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I never knew I’d find my true self the way I did. I guess it all waltzed itself into my life the moment I timidly walked into the austere-looking interviewer’s room, who afterwards blatantly announced I had passed it. This had happened exactly two years ago when I got selected as one of the 108 finalists for the Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES). A small little girl who was now going to travel all the way across the oceans to a totally new place with different tradition than hers; my happiness knew no bounds.
I was placed in De Pere, Wisconsin, a beautiful little town of 25,000 people, who accepted me heartily. I loved the plethora of my small community that is seen sheathed in winter most of the year. The winter that made me break my comfort zone and try different activities that I wouldn’t have even imagined existed, otherwise. Something that I love doing now that I am back home.
Attending an American school is probably the second best thing that has happened to me. The first would be YES itself. I would get shivers by just thinking about how I was going to fit in the new place. I used to be sure that my shy and introvert existence, that was confined only to books would never change. But miracles do exist. And that’s what happened to me. In those 10 months, I became fluent in a new language, became more humane, made new friends from literally all over the world and most importantly understood what it truly meant to become part of a culture different from my own. The year transformed me into a stronger, more confident individual who is well connected with the world around her unlike my previous self.
YES has absolutely, broadened my views about the world. Never having the chance of exploring the outside world, all I knew was what our culture told us. Our traditions meant the world to me, they still do, but there’s a lot outside this little world. And that’s what this program rewarded me with an opportunity to explore. It rewarded me with a chance to eradicate the misconceptions I had about the western culture. It has made me capable enough not to only think as a Pakistani but from the perspective of a proud global citizen. Today, I can proudly say that I learned a lot more about myself as I learned about others during those mesmerizing 10 months.
“You’re nothing like what I thought a girl from Pakistan would look like! Your traditional clothes are so colorful, and I thought the only color girls could wear was black.” (Skenandor- a senior at West De Pere, my American high school)
“I have so much respect for you. Everything you’ve done since you’ve been in West De Pere, it’s truly amazing.” (Hubers-my school counselor)
These were perhaps more precious moments of my exchange year than traveling to California or Washington D.C. These moments, the smiles, those faces after the cultural presentations going like, “Woah! This is so different than what we thought it was like”, motivated me even more to keep on doing my best to teach Americans, what Pakistanis are actually like.
From singing to public speaking for Forensics, this year gave me a chance to unveil the inner me. Credit goes to Spanish club, Student Council, Yearbook, Beautiful Confidence, Culture Club, Outreach Team and Theatre that allowed me to make new friends in high school and groomed me as a person.
Words cannot best describe how extraordinary my experience was in States. The exchange year has been “The most amazing year of my life” and will always have a special place in my heart no matter where life takes me.
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