May 17, 2022

Say YES to Hosting for the Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program

Four students lean against each other and watch the sunset over a lake.

At Ayusa, we take pride in all of our exchange students. We are especially proud of our YES students, who are from the Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program.

The Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program is offered by the US Department of State. This program provides scholarships for international students from countries with significant Muslim populations to study abroad in the US.

The Kennedy Lugar YES program is a great opportunity for international students to expand their horizons and study abroad. If you’re considering hosting one of our amazing students, we encourage you to consider someone from the YES program. Hosting a YES student can introduce you to a new culture from one of over 40 countries and give them an opportunity to explore their world!

In this article, we’ll answer:

  • What’s the Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program?
  • Who are the YES students?
  • Why is hosting a YES student a great opportunity?
  • What do YES students and host families say about the program?

Whether you’re new to hosting or an exchange student pro, you have the potential to be a great host family for one of our YES students. By becoming a host, you open yourself up to new experiences and the chance to grow your international circle. Plus, you support a student along the way.

To learn more about hosting a YES student, take a look at some of our inspirational YES student stories below and start a hosting application to take the first step on this life-changing journey!

What is the Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program?

A Brief History of the YES Program

The US Congress established the Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program in October of 2002. The US Congress designed the program in response to the events of September 11th, 2001 as a way to foster understanding between the US and countries with significant Muslim populations. This cultural exchange goes both ways! Hosting lets American families learn about YES students’ home countries while the students have the opportunity to learn about American culture during their study abroad. The goal of the program is to increase tolerance, build understanding, and foster friendship between YES students’ home countries and US host communities.

Ayusa students from the Kennedy Lugar YES Program find that their experiences in the US often exceed their expectations. When asked about his time in the US, YES student—Tamba, from Sierra Leone—said he wasn’t sure what Americans would be like, but he soon found  that “Americans are lovely, tolerant and peaceful.” He also said that studying abroad brought the world closer to him.

What the Kennedy Lugar YES Program Offers International Students

The Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program offers students the chance to become a youth ambassador for their home country during a one-year study abroad program in the US. The program offers study abroad scholarships to students from over 40 countries with high Muslim populations.

Earning a scholarship through the YES program is no easy feat. For the 2018-19 academic year, the program had a 3% acceptance rate for international students. Scholarships are merit-based and applicants must demonstrate a commitment to the values of the program through prior academic and community achievements. Showing diligence in their home communities also demonstrates that they are prepared for the responsibility of studying abroad in a new country.

Kennedy Lugar YES scholarships are essential for creating opportunities for international students. Without these scholarships, students like Eman wouldn’t have the opportunity to become ambassadors for their countries. After being placed with her host family in Nampa, Idaho, Eman wasted no time involving herself in community volunteer work. In her time outside of school, Eman volunteered to:

  1. Repaint several rooms in her host family’s church
  2. Serve food at an affordable housing complex
  3. Help her school fundraise for extracurricular activities
  4. Educate the public about Pakistan

Eman’s work impacted everyone around her. Not only did it improve the lives of those in her host community, but it also positively represented her home country of Pakistan. Her Pakistani family and host family were both proud of her work, which her YES scholarship made possible. In response to praise over her work, Eman said, “Country boundaries are meaningless and what truly matters is humanity—WHICH HAS NO BORDERS.”

Many YES students have amazing stories of what they do with their experience when they come home. Here are a couple of examples:

Who are the Kennedy Lugar YES Students?

Students in the Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program come from about 40 different countries with significant Muslim populations. Kennedy Lugar YES students are:

  • Demonstrated leaders
  • High academic achievers
  • A vital part of the future

Farooq for example, is a YES student from India, who found himself living in New York during his study abroad year. Farooq’s hard work had his entire community singing his praise. According to his school counselor Matt Threehouse, Farooq actively participated in class and took pride in his academic success. Another teacher claimed that they wished more students were like Farooq because of his class performance and positive attitude.

