This program year has been the best and most amazing experience of my life. The place I come from is a very undeveloped province of Pakistan known as Balochistan. Most people suffer from poverty and there isn't a good education system provided for the people. I always wished to learn English but never got a chance there, but one day I got to know about an English Access Micro-Scholarship Program. It's a State Department initiative which focuses on the areas where there isn't much source for the students to learn English or anything about the world.
I started in my town. I studied there for two and a half years. After graduating from Access, I became very interested to be an exchange student in the U.S., but having limited resources, it was hard for my parents to make my dream true. But sometimes, it's said "Dreams do come true, if you really want them to, one step at a time." So as the next step was to find out a scholarship program, in which my Access teachers from Gwadar, Balochistan, help me a lot. So we found out about YES. I participated in the selection process. By the grace of God, I was successful and here I am today in the U.S.!
It's amazing how the time passed so fast, but when I close my eyes and remember those moments that I spent here, I feel that it was the most beneficial way to use my time. Even before coming here, in my little town of Gwadar I was an active teenager volunteering with UNDP and some other social organizations. I also taught English at my home to some kids of my neighborhood. Having only one computer even without Internet, I used to teach some of the kids to use a computer.
When I came here, I had a lot of dreams. One of them was to work hard and make the most of my year the best, because I know that I might never be able to study in this way again. My parents have given me the permission to come to the U.S. to increase my knowledge and skills. They are living in hard situations but they want me to be happy. This thing touched my heart, so I didn't let any of my time be wasted.
I got very near to my host family. They are very understanding and helpful. Because of their support and help, I got so much courage in an unknown society but it didn't remain unknown anymore, because I have been so much involved with the community here that now I feel myself a part of it.
Besides being good at school, I participated in community service, and became a junior leader in 4-H where I taught my cultural Balochi embroidery to the kids, I also became an active volunteer in Key club. I also received the presidential Volunteer Service Award, letter and pin. I participated in International Week of Education, got second place and won an iPod. But even after the contest, I didn't stop presenting my culture. I think I have done more than 22 presentations in different places so far presenting my culture and religion. As a Muslim student and wearing a scarf, I was always encouraged to maintain my cultural and religious beliefs by my host family, community and school friends and teachers. That gave me more strength.
Then I got interested in Debate team at my high school. Every one said that's hard but I thought let's give it a try. And for making my English better, I thought it would be a good thing so I tried. In my first debate tournament, I got first place. Then we had many tournaments. I also did speech. I got 1st in debate and 2nd in speech for the district and got to go for the state's tournament. I got many trophies and awards form them as well. Because of my participation, I also got membership in American National Forensic League of Speech and for that I received an emerald pin too. I also won the essay contest for Civic Education Workshop in Washington DC by American Councils. For the first time in seven months, I flew from Coquille, Oregon, to Washington, D.C. It was nothing less than amazing for me when I went got to go to the State Department Headquarters and saw all the offices. It was even a bigger thing for me when I got to go in to the American Government Building and meet Congress members and Senators.
What a reality! I feel like I am living in a dream world really. I’ve had so many achievements, so many experiences. I was interviewed by the World newspaper and recently by the Voice of America's Urdu segment for a Pakistani TV channel. Having so many experiences, I decided to write a book in my native language Balochi. Very few students from my region get to go out of country. I am writing it in my native language because I want my region's students to get appreciated to participate in YES. It might be the biggest thing I had ever got because in my town Gwadar, we don't even have a higher college where I could pursue my career. I wish I find a way to my further education. As I got YES and I am hopeful that I will get a way for my further education and I will be able to do something for my community when I go back.
Mariyam Mohammed Suleman