Student Stories

Labiba Manzur (2019-2020) Portland, Oregon

“It all started on the 6th of August 2019, when I landed in the land of dreams, the United States of America! When I applied to the YES program, I knew right then that I had a lot to see, learn, and experience! I finally came out of my own tiny little bubble and dared to see the world from a whole new perspective, and needless to say, I am glad I made this decision.

I have been in the school’s dance team, seen snow for the first time, been to homecoming, enjoyed Halloween and Thanksgiving, and my host family’s Christmas party. However, the best experiences were all the small and often unexpected experiences, such as getting a compliment from a complete stranger, going skiing, seeing eagles and hawks flying over the soccer field, discovering that there exist trees with seaweed on them, and passing by the long beautiful bridges in Portland, having eye-opening conversations with inspiring people, going on unplanned road trips with my friends, taking the trash out with my host mom and suddenly start dancing with my host sisters and just realizing that anything is possible.

Everything I have experienced in America has taught me something very valuable. I will never be able to express my level of gratitude for all the fantastic people I’ve met and all the opportunities I was gifted with just because I said YES.”

Anika Tabassum (2018-2019) Westville, Indiana

For me, life is just like a book with different chapters, including some of life’s best and worst sections. The book of my life had a great chapter during the best 300 days I spent in The United States during my exchange year. When I first stepped into that country, I could only imagine my life during these ten months, but it turned out way better than I imagined. Every day of my exchange was adding a new page to my book. The best moment of my book was when my host mom said, “Anika, we are going on a vacation after Thanksgiving,” while making dinner one day. My host family loved camping in nearby cities, so I thought it was one of them. I asked her where we would go as I thought it was another camping trip. My mom’s reply shocked me as she said, “We are going to Walt Disney Resorts in Florida.” I was speechless. My siblings and I started counting the days.

Finally, the day arrived on Black Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving in the US). We left for the trip by road. From inches of snow in Indiana to bright sunshine in Florida, we were finally in the land of Mickey and Minnie Mouse after 20 hours of driving through four states. I had the best week of my life during the best year of my life in Disney with my family. The best part was to be able to go on a ride after hours of waiting in line. It felt like conquering The Everest. There were coin-pressed machines at the end of each ride, we collected almost all of them in a pressed coin wallet. I liked Animal Kingdom and Epcot the most of the four theme parks. Lighting the magic castle with snow to welcome winter was the most amazing. We had a lot of fun watching Elsa showing her magic on the castle with Anna, Christoph, and Olaf. But every chapter has an end, so we had to say goodbye to Disney. The hardest goodbye for me was the goodbye that I said to my host family at the end of my exchange year. Though the chapter of my exchange year was done, I felt like something was going to be missing in my book, and it was seeing these people every day who became a part of my life in these ten months. I started the chapter by not knowing these people becoming a part of the family and fearing not meeting them again. Now, being 8000 miles from my family, I recall every moment I spent with them, turning pages back in my exchange year. Two years ago, I used to miss my family back in Bangladesh, and now I miss my family back in the United States. All because I said yes to YES.

Thank you so much, YES, for giving me the best host family and to my host family for giving me the best year of my life.

Nuzhat Hayat Khan (2018-2019) El Paso, Texas

Looking back at my YES year now, I can’t help but think about how it has truly shaped me into who I am today. I had the life experiences of an adult at just the age of 15. I learned to be grateful, kind, and responsible. El Paso, Texas, gave me my first snow, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and Chico’s Tacos. But most importantly, it gave me a family that would last forever! Each day was a new experience. I had never traveled so much in a year before YES, and I’m not going to lie, getting to see so much around the country- from Washington DC to San Diego, California- was one of my favorite parts! Your exchange is truly a life in a year.

Mardia Hoque (2019-2020) Seattle, Washington

YES Program helped me discover a whole new world and myself. At 15, I found myself on the other side of the planet, in the United States of America. My exchange year was quite an adventure. I tried things I never tried before and learned things I never knew. I learned to be responsible and independent and always to have a positive mindset. I challenged myself to learn new things, whether cooking or playing a guitar. I discovered my passion for hiking and fell in love with the mountains, lakes, and endless blue sky. During my exchange year, I found a second home, a second family, and friends worldwide. YES taught me the true meaning of global citizenship.

eahsan abedin

Eahsan Abedin, 2022-23, Program of Academic Exchange (PAX), Marinette, Wisconsin

The person who boarded the plane leaving Bangladesh in September 2022 and the person who stepped out of the one arriving in Dhaka in June 2023 were two completely different people. The YES Program changed the kind of person I am for life in the best possible way. It made me a better person in every possible respect, opening my eyes to worldly perspectives and views I had never imagined. It made me stronger and more hopeful in a way I couldn’t fathom in my wildest imagination. Walking across city blocks in NYC, Minneapolis, and Washington D.C. with my friends from more than 20 countries were just perks of the already rewarding everyday experiences. My daily activities and dinnertime conversations with my host mom and dad taught me much. The wisdom and bits of advice I got from them act as a building block for the kind of person I want to become in the future, and YES gave me that. It’s safe to say that a part of my heart will always remain with the Giebler family in Wisconsin, and a small part of theirs with me in Bangladesh.

Samia Sultana Zaara, 2022-2023, Pan Atlantic Foundation, Emmett, Idaho

It’s true when they say you live a lifetime in a year when you’re a YES student. From cheering at the top of my lungs at football games with my American friends to going on an 18-hour road trip to Arizona with my host family, every experience, and every memory is worthwhile. Going to the U.S. as a 16-year-old was a dream come true. I got to see 11 U.S. states, go to school dances like homecoming and prom, see snow for the first time ever, do polar plunges, enjoy a Thanksgiving meal, dress up for Halloween, eagerly open presents on Christmas morning, and do more than what was in my bucket list. My exchange year is a core memory of my life where complete strangers from the other side of the globe turned into my family/best friends. From the application process till my return to Bangladesh, the YES program taught me many new things, helped broaden my horizons, and made me more confident. I’m grateful I applied and got selected. All in all, I’m glad I said “Yes” to YES.

Samia Sultana Zaara

Prottay Roy Chowdhury, 2021-22 ASSE, Manchester, Iowa

My 16th birthday, unlike any other, lasted 36 hours as I traveled across the Atlantic Ocean that day to embark on this mysterious yet empowering journey of The YES Program. I was excited to be flying for the first time, but what I didn’t know at the time was that this was the first of many firsts this program would entail – cooking my first Thanksgiving dinner, throwing my first snowball, and seeing a humongous dinosaur fossil for the first time in my life! In retrospect, however, YES was much more than just a series of thrilling firsts: it was a journey of self-discovery, a reminder that life’s time is fleeting, and a lesson that the choices and connections we make shape us into who we ultimately become.

Sabrina Khan, 2019-20, AYUSA, Eugene, Oregon

As a fifteen-year-old, it felt super scary at first to go live in a place oceans across from home. I was uncertain whether I could adjust and make new friends in a new environment, but right after reaching my new home in Eugene, I learned about another exchange student from Palestine who was also my neighbor. Our regular hangout spot was a bench by the Willamette River, where we would spend hours complaining about schoolwork, occasionally feeling homesick, or talking about whatever was on our minds. Knowing I wasn’t the only one having trouble navigating a strange new environment comforted me. Now that it’s been three years since my exchange year, I’m not as close as I once was with my friends from Eugene because we got so busy with our own lives, but Leen is still one of my closest friends to this day, whom I can just text any time of the day and she would be there for me. My exchange year in the U.S. gave me friends from different parts of the world for a lifetime.


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