With the application deadline approaching in January, American high school students have the amazing opportunity to take the plunge, use their passport, and apply to the State Department's competitive merit-based Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Abroad program. This study abroad program gives promising American high school students an opportunity to push their boundaries and discover where study abroad can take them.
I was part of the YES Abroad class of 2009: one of 48 high school students from all walks of American culture to live with host families and study in local schools overseas. I spent my year in Mali learning French, making life-long friendships, and ultimately, discovering my passion.
In Mali, I had the opportunity to meet with people displaced by violence in different parts of the region. As a daughter of Vietnamese and prisoner of war refugee parents who grew up in inner-city trailer parks in the suburbs of Atlanta, I was deeply humbled by their stories. I brought these inspirational experiences back home with me and volunteered at international refugee assistance and cultural exchange organizations in both Atlanta and Paris, France. These experiences helped me to secure my current internship as a West Africa Program Assistant at the Department of State in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
For the 2009-10 YES Abroad participants, the program expanded our foreign language capacities and our connections to different corners of the world. Smells, scenery, and international events trigger waves of memories and nostalgia for my YES experience, and the lifelong friendships I developed. Meeting my Malian host dad again and his extended family in Paris was a true joy. Thanks to YES and other Department of State programs, YES alumni are more globally aware and active in making our communities a better place wherever we are in the United States or in the world.
The YES Abroad program is part of the original YES scholarship program, founded by Senators Ted Kennedy and Richard Lugar in the wake of September 11 that sought meaningful and lasting ways to cut across cultural boundaries for future generations. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the YES program has welcomed high school students from more than 40 countries with significant Muslim populations to spend an academic year living with an American host family, attending high school, engaging in activities to learn about American society and values, acquiring leadership skills, and educating Americans about their countries and cultures. The YES Abroad program provides these same opportunities and immeasurable rewards for American students to study in countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Mali, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, South Africa, Thailand, Tunisia, or Turkey.
For more information on applying to YES Abroad or hosting a YES student, visit www.yesprograms.org.