Outside of academics, Farooq became a part of 10 different after-school clubs and volunteered over 40 hours with the Special Olympics, an event his host brother Joshua participated in. His hard work earned him the title of Ayusa’s Star Student of the Month, a distinction given to students that display strong character in their host communities.

Student wearing a hijab sits near a window and reads. Cityscape in the distance.

Why Should I Host a Kennedy Lugar Youth and Exchange Study Program Student?

Experience a New Culture

Hosting a Kennedy Lugar YES student gives you the chance to experience another culture without leaving your hometown. This includes learning about new cuisines, traditions, and even a new language. Learning about a new culture from your YES student can help you:

  • Meet new people from different cultural backgrounds
  • Communicate with others using improved foreign language skills
  • Gain a sense of wonder about the world around you
  • Look at other cultures from a new perspective
  • Make lifelong friendships across the globe

By bringing a YES student into your home, you open yourself up to learn more about the world around you. Learning more about the people and cultures around you shows you just how big the world can be! Practicing a foreign language can also be a rewarding bonding experience between you and your student, and can help you communicate with others of similar cultures. Sharing cultures is a great opportunity to foster a beautiful lifelong friendship between you and your student.

Make an Impact on your Community

Hosting YES students gives them the chance to make an impact both on their host community and their home country. Kennedy Lugar YES students are ambassadors representing their country in the US. These students demonstrate leadership by volunteering in nonprofits and organizations. They will also work to break down barriers between their country and the US. Kennedy Lugar YES student Sumaiya Maqsood strove to do just that during her exchange year in the US.

During her trip, Sumaiya, from Pakistan, lived with a host family in Virginia. Sumaiya participated in International Education Week (IEW), an event hosted by the Department of State to give international students a chance to share their culture and information about their home country with their host community. By taking advantage of this event, Sumaiya shared her culture with over 1,800 people between 37 presentations. Her audiences included:

  1. Her host high school
  2. Local elementary schools
  3. Several American Councils

Sumaiya’s presentation aimed to eliminate common misconceptions about her home country of Pakistan. Through her success in breaking down cultural barriers between the US and Pakistan, Sumaiya learned the importance of using teaching to change someone’s point of view. She also learned that interacting with people from different backgrounds helps you gain perspective and knowledge about the world around you. Because of her work, Sumaiya won first place in Ayusa’s annual IEW contest, which encourages exchange students to participate in IEW and share their stories.

Because Sumaiya’s family chose to host her, they not only participated in cultural exchange as a family, but they also enriched their community by expanding their global perspective. Sumaiya’s presentation successfully educated her host family’s community about her home country, which encouraged both her host family and the community to continue learning about the world around them.

Change a YES Student’s Life

Hosting a YES student is an opportunity to change an international student’s life. Because the Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program is scholarship-based, it provides students with an opportunity to explore the US that they would not have otherwise. Student Riwa Roukoz exemplifies how this program changes lives.

Riwa Roukoz, a Lebanese student in the Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program, had dreamed of visiting the United States since childhood. Due to financial difficulties, she always thought of it as an unattainable dream. The Kennedy Lugar YES Program gave her the chance to live out these dreams, and she found herself spending a year in St. Charles, Missouri as a teenager.

Riwa said that her experience in the US changed her into a new person. Her study abroad program taught her to be more independent, responsible, and resilient. The Kennedy Lugar YES scholarship gave her the wonderful opportunity to be an ambassador for her country. In a reflection about her trip, Riwa said, “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.”

Kennedy lugar youth exchange and study program students walk to class.

Grow Your Family by Hosting a YES Student

Hosting a YES student also gives you the opportunity to grow your family. Both our host families and YES students frequently talk about how hosting is similar to taking in a new family member. By hosting, you create special memories with your student that bring you closer than ever before.

Take the special memories of the Gordon family and their YES exchange student Sahayan for example. During the exchange year, one of the Gordon brothers proposed to his girlfriend. A wedding was on the horizon! Not only did the Gordons invite Sahayan to the wedding, but they made her feel like a true member of the family by asking her to be a bridesmaid.

