchange programs because exchange students come to class with a lot of things to offer which American students really like to learn.“ My French teacher said: “I think exchange programs open up many possibilities and encourage people to be more tolerant, more aware, give them a broader perspective and make people understand about other cultures.” She also said: “I was very pleased and surprised with how outgoing you are. You are so polite and very accepting of other people.” These people have had always been an encouragement for me to do even better.

My year is ending, but all the things I learned and all the experiences I had will always teach me new things and will definitely help me in future. The special relationship I have developed with my host family and host community will never end. Thank you YES and YFU for giving me such a great year!

A snapshot of Rabia's year in the US.

A snapshot of Rabia's year in the US.

Inspired by Rabia? Meet some of our incoming YES scholarship recipientsand welcome one of these future leaders into your family this fall!