First Story shared by Faryal Hasan, K-L YES participant in the year 2011-2012. According to Faryal, “Exchange year is not a year in your life, rather life in a year.”
“How does it feel to stand on the icy rocks of the Colorado’s mountains as a think curtain of snow and hail pelt on the crowd? How can you ever give words to that disbelief when you attend a conference conducted by Assistant Secretary of State, Miss Ann Stock? Or that moment of comprehension at seeing everyone, irrespective of color, cast, or region, radiate unadulterated love and genuine understanding towards you? Or the unbridled curiosity of getting acquainted with different cultural idiosyncrasies, the exhilaration of incessant travelling and the contentment of discovering your own self…well, welcome to my exchange year. Exchange year is not a year in your life, rather life in a year. To step out of the comfort of your home; to embark upon a new journey, marks the beginning of a year that changes the course of your entire life.
To start with, I was placed in the snowy state of Colorado. The role of Cultural Ambassador had put a massive responsibility over me, however, the learning and communication that it offered, made the task pleasant. During International Education Week in November, I visited a myriad of places and shared the highlights of Pakistani culture. From the religious people in the Church to the inquisitive students of University of Colorado, everyone exuded utmost interest in Pakistan.
Likewise, my passion for communication played its part, creating more opportunities for me. I was selected in Better Understanding for a Better World Conference 2012 (BUBW) in Florida and CIVIC Education Workshop (CEW) 2012 in DC. BUBW was a High School Youth Leadership and Interfaith Conference, giving me chance to meet people from around 31 different countries, and no wonder, everyone was infused with optimism for a better and more peaceful world. On the contrary, CEW was a conference based on teaching responsibilities of a citizen and functioning of the government. It involved touring monuments and building in DC such as Capital Hills as well as meeting the official, for example, Senator Lugar. Similarly, I participated in Model United Nation Conference, securing Honorary Mention. I also won 2nd position in the State Speech and Debate Tournament. Presidential Award Certificate by President Barak Obama for over 100 hours of community service was another of my achievements.
On another note, my American High School, CIVA Charter School was perhaps the best aspect of my exchange year. The ravens, as the students of CIVA were called, would always extend conciliatory hand toward their fellows. Also, I stepped out my comfort zone, opting for new subjects such as Photography, Advanced Theatre, Jewelry and Ceramics. My favourite class, relationships, was tremendously thought provoking, egging me on to be myself at all times, embrace change and persevere. Fortuitously, I also attended the graduation ceremony, thus becoming a CIVA alumna.
Moreover, I befriended people from all around the world. In fact, my exchange year redefined my understanding of friendship. I started looking beyond ‘trying to fit in’ and would welcome people who accepted me for who I was. I made beautiful friends from Japan, Serbia and Mali. To bide them farewell was the toughest, however, promises to meet again were exchanged.
As far as American holidays were concerned, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Homecoming and Christmas were amongst my most rejoiced festivals. During Thanksgiving, I along with my host family went over to my local coordinator’s place to enjoy the big feast. Turkey, Corn bread, cake, you name it. Halloween, on the other end, was spent on Trick or Treating, in which I and my host siblings went around the town asking for sweets. I had dressed up as a doll, where as my little brother had worn a Ninja costume. Homecoming was celebrated in my school, with the theme of Horror Halloween. During Christmas, I spent the day at my American grandparent’s place, sharing gifts and words of love.
No wonder, the most cherished time included the very random moments that happened and lessons learnt. Late-night walks to McDonalds, hang-outs at Movie theatre, crazy sleep-over’s, trying new cuisine, conversations about life, taking risks, confronting problems, and what’s note. My exchange year taught me that ultimately, I would be defined by the things that I refuse to do. Alas, I also became insecure; however, found my way out with a groomed me; a more open-minded, originality-driven, resilient person. I learned to let go of the good to find something better, to accept my present self to improve my future and to stop taking friends for granted. It inculcated in me fellowship for people around the world and turned me into a more amiable and garrulous individual.
Now that my exchange year has come to an end, I have new journeys to undertake. However, the indestructible foundations have been laid. Here is to iEARN Pakistan for initiating this amazing program. Here is to Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES) and immeasurable opportunities that came with it. Here it to all the memories made and friends found. Most importantly, here is to those life-changing 10 months – my exchange year.”
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