By Abdul-Fatah Ibrahim, YES 2016-2017, Tanzania, hosted by Ayusa in Amity, OR. Reposted from http://www.yesprograms.org/stories/finding-a-second-home-in-the-u-s
My exchange has been an incredible experience. I started as a stranger in my host family of a lovely married couple (Gerald Rima & JoAnn Rima). They’ve taught me a lot about American culture, starting from the way they sit and eat at the table. For example, we always sit and talk together at the table at every meal and most of the meals are eaten using silverware, which was a challenge because in my culture, we always eat using our bare hands. I’ve also had the unique experience of being introduced to a pet, a German Shepherd named Gunny. It was my first experience living with a dog, because in Zanzibar, Tanzania, we do not keep dogs as pets or part of the family. They have made me feel comfortable with dogs and I really enjoy taking Gunny out every night. I feel like I’ve gained a second family and they will always stay in my heart.
My host family has played a big role in making my experience successful and unforgettable. They have encouraged me to join American sports, such as cross-country and wrestling, which I really enjoyed. In Tanzania I do not practice any of these sports. They were like a new world to me, but my host mother supported me and helped me get in shape, and I’ve made so many friends for life. My host family has also helped me experience American holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I have celebrated those holidays in different ways. We cut down our own Christmas tree, put it in the stand, and decorated it. It was the best experience and I also enjoyed making cookies, stuffing the turkey and exchanging gifts on Christmas day.
I have done several community services in my host state, like cleaning up the beach, washing dishes at organization events, making blankets and planting trees. I believe that the only way that this world can change and for people to love each other is by volunteerism, even if it’s something small. I have started seeing this more since I got to the U.S. and involved myself in the community. Now I feel happy myself when I am making people happy. The activity that I’m the most proud of was working with other exchange students to make blankets for the people-in-need and the homeless during winter. It was a small activity, but it was thoughtful.
I’ve had so many opportunities to do presentations at my host school, Amity High School, about my country, how life is, our culture and its geographical features. Most of my friends did not know anything about Tanzania, but I kept sharing our culture with them, our independence from Britain, the temperature (which shocked them because it’s summer all year round!) and even the food and currency. Students in my school have gained a lot of knowledge about my country. I also got the chance to share about one of the widely spread religions in Tanzania, which is Islam. I spoke about how we pray, obey God, go to Mosque, the connection between Jesus and Islam in the Quran, and that Muslims are not bad people and not to be feared. Islam itself means “peace” and it encourages peace all over the world. I’ve also learned about Christianity this year and the way that Christians obey God, follow the Bible and go to Church. The greatest thing I’ve gained this year is respect for all religions.
Getting to spend a week in Washington, D.C., and gaining a better understanding about the American system of government and the principles of democracy during the Civic Education Workshop (CEW) was one of the most memorable moments of my year. CEW gave me the opportunity to meet with 99 other people from all around the world and discover what great future leaders and peace-builders we are that seek to make this world a better place. This workshop allowed me to practice my skills of diplomacy, time management, listening and compromising with different ideas. One of my favorite activities was the simulation we did about an international refugee crisis at the U.S. Department of State. The simulation made me see the importance of compromising without any violence; it taught me that we cannot always get 100 percent of what we want.
It was also a great opportunity to visit the museums and memorials in Washington, D.C., such as the Newseum, Jefferson and George Mason Memorials, Abraham Lincoln Memorial, African-American Museum and many others. They have inspired me to an immeasurable scale. My favorite memorial was the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial because he did a lot of work to fight the Great Depression when the U.S. was down. President Roosevelt gave hope to the people and established the Tennessee Valley Authority project, which helped tons of people. These former U.S. Presidents and other icons will always be the number one example for me on how to solve social problems in my home country.