When reflecting on the wedding, Sahayan said, “I was the only [bridesmaid] who was wearing a headscarf. And this didn’t bother them from choosing me as one of their bridesmaids… As an exchange student, it really felt so nice to have a family that treasures you more than their exchange student. I'm so blessed to be part of this awesome family.”

Experiences from Kennedy Lugar Youth and Exchange Study Program Host Families

Hosts of Ayusa’s Kennedy Lugar YES students say that the memories they make in this program are invaluable. These trips teach students many skills through volunteering and living with a host family of a different background from theirs. Host families in turn get to learn about other cultures, foods, and languages. Plus, they get a new family member in the process.

Both our students and host families say that the bonds they make with each other will last a lifetime. The positive feedback we receive from both YES students and host families encourages us to keep supporting these students.

Student with a laptop perched on their knees smiles at the camera.

Host mom Amy Estes had a lot to say about why more families should consider hosting an exchange student. Amy said that hosting an international student is an experience for the whole family. The Estes family takes the time with their daughters to look through exchange student profiles on Ayusa’s website. They’ve made it a family goal to find a student from a different country every time they host for a “new and different experience.” They also considered their family dynamic in their choices. “I wanted to experience what it was like to have a son since we have all girls, so we hosted boys from Pakistan and Spain,” Amy said. By hosting international students such as YES students, the Estes family got to watch their daughters expand their worldview while also expanding their family across the globe.

Amy said that families who don’t host are missing out on something truly special. “Our lives would be so boring without these experiences. Each student has brought something completely different to our family, both culturally and emotionally. Yet, I wouldn’t trade any of them for the world because getting to experience the ‘firsts’ with each kid is a genuinely heartwarming experience,” she said.

Louise Lough shares similar sentiments. The Lough family decided to take in two international students: Salim, a YES student from Kenya, and Finn, an exchange student from Germany. The Loughs say taking in both boys has been rewarding for them. While staying with the Loughs, the boys:

  1. Volunteered with the “Spirit of Boise Balloon Festival”
  2. Built their own chessboard and learned to play with one another
  3. Learned to play cribbage

Salim and Finn warmed their host family’s hearts when they learned to play cribbage. They learned to play so they could play with Louise’s 92-year-old, legally blind father and get to bond with him. Louise says they’ve accepted every part of their family, even their extended family members, and have embraced Louise and her husband as their other mom and dad. “Although we are the age of most grandparents… [being called mom and dad] makes us feel young!” Louise said.

Another family, the Tweedys, said their favorite part of hosting was giving their YES student Denisa many “firsts.” During the December of her study abroad, the Tweedys took Denisa with them to Mississippi for her first Christmas celebration. Denisa got to meet their extended family members, who were very excited to teach Denisa new games and bring her to the best ice cream parlor in town. They also gave Denisa her first Christmas gift: a map, to encourage her to “go to many places in the world.” Being able to share these heartwarming experiences with Denisa made their Christmas absolutely unforgettable.

How Do I Host a Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program Student?

We’re so glad you’re interested in hosting! Ayusa’s YES students show a strong commitment to the study abroad program and bring so much joy to their families.

By hosting a Kennedy Lugar YES Student, you give an international student a life-changing study abroad opportunity that will change you too. Ayusa’s YES students are some of the most hard-working students in our exchange program, and we’re so thankful for our amazing host families that are able to give them a home away from home.

If you’re interested in taking the next step, you can start a hosting application. You can also meet our YES students through their letters to potential host families. From these pages you will learn the student’s:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Home country
  • Personal interests

Finding common interests between yourself and a YES student is a great way to start bonding with them.

If you aren’t sure if you’re ready to host, or if you have more questions about hosting, you can request more information from us. We are always happy to answer any questions you have about your hosting journey!

In the meantime, you can also read more stories from Kennedy Lugar YES students on our website. These stories are a great opportunity to read more heartwarming firsthand accounts of Ayusa participants.

To contact us, you can call Ayusa's 24-hour phone number at 800.727.4540 or you can send an email to

Sharing cultures and building communities with high school exchange.

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