(Mohamed from Israel studying in Washington)
We have so many truly amazing and talented young students at Aspect Foundation, but certain students really stand out from the pack. Today, we are putting the spotlight on a standout student who has been making the most of his exchange year, Mohamed from Israel! Mohamed is studying in Washington on a scholarship sponsored by the US Department of State’s Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program. He lives with the Barnhart family and has been filling his year with photography, volunteering, and family fun. Find out what Mohamed had to say about his exchange year below!
You build a life for 16 years and leave it for 10 months. You build a life for 10 months and leave it forever. Which one is harder? I always asked myself that question but I never found an answer. After I became an exchange student, I can tell you today that home can be made every place you go as long as you make it feel like home.
(Mohamed with his host siblings)
Six years ago you would’ve found me with my mom, watching High School Musical and crying because we don’t have lockers in our high schools. Now, I am with my host mom in America laughing because I ask 10 people everyday to open my locker for me. That’s how life goes for an exchange student! My name is Mohamed and I am a Palestinian Israeli from a small city called Tamra in the north of Israel. All of my life, I dreamt about having another home but in so many people’s eyes that was impossible. But here I am, sitting in my house in Washington with my host brother on my left studying and my host sister on my right making chocolate chips cookies. Being an exchange student has always been my goal. Being a member of a new community, a new school, and a new family might sound hard but it never did for me. It always sounded like an experience and an adventure.
It still feels like it’s my first day here, starting with school and homecoming, then Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and now prom is happening soon. Every one of these holidays has been impacted by my amazing family, my second family– my mom, dad, brothers and sister. My host family influenced my experience in so many ways, as they made sure that they brought the element of every American holiday and vacation I had here to life; starting with picking flowers for my Homecoming date to cutting the Christmas tree and decorating it. My host family changed my life and influenced every moment of my exchange experience. Because of them, I got to be a part of this community where I have met so many people and had phenomenal conversations about my life story.
(Mohamed with the tech crew from the winter musical)
I got to volunteer and be involved with many places this year. Like setting up for the YMCA auction and being on the tech crew in the winter musical at my high school. I completed 70 hours of community services in only 3 months! The time I spent volunteering helped me to discover more of my community that I wouldn’t have known about if I didn’t do community service. My experience with the drama club, as part of the tech crew, was really important to me. It opened me up to diversity and change in the USA. I saw people getting out of their comfort zones and becoming new people on stage. I got to be one of these people in rehearsals and that was really powerful to me. My journey is not yet finished because, I have a goal of doing more than 100 hours of community service to thank everyone for welcoming me into their community.
(Mohamed with his fellow DECA participants)
My school and friends have been huge supporters of me to establish and accomplish so many of my goals for this year. I was able to do 30 presentations on my home country at my school during International Education Week, where I was able to reach more than 300 students and tell them my story. I also planned more presentations all over my school district, in other high schools, so that my story and the YES program will be known in this area. In school I took a class called business and marketing, where I participated in the DECA competition. I took 4th place in my area and qualified for the state level! Photography is another area that I have been able to shine in. One of my pictures got first place in a PTA photography competition and also qualified to go to state!
(Mohamed’s award winning photography)
I am thankful for my host family, my community, my school and my exchange year. In these few months, I have been able to accomplish and do more than I ever expected. I met people with new stories, shared my story, became stronger, and gained a new family. It’s almost unbelievable; going through the ups and downs, the changes and accomplishments, thousands of pictures, personal growth, and living independently in a foreign country for an extended period of time, all without the aid of my natural parents. Being on exchange is always an emotional rollercoaster, but the moments that are good aren’t just “okay” – they are often amazing, unique, and beautiful all in one! In contrast, the sad moments of exchange can truly feel like the end of the world. But they never last. And that was my magical exchange story!
Do you know a standout student that you would like to see featured? Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.