Hello! My name is Aqsa and I currently live in the Pacific Northwest as an AFS Exchange Student. I came here through a scholarship called the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program, which is supported by the U.S. Department of State.

This study abroad program allows high school students like me to spend a year in the United States with an American host family and study in an American host school—to experience the life of an American teenager.

Facing the competition (and my own nerves)

The process of becoming a youth ambassador was pretty long. I had to compete with approximately 7,000 other students from Pakistan who share the same aptitude, and then make it into the group of 75 finalists. I still remember the day I got a call and was told that I was selected to travel to U.S.

It was not an easy decision to travel 7,341 miles to a place I’ve never been before and live with people I’ve never met.

I left Pakistan and my family on August 21st. After orientations, I finally met my host family on August 25th. Mom, Dad, Clara (my host sister), Ansley (my other host sister), Indy (my host brother) and Bebe (my host grandma) are my family here.

Sharing my cultural traditions from Pakistan

I started my exchange year by introducing Eid to Americans. Eid is a holiday for Muslims celebrated twice a year. Eid ul Fitr is celebrated after the month of fasting called Ramadan. This year I celebrated Eid ul Fitr with my host family in the U.S.

For my introduction to the neighborhood, my host family invited neighbors to celebrate Eid with us. Initially I was concerned that I might be alienated among Americans, but people here welcomed me with an open heart.

I brought traditional Pakistani clothes for my host family. We also cooked Biryani together. Biryani is a popular dish in Pakistan made of rice and spices. For dessert, I made Kheer which is very similar to rice pudding. Everybody showed their curiosity by asking different kinds of questions about my culture and Pakistan. Some of our neighbors also cooked Pakistani food for me.

This was my first experience of sharing my culture with Americans. The best part is that they are willing to learn about new cultures. People here are very welcoming and accepting to new cultures. Their positive behavior towards my culture encouraged me to learn more about American culture. I had this feeling of acceptance in the new society that I was going to live in for almost a year.

I was glad that I had made the right decision to travel to the U.S.

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You can learn about other cultures, like Aqsa’s host family did, by hosting your own AFS Exchange Studnt.