YES Abroad has just opened their applications for the 2014-2015 academic year! If you are a 15 to 18 year old American citizen, you are eligible to apply. Having the opportunity to participate in any exchange and immerse yourself in a new way of life and a new perspective is very worthwhile and gratifying. We are so lucky that the U.S. government, through the work of Senators Kennedy and Lugar, had the foresight to create these YES cross-cultural programs.
My perception of foreign student exchange prior to this year was of a terrifying test of human endurance, a pre-exposure to those lonely days after college when you are on your own. My mom had spent a year after college in Bangladesh learning about grass roots development in NGOs. Though it had always sounded so enticing to me, and I loved hearing her stories, because of the age gap (she was already in her 20s), it never seemed like something within my realm to do. I did not know anyone in my town that had participated in a high school exchange. In fact, it was pretty much out of the picture for me and didn’t even cross my mind, until I received an all school email last fall from the head of my school at Putney about the YES program.
My decision to apply for YES was somewhat spontaneous. I think we all reach a point, sometime in high school, when we are met with complete frustration at our own naïveté and our inability to follow a goal and pursue it as we imagine we would be able to as an adult. At age fifteen, it is difficult to coordinate your goals and abilities and find a way to articulate these big dreams into an accessible learning experience. I know my own decision to apply was not because I was exceptionally knowledgeable in world affairs; it was more that I really care and wanted to immerse myself and learn more.
There are few people with the opportunity to embark on an adventure like this, and there are also plenty of those to whom this sort of program would not appeal. But YES Abroad provides that opportunity, and taking the initiative to see the world for yourself, starting with the application, is what matters.
I really encourage people to apply. If it sounds like a program that speaks to you, or inspires you, I highly recommend just doing it. After my own initial interest it took me some time to get my parents on board, but it totally paid off. As long as you go into it with reasonable expectations, it can be a truly meaningful experience. You do have to adapt to a new way of life, and though initially it can be emotionally straining, it is that type of insight that is so rewarding.
I have been in my host country now for nearly two months. In this short amount of time, this experience, though testing, has already impacted me and influenced me so deeply. Everyday I feel as though I am growing and learning and gaining new understanding. I can confidently say (and yes it takes TIME) that eventually you will find a second home, and most importantly people you really care about it.
SOOOO THINK ABOUT IT!!! Applications are due sometime in the winter. I will post the YES Abroad program website here. If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to ask. Though this experience is different for everyone, I am happy to provide some of my own experiences and or answer any questions you might have.