As a placing organization for the U.S. Department of State’s YES and FLEX programs, AYA is lucky enough to work with amazing students who have earned merit-based scholarships for international exchange. For decades, these programs have been successfully building bridges and connecting cultures on a person-to-person basis. Each year, AYA hosts a special Mid-Year Orientation for these YES and FLEX students, bringing them together from all over the U.S. to share their experiences from the first semester and to get them thinking about what’s to come for the second half of the year.
Over a long weekend in January, AYA took over YMCA Camp Campbell in beautiful Boulder Creek, California. Surrounded by towering redwoods and their peers from over 40 countries, students participated in both mental and physical exercises and challenges including team building exercises on a low ropes course, individual reflection activities, and a large group project. It was a fantastic opportunity for all participants to learn, share, and collaborate.
Please enjoy what Nia, a FLEX student from Georgia, and Andi, a YES student from Indonesia had to say after attending this special event:
The memories that I gained during the camp are unforgettable. All AYA staff members did a great job, making those days fun and educational at the same time. The most important and highlighted part of this experience were the 80 exchange students from more than 40 countries. All of them were so different and unique, but we all are united under the great experience of being an exchange student. In just three days, we became a family, made tons of memories together and had the best weekend that I could have ever dreamed about. Three days ago I walked in a room full of people who have never met before and just felt like at home. You could feel love and friendship everywhere in camp. We talked a lot, shared thoughts, experiences, cultures, never made fun of each other’s broken English, laughed together and even though we are so different from each other, immediately became friends.
Leaving that place was way harder for me than I could’ve imagined. These days made me think more about the other half of my exchange year and ways that can make it better, and I can say that I became even more sociable after that weekend than I was before. I’m trying even harder to make more memories, try new things, be more active and make the rest of the year more productive than it was before. I’m so proud that I met and had this great time with those great people. I’m grateful to AYA for giving this opportunity and making my exchange year even better with bringing all those people, great memories and emotions to my life.
My life goal will be visiting all those exchange students in their home countries or meeting them again in future.
— Nia A., FLEX student from Georgia
AYA Mid-Year Orientation was amazing, fantastic, great, cool, lit, the best! It is peak of my exchange year in America so far. I was so excited to meet many new friends from all different countries and meet my friends from my country after five months. I miss them so much! What I love from the Mid-Year Orientation is everything. From the simple thing like it’s very easy for me to talk with exchange students and in just five seconds we become friends. Also on eating time, I can sit in any table I want (if it wasn’t full) and exchange students just welcome me. There are so many things to talk about and somehow it makes me realize that exchange students are the best people in the world. As we talk about our experiences, I don’t feel lonely or like the only one who feels about something which makes me relieved.
The workshops were full of benefits. It makes me more prepared for this semester. Before coming to Mid-Year Orientation, to be honest, my vision for next semester was a blur. I didn’t know what I would do. But the workshop sessions guided me, and it reminds me too that I should never compare my exchange year to any other exchange students because there is no perfect exchange student in this world and exchange students have their own great story. We might have similar experience that is being an exchange student but in different ways of living it. It also helped me to plan things that I will do for next semester and how to learn to be better from the past experience.
The highlight of this Mid-Year Orientation is all about my exchange student friends, Local Coordinators, staff, and everyone that was part of it. I’d rather call all of them my exchange family rather than just friends. It only took four days for me to get attached to all of them. From the staff that I never saw before who always email and helped from very far, now I know them in person, and they are so great to Local Coordinators who are funny, full of support, love, and work hard to make me and their exchange students to enjoy our experience in America. And the special one, my exchange students who are amazing, brave, and full of fun. I can’t mention them one by one, but they have something that makes me love, love, love them. They are the best friends I could never forget.
They are so talented. I still remember the talent show that we did and after that we were hugging each other—no matter how many times we’ve hugged, whoever we hug, everyone opened their arms and gave me the warmest hug I ever received. Tears, laugh, smile, and all these memories that I will never ever forget for my entire life. I am so speechless now.
Thank you so much AYA for let me to have this precious chance to meet my family that I never met. Good luck for everything ahead for all of us!
—Andi R., YES student from Indonesia
Learn more about how you can host an amazing student like Andi and Nia with Academic Year in America.