Nayab is a YES student from Pakistan. She took the time to write the following reflection piece on cultural exchange after attending a mid-year orientation trip to California with a large group of AYA students. Please enjoy Nayab’s thoughtful and very moving account of the experience that follows.
None of the faces were familiar. I was surrounded by voices I’d never heard before and people I knew nothing of, yet the sight filled my heart with a sense of warmth and comfort. We were all different; unique in the way we looked, the manner we spoke and the things we thought, but there was one thing we all shared in common; we were exchange students; warriors; those who bring a change.
When I boarded my plane to California, I had no clue I was going to live the few best days of my life and make memories to always be held dear to my heart. I didn’t expect strangers to turn into my best friends and to leave a piece of me behind in Camp Campbell YMCA in Boulder Creek, California.
During the mid-year orientations, I witnessed cultural exchange at its peak when 80+ students from over 40 countries were brought together. With all the different cultures and heritages in one place, we took fascination in learning about each other. Trying to pronounce each other’s name proved to be a bit of a strife, but once we were past that, there was no end to our conversations.
Personal experiences, stories of our lives before America and hilarious tales of what we encountered with American teenagers were shared. We compared and contrasted the similarities and differences between America and our homelands, and some of us realized that our cultures were much more similar than we’d expected.
In midst of all that, I realized that I was never going to be lonely. In the span of a few days, I’d connected with people who were going through the same situations, overcoming similar challenges and experiencing similar feelings. I knew from now onwards we would be there for each other and work unitedly towards our goal of being cultural ambassadors. Together we’d bridge the gaps between our own and the American society while also breaking the stereotypes about each other’s countries.
Moving on, the orientations were a great learning experience for me. During well-organized workshops, groups of exchange students guided by one leader participated in interesting discussions about their experiences in the U.S. so far. The first workshop, A Look Back, focused on the half of the year that had passed. Collectively we shared what drove us to become exchange students and the purpose we had in mind. We talked about our views on the American society, the various stereotypes, what our expectations were and what the reality actually is. We discussed the certain challenges all of us had encountered and the strategies we had used to overcome them. I really enjoyed listening to what some of the other students had gone through while sharing my own experiences.
In the second part of the workshops, we were taking a look ahead. The aim of this workshop was to discuss how we would make the best of our remaining time in the program. We talked about how we would create more awareness about our cultures and make a positive impact in the society. Many of us wanted to keep on working as ambassadors once we returned to our countries. Hence, we shared how we’d like for more people to be a part of cultural exchange programs and this wonderful opportunity to transform their lives.
Later, when I participated in the various outdoor activities that had been planned for us, I enjoyed so much while learning so many worthwhile things. Every activity had a certain purpose or an objective like teamwork, patience or communication. While performing tasks that made me understand the value of these traits, I realized that through applying them in practical life, I can have a really easy going and enjoyable exchange year.
In the last night of our stay, after immensely enjoying ourselves at the talent show, we returned to our cabins in a solemn mood. We realized that it was time to say goodbye. Through our hugs, we tried to convey the feelings of care and affection we’d developed for each other. In that moment instead of being sad or heartbroken, I smiled broadly and thanked God. I thanked the YES program and AYA for making this year the best and most memorable year of my life.
Through this opportunity I’d gained knowledge and experiences that shaped me as an individual, boosted my confidence and brought out the inner leader in me. I have understood my potential and will use it to bring a change in myself and the society. So thank you YES and thank you AYA.
Learn more about cultural exchange — and opportunities to host international students like Nayab — with Academic Year in America.