The Christensen family was unsure what to expect when they decided to welcome Muawi Adamu into their Iowa home ten years ago. Having never considered the type of student they would like to host, they approached the experience with an open mind, hoping to be able to provide an experience of a lifetime to a young exchange student. However, they never anticipated that their international teenage exchange student would make such a strong impact in so many lives.
Muawi, a Nigerian high school student hosted in Iowa, was selected to participate in the highly competitive, merit-based Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program. The YES program was created after 9-11 to build mutual understanding between Americans and the Muslim world. Each year almost 900 students from nearly 40 countries come to the United States to live with host families, study in high school, and develop leadership skills. Muawi too was unsure of what his time in America would look like, having neither met his future host parents with whom he would live for an academic year.
“You are from a different race, a different background, everything is different,” Muawi said, “and then suddenly you become their son.”
Upon arriving in America, Muawi could have never imagined that his homestay experience would change his life in the way that it did.
Muawi’s host mother was a busy paramedic, constantly on call during his time in Iowa. Muawi had the opportunity to hear her respond to emergencies, which in turn sparked his interest in medicine. He returned to Kenya and finished high school, keeping in mind his newfound interests cultivated by living with his American host family. He went to university and eventually applied to become a doctor so that he could work to help others, just as he watched his host mother do. Upon hearing the news of his future career choice, Mrs. Christensen sent Muawi f her old medical textbooks and notes to help him achieve his goals.
“They were very, very helpful,” Muawi said of his host mom’s study materials. “I give a lot of credit to her and to the YES Program.”
Today, Muawi is a successful doctor whose current professional path was largely influenced by his experience with his second family who volunteered to open their home and hearts and embraced this hosting experience. Since returning to Nigeria, Muawi has continued to embody the mission of the YES Program, continually expanding his horizons while always remembering the experiences he had in the United States. Throughout the past ten years, he has done frequent volunteer work in his community, including leading programs on community health education and working with other YES program alumni.
“Muawi has been an excellent example of the positive benefits of the YES Program, long after he’s been in the U.S.”, said his host father. “He is out there actively bettering the communities through volunteering.”
Muawi’s story highlights the enduring bond between American families and their exchange students. Muawi’s time with the Christensens was an extremely formative experience that helped make him the man he is today. Ten years later, the Christensens are still “delighted to have another doctor in the family.”
About the Authors: Michaela Tobin and Trace Demare serve as interns in the Public Affairs Strategic Communications Office in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.
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