Living the Dream
I am a Lebanese girl running after my dreams in another part of the world.
My name is Riwa Roukoz and I am on the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study program. The United States always interested me since I was a child, but I thought it was a dream far from the reach of hands and eyes yet always close to the heart.
I applied to this program that I knew nothing about on the night of the application deadline. Little did I know that I could fast forward to 9 months later and find myself living in the United States.
I was picked by Ayusa, my placement organization, and paired with a family in St Charles, Missouri. I woke up one summer day in August to say goodbye to my family and the life that I had been living for the past 16 years.
I woke up in Lebanon and fell asleep in the Midwest of the United States.
It's been 7 months today of what I like to describe as being born again. It felt like I was created again and granted a new life that I have to live on my own. I had to be not only an independent, strong and responsible teenager but an ambassador for my country and this international program that gave me that wonderful opportunity.
The community was very accepting and welcoming, something I didn't expect from people who are so different from me.
School was a whole new experience where I also had the chance to practice independence and freedom. Involvement in clubs and activities made me feel part of this smaller community. Teachers at my school, Saint Charles High School, inspired me with their dedication to their job and their love for what they do. It gave me a different insight on teaching and how it is a beautiful way of serving your community and sharing knowledge.
When I got engaged in community service, I started feeling part of this home away from home. I no longer felt hosted. I started believing that those people and I are more similar than we are different, and serving them was essential because they were serving me by accepting me.
I learned how to make myself happy without depending on my parents. I had to be my own support system, my own therapist, my own parent and my own friend. With all the fun adventures, trips, and things I was experiencing came challenges and new ones every day.
Homesickness was surely a challenge that was the hardest to overcome. It just stays in your backpack wherever you go in this world but you have to learn how to live and push through it. I learned how to recycle problems into energy and motivation to pursue more, succeed, and become a better person.
I was blessed by a wonderful theatre teacher and director who opened the way for me to make my dreams come true and do what I love. He is one of the most inspiring people I have met. He taught me through his passion for theatre how to truly enjoy art and make it part of my life and myself.
I also met my sister who was once a stranger I didn't know existed and became a lifelong companion. This mere thought is very beautiful to me.
I made a family of wonderful friends and built bridges between our cultures. Cultures theoretically separate people but love unites.
Being around my host family who helped me build faith and good relationships with others made me renew my purpose in life and have a different mindset.
By traveling across the world and letting loose all my emotional chains, I got the chance to explore a new country, different cultures, food, lifestyles and people. I got to grow in a different way. And different is surely beautiful.
I had the chance to make many dreams come true. Being the dreamer I am, I proved to myself that dreams are achievable with hard work and determination.
I hope I will leave a mark behind, for my country to be remembered and my thoughts to leave prints in people's minds.
I owe a big thank you to my friends, family, community and all organizations that made it possible for me to live this life and become the person I am today.
For every reader, I would like to say: Dream on and make your own wishes come true.