October 21, 2022
Activities and Tips

YES Exchange Student Program: A Life-changing Experience for The Host

Students studying in a library looking at a computer

Hosting a student from the YES Exchange Student Program will bring with it a life-changing experience! Are you ready to embark on this fulfilling journey?

In October 2002, the US Congress passed a bill that gave funding to the US Department of State to fund the YES Exchange Student Program. The YES Student Exchange Program is an exchange program directed towards countries with a significant Muslim population. It’s designed to break the stereotypes that formed following the events of 9/11.

Through the YES Student Exchange Program, students from 40+ Muslim-populated countries travel to the US to live with host familes for an academic year. This program offers host families so much in return, including the exploration of foreign cultures and traditions from different corners of the world.

In this article, we’ll answer these questions:

  • What is the YES student Exchange Program?
  • What are some YES Student Exchange Program Success Stories?
  • Why should I host a student from the YES Exchange Student Program?
  • How do I host a student from the YES Exchange Student Program?

Whether you’re new to hosting or a veteran, this guide will provide you with an in-depth understanding of YES Student Exchange Program and the expectations of being a host.

You’ll learn how hosting a YES student can change your life and lives of those close to you — including the student you host. Our inspiring success stories are a testament of how the YES Student Exchange Program transformed the lives of many students and their hosts.

What is the YES Student Exchange Program?

A Brief History of The YES Program

The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program is a government-funded exchange program that’s been running since October 2002. The program is designed to break stereotypes that target predominantly Muslim countries. Every academic school year, students from over 40 Muslim countries study at an America high school with a host family taking care of their needs outside of school.

In 2003, the US Department of State gave Ayusa (that’s us!) a major grant to administer the YES Exchange Student Program. The first exchange student from the YES Student Exchange Program arrived in the USA in August 2003, and since then, the program flourished, with new students welcomed into the United States every year.

What Does YES Offer Students?

At its most basic, the YES Exchange Student Program provides students the opportunity to study in the United States for one academic school year. But, that’s not all! With the knowledge and experience they gain through the program, YES students essentially become ambassadors for their home countries.

YES students spend a year living with their host family and studying. The program provides rent, food, or transportation.

What Does The YES Exchange Student Program Offer Host Families?

As a host, you’ll provide a YES student with three meals a day, love, and a home away from home. You’ll get to immerse yourself in the stories the student shares with you. Whether it’s about their country, culture or their holidays—you’ll learn it all. As a YES program host, you’ll have the chance to create lasting friendships with a student from a predominantly Muslim country.

student of YES exchange student program studies with new classmates

What Are Some YES Student Exchange Program Success Stories?

Ayusa has many success stories of past YES Exchange Student Program hosts and students. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at some of these stories.

The Students of The YES Exchange Program

Let’s take a closer look into the daily lives of students from the YES Exchange Student Program. At the end of each program year, we collected responses from exchange students and the people they interacted with. The responses are always positive. Every student has a lasting impact on the lives of people they interact with — whether that’s their host family, school staff, or community.

For example, Farooq is an exceptional student who traveled to the US from India. He studied at Olean High School in New York, where all his teachers, coaches, and friends praised Farooq for his hard work, dedication, and eagerness to help others. No matter who needed help or when they needed help, Farooq arrived with a smile on his face — offering his help however he could. One of the Special Olympics volunteer coordinators shared, “[Farooq] volunteered to go with us, and I am so glad he did… he was a wonderful help ALL DAY LONG.” He volunteered well over the forty hours each student is required.

Another one of our students from the YES Exchange Student Program is Sumaiya Maqsood, a student from Pakistan. During her exchange program, Sumaiya presented to almost 2,000 people about her country and culture, erasing misconceptions about Pakistani culture. This experience has given her the opportunity to fully understand the importance of keeping an open mind and looking at things from different perspectives.

Now that we’ve read some students’ stories, we’ll move on to the host families. They are the ones who make a life-change impact on the YES students.  

