There is this moment in life when you decide that you want to get out of your comfort zone. A moment when you decide to say yes to new opportunities, experiences and adventures. That moment of courage is truly life changing.
About two years ago, I decided that I wanted to go on an exchange year in America. I decided I wanted to build cultural bridges, exchange traditions and break stereotypes between America and my country. However, this also meant that I had to leave my family, friends and the life I’ve been living for more than 16 years, in order to build another one in only 10 months. Taking that decision was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.
Deciding on an exchange year was my first step into entering a whole new life. I applied to the Youth, Exchange, and Studies (YES) program, and I went through different stages of examinations until I was finally selected to be one of 20 others who were going to live a similar adventure at the same time. I remember getting my acceptance letter and I started jumping and crying out of joy. When I got my YES scholarship, I felt like I had accomplished one of my goals which is truly amazing to me.
I’ve never been so confused about my feelings though. I was feeling an array of emotions, including feels of being scared, excited, sad, and happy. I was fearing the unknown. Until March I didn’t know where I was going to end up living from August onwards. I didn’t know which state, town, or family I would be going to. However, at the end of March I received an email saying that I had been placed in Preston, Minnesota. It was one of the weirdest feelings I’ve ever had, as I’d only heard of Minnesota once before. Soon enough, after some research, I found out that Minnesota is the second coldest state – after Alaska – which I was extremely worried about, as I come from the Middle East. After some more research, I found out that it also has the biggest mall in America and one of the best hospitals in the world.
Preston is a town with a population of 1200 people, which is pretty small in comparison to Nazareth, my hometown, which has a population of about 90 thousand. Everything seemed a totally different and totally new world, which in fact it was to me. All of this new information and research made me even more and more excited to start my adventure and experience of this life that was waiting for me thousands of miles away.
After leaving for America, I faced tremendous challenges, like adapting to my new environment in my host community and school. It was different in every aspect, including the way people dressed, ate, spent their time, and so on. The school system was also different, which took a little bit of time to become familiar with. At that point, some sort of differences were expected, and it was also accepted and appreciated with all of its difficulties.
Along the way, I met people that changed my view on life and more importantly, they’ve changed me. My loving host family – Stacey and Kevin – were humble and kind. They took me in with open arms as if I was their new daughter and treated me like one of their own. They taught me about their community, traditions and culture, while trying to learn everything about my culture from me. Often times, we found ourselves laughing about my accent or about words that I mispronounced. I reminded them that broken English means the knowledge of another language. It was also a constant reminder to us of how amazing our world is; it doesn’t matter what one’s nationality, mother-tongue, political views, or beliefs are, everyone smiles in the same, universal language.
One goal I had during my year – no matter what happened, no matter how hard or fun times were – was that I had to be the best representative for my country. I wanted to expand other people’s knowledge about where I came from with every conversation I had. Soon enough, I realized that I’m expanding my own knowledge as well. And looking back at it a year later, I’m pleased to say that people in Preston, Minnesota, actually have an idea of Arab communities in Israel. This makes my decision to leave my country for a year more than worth it as my job there was done successfully.
This experience have taught me to love the challenge of change, it turned me into a global citizen, always with a home away from home. Moreover, it has given me a better understanding to our world. As I have encountered so many people from all over the world and saw how at the end of the day we all live together in one big global community.