by Neha Somani, YES India 2016-17, hosted with AFS in Peachtree, GA

“I often used to wonder what exactly the word ‘blended’ meant! Coming back from my exchange, I have realized the true meaning & significance of ‘blending in.’ I was not even sixteen when I learned that I was one of the YES 2016-17 finalists in India. After reading that email, my family was thrilled, excited, overjoyed, fascinated with the idea that their kid is going to live in the USA for a year! I was of course overjoyed inside, but I could not express it all. Thanks to all the loving mentors and all my lifelong friends that I met during the Pre-Departure Orientation in New Delhi! After that, everything felt like a fantasy, like a dream coming true, “WOW! I’m going to America.”

(Photo Above: With friends)

I had an awesome host family and I had a really great experience in my host school. I was the only exchange student in my school. At the beginning, I felt a little alone but in the next week of my school year, almost everyone in the whole school was my friend. I loved being in the school surrounded with the most loving teachers. I have learned so much from them. I learned to debate on any topic presented in front of me no matter whether it is global, political, cultural, or social etc. The difference between the English I spoke and wrote before and now is tremendous. Apart from that, my knowledge about American History and American Government has increased vastly. Learning Tech Theatre in Drama and Photography and Journalism in Yearbook was incredible! My school gave me lifelong friendships, great teachers and most importantly a platform where I could express myself without the fear of being judged.

My host family is a true blessing for me! I love them from my whole heart. I learned so much from them; most importantly, how to find joy in little things. I cannot thank them enough for their kindness. We shared a great bond which made everything so much easier.

My host sister and I would have so much fun every single day. Even shopping at Walmart for simple things was fun. Irritating my host dad for fun along with both of my sisters and getting teased back ten times as much was itself funny. I was super curious to go to church. My host mom took me to church for the first time and I loved it. I made friends there and it was something we would do together as a family. We celebrated all the festivals where I learned a lot about Christianity. My family too was really curious about my religion and culture and we had a lot of discussions about it, which actually helped me learn more about my own country!

I have become more confident, independent, appreciative, and much more. I have become a much better person and gained the ability to ‘step in someone else’s shoes’ to see the world from his or her perspective. This program has impacted me greatly. I am a global citizen now where I not only have best friends all over India but all over the world. Whenever I talk about something going on with my family, I am often asked which family I am talking about, my Indian or American family. This program enabled me to develop a spirit of volunteerism. It helped me develop new hobbies and passions and improve the ones I already had. Most importantly, this program helped me find my true self and my capabilities. In future, I am definitely going to host an exchange student and keep on connecting lives and sharing cultures! I absolutely know the joy of blending!!! Once again, I would love to thank the State Department, AFS, YES, my family and friends, and every other person who helped make this dream come true.”