The Host Families of The YES Student Exchange Program

Past Ayusa host families have had nothing less than unforgettable experiences with the students they hosted for the academic school year. Many of these families shared with us that starting an application for hosting was the best choice they’ve ever made.

Let’s look into a few host families who shared their life-changing experiences and the knowledge they acquired from being part of the YES Student Exchange Program.

The Coutu family and the Estes family are two veteran families who have hosted dozens of students throughout the last few years. Both families provided four points on why they will continue hosting students each year:

  1. You never have to say goodbye
  2. You can avoid missing out
  3. You can learn more about a different culture
  4. You can start a ripple in a young person’s life

Number one: You never have to say goodbye. The Coutu family shared that after hosting dozens of students throughout the years, they still have contact with students they previously hosted. The connection between the host and the student never ceased. The student may leave the United States, but with today’s social networks, they remain connected with their host family, leaving their friendship intact. “Yara put WhatsApp on John’s phone so she could call him or text him for free. She went home and gave me a tour of her house by her phone while speaking with us. We saw one of the wind chimes swaying in the breeze on the patio that she had purchased here to take home.” In other words, Yara remained part of the Coutu family long after she returned home.

Number two: You can avoid missing out. Host families get to experience the ‘firsts’ with each student. Host Amy Estes said, “Our lives would be so boring without these experiences. Each student has brought something completely different to our family, both culturally and emotionally.” So why miss out?

Number three: You can learn more about a different culture. A YES student will open up a new door to a different culture you can experience without needing to travel abroad. Students will bring their culture and traditions to your home, sharing them with you as you share yours with them. Amy said, “Our family has made it a point to pick a different country each time for a new and different experience.”

Number four: You can start a ripple in a young person’s life. You can benefit a student’s life by being the reason they become more open-minded, appreciate new cultures, and become more mature. Today’s generation will become the new global leaders. You can be a positive influence in their life. Host Connie Cantu stated, “We see them return to their home communities changed in the eyes of their parents and friends. After experiencing the exchange year here, they are ready to take on the world.”

As the YES Student Exchange Program changes the lives of the students, it also changes the lives of the entire host family. Host mother Jeanne noticed many positive changes through her experience as a host. Not only did the experience help her become a better person, but she observed positive changes in her children’s lives, too.

As your host student arrives from a foreign country, you’ll have the chance to learn a new language, or, if you already speak it, have someone to practice it with.

As a host, you’ll also experience certain situations that are handled differently from the United States. Jeanne hosted a student from Ecuador. She explained how one time when they went out for dinner, a man at a nearby table had a serious medical problem that required immediate attention. Not long after, medical services came to rescue the man. She recollected the incident saying, “Our exchange student was transfixed — ‘In Ecuador, he dies,’ he told us.” Through that experience, Jeanne’s kids began to understand that what they have available to them is not universally accessible. “They began to see [Ecuador] as peopled by individuals who have needs, many of them unmet,” she explained.

Besides broadening her family’s worldview, Jeanne’s year as a program host meant that she “gained another family member for that year. We enjoyed his thoughtfulness and delight in new things,” she said. “We took him to the doctor when he was sick… Our sons had another brother, and we had another son.”

The Benefits of YES Exchange Student Program

There are many benefits YES students take away from being part of the program. In this section, you will learn a bit more about them.

A former student of the YES Exchange Student Program, Ali, from Ramallah, Palestine, explained that the YES Student Exchange Program has allowed him to meet kids from around the world for the first time. “At our orientation in Washington, D.C., it was the first time I saw kids from Europe. I saw kids from France, Norway, China, India, and more… I got to experience their cultures as well.”

This new exposure changed his viewpoints on the United States. During his program, Ali realized that there were many similarities between the USA and Palestine. He said that many teens that he met from across the world through the YES Student Exchange Program also shared similarities with him and their countries. He exposed himself to meeting new cultures: “Before this program, I mostly knew only Palestinian people. There are really no Mexican or Chinese people in Palestine. I only read about other countries in a book or saw them on maps.” That changed during his program.

