This week we shine the spotlight on Awais from Pakistan and his host parents, Heidi and Waylon! Awais is staying with them in Wisconsin where he attends the local high school. He is studying here with the Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program sponsored by the US Department of State. Read more to hear why this is a year they’ll never forget!
From Heidi & Waylon:
We are absolutely thrilled to have Awais with us for the 2018-2019 school year. This is our first time hosting, so we really didn’t know what to expect or what this experience would be like. We are very impressed with how extremely organized and well planned this program is. Both the YES Program and Awais’ Aspect coordinator have been helpful to answer any questions we have had. We were provided with an orientation and some great FAQ to prepare us for our journey of hosting our first exchange student. It was also evident early on that Awais had an extremely thorough orientation prior to coming to our home. We were all educated on the cultural differences as well as experiences of prior students from Pakistan.
Hosting a student from another country, Pakistan in particular, has really opened our minds about many things. When Awais arrived, we’d often sit up at night and talk for hours about the differences in our culture. We’d talk about family, traditions, food, schooling, jobs, and so much more. We especially wanted to know all about his motivation in applying for the YES Program. What he was feeling as he was making this journey all on his own at just 15 years old? It was clear that he is a hard-working smart kid who comes from a good, loving home.
Not only is it an experience to have Awais as a son in our home, it’s also really neat to see him daily as a student. He is currently in 2 of my (Waylon’s) Tech Ed. Classes and I can see his natural talent there every day. He wants to be an Automobile engineer/designer, and his aptitude for mechanical design is amazing! He has never used Solidworks before my class, and now he is helping others figure out their problems and teaching them where they went wrong. He has the ability to figure it out by himself, which takes a lot of patience sometimes, especially with a slow computer.
Students at WBHS are naturally attracted to his positive energy and likable personality. One of my favorite sayings Awais uses quite frequently is, “ it’s not better or worse, just different.” He talks much about his responsibility to represent his country in a positive manner. One of my best memories from our family Christmas this year was walking into the basement as Awais was giving his school power point presentation on Pakistan to the entire family. He had the laptop out and everyone was listening intently with questions, just as if in school. Awais also wants to give back by volunteering in our community. He has a goal of achieving no less than 100 volunteer hours during his stay. We have no doubts that he will achieve his goal.
We’re only halfway through our journey and already we’ve made memories that will last a lifetime. It is extremely rewarding to give experiences to a child for the first time. Some of his favorites so far have been: catching his first fish, riding trails on a four-wheeler, seeing an Eve of Destruction show, riding a horse, and probably experiencing Christmas shopping and presents! One of his gifts from us this Christmas was to let him know we would be taking a family vacation over spring break in which he was going to experience the Western part of the US. He will see the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, and Las Vegas.
The only challenge will be when we have to say goodbye at the end of the school year. We know that we’ve made a connection that will last more than just this school year. We are linked via Facebook with Awais and with his immediate family members. We are confident that we will keep in touch for years to come. We are extremely grateful to have had this opportunity and we are confident we would do it again.
I would really like to thank the YES Program, Aspect Foundation, my Host Parents, my parents in my home country, and all the people who played a role in my life to help me reach this point. YES gave me a wonderful opportunity to explore the world as well as explore deep inside myself. This is a once in a lifetime experience.
When YES was introduced at my school in Pakistan, I, like many other students applied for it right away. I had no idea what kind of change it could bring to my life. Now, being an exchange student, I realize that it’s a blessing from God to me. It’s hard to leave your family and country to go live somewhere you have never dreamt of. But I always remember the saying “we have to sacrifice something for something special to come or what we want becomes the sacrifice.” This year gave me the confidence, vision, and courage that makes me believe that I can achieve whatever good I want in my life.
YES has allowed me to share my religion, my culture, my country, and my knowledge to Americans and seek as much from them as I can. I felt very proud to give my presentations during IEW. I shared so much that people didn’t know. I tried to remove some bad perceptions and be positive. By volunteering, I see what it is like to bring a smile to someone’s face by just a small act of kindness.
Aspect found me the perfect host family. I am thankful that my host parents act like my real parents. Because of them I never feel homesick. We have done so much stuff together. Christmas was the best part because it’s the best time of year in the United States. We went to Christmas parties, movie theaters, shopping, and had fun making life-lasting memories. I decorated our home as well as my classroom in my high school and that was really fun.
There are so many cultural differences between Pakistan and the U.S. The religion, schooling, cultural events, way of celebration, food, dress code, homes, vehicles, and climate is very different. But the people are very kind, caring, and loving. They never make me feel like I’m from a different country. The high school that I attend is very good to me. The studies are easier compared to my school in Pakistan but the high school here offers a huge variety of subjects. I really like technology and programming. This experience is allowing me to learn some good skills that I wouldn’t be able to learn in Pakistan. School here also has a lot of sports and I enjoy watching the games. I have made a lot of friends and they’ll be connected to me even when I go back to Pakistan.
All of this amazing stuff makes me realize that an exchange year is one of the most important in your life. For me, it will probably be the best year ever. I have captured moments that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I missed one year of school in Pakistan, however being an exchange student, I feel like I’m ten years ahead of other students. I hope others are able to experience this wonderful opportunity.