By Varsha Bhat, YES India 2016-17, hosted with Aspect in Wisconsin

““Hi! How are you? How was US? How was your experience?” When someone asks me this question, so many things pop up in my mind. Like my AHH! Moments, the cold weather, our family time, my school activities, our church activities and so many other things. But I don’t know how to express all these feelings in a short answer, therefore I end up saying “Yeah it was a good experience.” This happens all the time. Anyways, you know what happened once? My friend came up to me during lunch time and, we started talking. And she suddenly said that her dad went to Dubai! To that statement I said, “wow, that’s cool!” But she said,” Aren’t you happy listening that my dad went to India?” I started laughing so hard. Then it clicked me that, she thought Dubai was in India! I said her between my laughs that Dubai is not in India. She felt embarrassed and apologized. This happened so many times that, people misunderstood that Dubai is in India.

Answering such questions made me happy every time. I didn’t know why. But later I realized that, sharing about my country, my culture gave me happiness from inside! I would be grinning all the time whenever I was sharing about India. But there were sometimes too, when people didn’t want to listen about what I was saying about India. Being there all by myself, taught me how to read peoples face and their emotions. Now I can understand what people are feeling when we are having a conversation. I can kind of read faces now. That, I feel is an awesome thing that I got from this exchange.


(Photo Above: With friends & family)

I know, I was not all by myself. My host family was always with me in every moment that I spent there. Here in India my mom always did our laundry. The situation was different there. I learned to do my own laundry. That was another big accomplishment for me. Talking about my accomplishments, it’s not necessary that all the accomplishments are supposed to be huge, right? Here are some of my accomplishments: –

  • I learned how to be independent.
  • I learned how to keep my room clean so, when my mom would enter she would use me as an example for my siblings.
  • I learned when is the correct time to speak when you are in an argument.
  • Learned punctuality.
  • Learned that not all families are the same.
  • Learned that how human thinking or human nature is same all the way around the globe.
  • Learned that not all the faces of life will be same.

Like in just a year I faced so many ups as well as downs. There are many more of these which adds up to this list. But this one year was like a glimpse of my future. My future will not be the same as my present just like my exchange.

One of the best things that I did there was volunteering. We had an elderly home called as Homme Home. Me and my host sister, named Elsa, used to go there every

Monday and Thursday for volunteering. Sometimes we used to help the main volunteers in the games that they play with the elderly people but, we usually painted nails of these ladies there. It’s always fun to paint their nails according to the seasons and to listen to their stories. I learned so many things from them, like their childhood stories, the value of money at that time, their fashion style, their love stories and most importantly their service towards the country and society. Most of the ladies whom I met there were social workers who, used to do a lot of volunteering. Going there every two days in a week, sharing my experience, listening to their stories and, doing their nails was something I used to look forward.

One more thing that I want to add here is my Forensics experience. I joined Forensics which is a huge field of elocution, acting, report giving, and many more. I was in the professional speech category. My topic was Bollywood 1990s. It had many levels. I won the first place in the state level. At the beginning I was nervous because, I am speaking about Indian movies and actors. I was nervous about the thing that; will the audience get bored? But they showed immense interest in my speech and asked questions after the round was done. It showed me that the people there have a lot of tolerance and are very acceptable. It gave me a lot of courage to speak next time in front of them. I really appreciate their acceptance which make them very friendly. That’s one of the things that I love about them.

I feel like I have really grown up in this past year. My host parents always told me about the political system and we had huge discussions about the same. Even I initiated some discussions which helped me learn so much. I feel like I have become more open minded and more tolerant. I have known myself so much during this past year. I feel there is no other programs like exchanges. They are the best way to know yourself more and to know others around the globe. I am really blessed that I am part of YES Program. Keep Calm and Travel On. That would be my quote for myself.”