Above all, the YES Exchange Student Program has allowed Ali and other YES students to show off their countries’ cultures and traditions, breaking any stereotypes that were built around them. “I get to live the American dream,” Ali said. I get to walk in the shoes of an American. My friends and family told me to represent us well in the US and show them what we are really all about… I am a global ambassador.”

Why Should I Host a Student From The YES Exchange Student Program?

Throughout this article, we shared the benefits of having a student from the YES Student Exchange Program, stories from the hosts and the students, and the items that the program offers students and hosts. In this section, you’ll get a summary of four main reasons why hosts and students enjoyed being part of the YES Student Exchange Program. They are the opportunity to:

  • Experience a New Culture
  • Increase Intercultural Understanding
  • Change a YES Student’s Life
  • Grow Valuable Memories

Experience a New Culture

Many people, if they’re looking to experience a new culture, will travel to another country that they want to experience. Well, if you host a student as part of the YES Student Exchange Program, you’ll be able to host a student and explore their culture first hand, no travel required. Holidays are a great way to experience these cultural differences. American holidays differ from holidays in Muslim-populated countries.

Host student Denisa experienced this first hand through her host family. In December, when the Tweedy family traveled for winter break, Denisa experienced many cultural differences and experienced new things. As a Christmas gift, Denisa received a world map which holds great memories for her. It encouraged her to “go to many places in the world.”

As Denisa experienced more culture through her host family, they also experienced Indonesian culture from her. Densia taught her family about Islamic holidays and daily prayers. The cultural exchange between Denisa and her host family was a two-way street.

Intercultural Understanding

Another benefit from hosting a student from the YES Student Exchange Program is the intercultural understanding aspect.

Fernandez thought she was the only Muslim student in her school of 1,100 students. She said: “I know some people thinking all Muslims are terrorists, which is so sad. I actually ask some students, ‘Do you think I'm a terrorist?’ They say I'm too nice to be one.”

Hosting a student from the YES Exchange Student Program will give a greater cultural understanding, and rather than just collecting information from the media, you can learn firsthand from a student. For example, host student Fernandez was able to change her classmates’ thinking about Muslims. She came to the United States the same year as the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 events, and had opportunities to talk with peers about it. She said, “I tell them killing someone is a really big sin as a Muslim. It's like with Christians. There are good ones and bad ones.”

Change a YES Student’s Life

Rita Roukoz is a Lebanese student who, as a kid, had a dream of coming to the United States. She fulfilled her dream the moment she applied through Ayusa. A host family was already available to welcome her to St Charles, Missouri. “I woke up in Lebanon and fell asleep in the Midwest of the United States,” she shared.

Rita said that moving to the United States for the school year felt like, “I was created again and granted a new life.” Being a host will give you the chance to be the positive change in a young people’s life. “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,” she explained.

Grow Valuable Memories

Memories are priceless. They’re purchased through experiences—an experience such as hosting a student from the YES Exchange Student Program. Sahayan experienced her first American wedding thanks to her host family. And, not only that, she was the bridesmaid — something she didn’t know existed until then. She said about that day, “That one very special day, that's where I really felt and said to myself, ‘Wow Sahayan, you're really a part of this family.’”

Sahayan got to experience an event that will last with her forever as a valuable memory. All because of her host family in Washington. Being a host, you can grow valuable memories with your host child through the YES Exchange Student Program.

How Do I Host a Student from The YES Exchange Student Program?

Ready to dive into life as a program host? We’re happy to hear it!

Hosting a student from the YES Exchange Student Program is quite easy, and our local coordinators can assist you in every step of the way. If you would like to learn more about our process, you can request more information.

Ready to start your hosting journey? Start your hosting application today!

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