Louise H., a Local Coordinator in the Virginia/Maryland area, and Cindy A., a Local Coordinator from Ohio, recently organized a fantastic community service project for a large group of AYA students to attend in Washington D.C. On a cold Saturday in December, in addition to sightseeing and visits to national landmarks, these young internationals volunteered in an annual event, Wreaths Across America.
Wreaths Across America is a non-profit organization with the mission to: Remember, Honor, and Teach. Each December on National Wreaths Across America Day, the organization coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery and more than 1,100 locations worldwide. In this way, the mission is carried out to remember fallen U.S. veterans, honor those who serve and teach children the value of freedom.
In the following, students share in their own words what this opportunity meant to them.
Dure N. from Pakistan wrote:
On the 17th of December, we went to the Arlington Cemetery in Washington DC to be a part of Wreaths Across America. This activity required us to put wreaths on the graves of veterans and people in the military. It was a way of showing the respect and honor we feel for the people who sacrificed their life so that others could live theirs. It made me see the unity and nationalism prevailing in this country. Then, we saw the Washington Monument, Pentagon and the White House. Through the trip, I learned a lot about American history and values, and I was glad I was given this opportunity.
Kateryna P. from Ukraine wrote:
We went on a trip to the U.S. capital, Washington DC. We visited Arlington National cemetery for the Wreaths Across America. Personally, I was very impressed to learn about history and traditions of honoring and funerals at this cemetery. It is amazing that originally it was someone’s property. At every tombstone by the grave there is a cross or sign of religion this person was in. If family members will be buried at this cemetery, their names will go on the back of the stone. I found out a lot of interesting details, and I can’t wait to share all my experience with my country.
Domante B. from Lithuania wrote:
I went to Washington D.C. for Wreaths across America. The experience was incredible! I could never believe how many soldiers are buried there and how respectful are people who come to visit. I was truly amazed when I saw the tomb guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. What a sacrifice! They walk there all day long and in any weather conditions! It changed the way I look at America. I understood how much they appreciate the people who sacrificed their lives for the country.
Andreea-Diana P. from Moldova wrote:
Going to the Arlington National Cemetery was a very thoughtful, exciting trip for me. While walking through the graves we found out that if you are on a high military rank the circumstances you are buried are pomp. Also, three members of the family can be buried in one place. If the husband, the father decides not to buried in Arlington Cemetery, his dependent children buried there are going to be moved. Depends on the religion, there are different symbols on the tombstones. If you are Jewish there is a David Star, if you are Christian or Catholic, a cross. Some of the people are buried after months, some after days, it all depends who you are. The guards take their job seriously (protecting, keeping silence, changing flowers). Some stones are bigger and people are not actually buried there; it is a stone for commemorating a historical tragic event that killed people. Learning all these things and going to place wreaths made me think about my school values and my life.
This day will stay in my mind for a long time. With our first steps in the cemetery, it felt like we’ve stepped in a different world. The Tomb of Unknown Soldier surprised me with its majesty, and I was amazed by guards that work there and are willing to honor these people no matter what happens. I remember how we found the graves of immigrants, and I was surprised in a good way that they are honored the same way as Americans. I had a chance again to see how tolerant Americans are toward different religions as it was seen on gravestones. This place is one big monument for all people who have fought for this country, and it stands beautifully for its purpose.
Agahe L. from Poland wrote:
Today for the first time, I had a chance to visit an American cemetery and it was a quite different experience than in my country. I am delighted with the project Wreaths Across America because it’s a beautiful way to commemorate the people who served for this country. Our group of exchange students had a chance to find the graves of immigrants who worked for American military and get to know their short stories, commemorating them. We saw how important it is to show respect to those who died by being silent in the place they are buried. It was great but also a very sad experience. I am glad I had a chance to visit the Arlington National Cemetery.
Sharib U. from the Philippines wrote:
An experience in a day happened that changed my perspective about America. We did an activity called Wreaths Across America. We searched the grave of two immigrants that sacrificed their life for the country United States, and I also witnessed how the Americans honor the unknown soldiers that died in World War II. And I also enjoyed watching the national Christmas tree. The lights are just so awesome. I learned a lot about how and what goes on in Arlington National Cemetery, like there are thirty funerals every day. The religion of the deceased is identified on the tombstone, like the sign of the cross on the tomb.
Ioana P. from Romania wrote:
I was deeply impressed by the Wreaths Across America activity. I felt humbled by the dedication and respect for the American soldiers that I have witnessed. Observing their pride and respect to the sacrifice and loyalty of military men was a really big cultural difference from my country.
I had seen the Arlington Cemetery displayed in movies and documentaries, but the experience of being there (and on the day of the Wreaths Across America too) changed my outlook on American values. I feel so proud and grateful that I am gaining all these new perspectives, and I will take them back to Romania and share them.
Nia A. from Georgia wrote:
Today we joined the event called Wreaths Across America in Arlington National Cemetery. I became a part of the annual event of American people. I saw how they honor heroes from the U.S. and other countries. I saw the tomb guards and learned how they sacrifice themselves every day. We attended and learned about tradition of guards who do great things to honor the people who are buried there, in every weather and condition even when they were told that they didn’t have to do it. We also honored graves of two soldiers.
In my opinion, this event is a great example of unity of the country when people get together just to honor people who died because of their country. I liked the feeling on unity, sadness and appreciation on that day and liked that idea. We honor our dead soldiers but American experience is so different from ours. I liked the idea of bringing wreaths before Christmas and honoring them in that way. It will be nice if we did something like that on Christmas, too.
If you have room in your home and would like to share your American life with a student from another culture, learn more about international high school exchange with AYA.