The batch of YES 12 students went on a trip to Black Hills at the beginning of June and got the chance to explore the historic site, as well as themselves and how much they’ve grown throughout the YES program.
There were a series of activities held by Mary and Gina, IRIS’s YES Program Assistants, alongside Paul and Lawal, two Nigerian YES alumni who helped chaperone. In one of the sessions, the students were asked to come up with a list of “life hacks” for the new incoming YES students. Having to set foot on a foreign country without knowing much about it, the students would be the best go-to source when it comes to giving advice about what to expect when coming to America under the YES program!
From IRIS, to academics, and to family life—the students basically covered everything a new YES student needs to know upon their arrival here in Iowa!
Before you leave: Packing and emotional preparedness
It’s time to embrace a totally new environment from home, which means from the weather, to a new home, and a new school — it’s all going to be new and foreign. You will need time to adjust and it might be a struggle in the beginning, so just be prepared and expect for it to happen, and know that you’re going to pull through in the end!
Don’t bring too many things from home
Because mainly, you’re going to bring more back home once you’re done. Once you get here, you will shop for more things, then that creates less space for when you leave. There’s just loads that you are going to get, such as winter clothing and souvenirs for your family, of course! Take with you only the necessities you would need and don’t forget your normal medications (if you have them).
Your new home and adapting to a new life
Whatever happens, your host family comes first
Your host family is your new family here in the U.S., and therefore is responsible for you. We know that you will have your friends to hang out with, but learn to make your host family a priority, just like how you would with your family back home. Spending as much time with your host family will get you acclimated to the lifestyle here in the States, build better bonds with whom you’re living with, and thus, making it easier to carry out your daily rituals. Remember, your host family is as much involved in the program as you are, so make the best of your time with your host family. Any emergencies will also be directed to your host parents first, before anyone else. They are responsible of taking care of you just like their own child.
You are here for a cultural exchange experience. Open your mind to differences and find a common ground with your similarities. Different people come from different backgrounds, and you must keep in mind that not everyone experienced the same upbringing as you did. Be respectful, and keep an open mind. You’ll learn so much more than you intend to.
Ask about food habits before arrival
Whether allergies, personal preferences, or religious reasons, it will definitely help make your stay easier if you convey your eating habits to your family beforehand so that they could accommodate you.
Communicate, communicate, communicate! This advice is one of the most stressed pointers the students gave out. It is of paramount importance that you communicate your feelings and thoughts about something especially if you don’t necessarily agree or felt different about. In addition to that, express your likes as much as your dislikes! Find a person that you’re most comfortable with when trying to talk it out. We don’t want you to not enjoy your experience here by not letting out what you truly feel. The IRIS staff is also here to help you, so don’t ever be afraid to reach out.
Sharing is caring
Your host family is sharing their home with you. The least could do is to share your experience with them. Take them on that ride, besides, that’s why they signed up to host in the first place anyway!
Activities, involvements, and social circles: a survival skill
Don’t be afraid, be confident
You’ve already taken the big step of coming to America on your own. Living with a different family from your own is the other huge step you have taken thus far. Now, it’s time for you to get out (further) from your comfort zone. Confidence is key! You came all this way, surely piercing a social group is not a big deal at this point. Also, confidence is what took you this far. You already have it in you!
Put yourself out there
Face it, being from someplace different already sets you apart, why not embrace it? Put yourself out there and push yourself to be in uncomfortable situations. You might surprise yourself.
You only have a year, so what have you got to lose?! Get involved as soon as you can. The previous YES students were involved in a lot of school activities such as sports, dance, clubs, choir, and speech. These outlets are where they would usually find their closest friends at school.
Be patient with finding your niche and also making friends. It’s a struggle everyone goes through. People will slowly open up to receive you and before you know it, you’re going to have no problem!
Attend social events
Mingle around and socialize with your schoolmates! You’ll have a broader social circle that you could get to know when you’re at social events. All you have to do is take the first step.
And the first step is taking a risk. Don’t be afraid to fail and do something that you won’t enjoy. That way, you know what you like and are good at and you can move on to new things to try!
Remember, you’re still in school
This is NOT a vacation
Although gaining friends and immersing in the culture here is something important that you should do, you should also remember that the YES program is NOT a vacation. You are not here to just have fun, because you also have to do good in school. Make sure you study and put in the works at school!
Abide by the rules
Follow the rules at school. It does not mean that it’s different from where you come from, you can do it your way around here.
Eat your veggies, finish your homework
FINISH YOUR HOMEWORK! Some things are similar wherever you may go, and this time it’s the rule of finishing your school work.
Choose different set of classes
Again, try out different things. You’ll be surprised at what you’re good at. Being at the age before you go on into college, it’s also good to explore possibilities for your future. Find out what you would want to do for the rest of your life here in high school.
All of us progress at different paces. Don’t compare how you’re doing with how everyone else is progressing. It takes time to adjust, so do it at your own pace.
Your other parent: IRIS
Keep track of community service hours and surveys
Don’t wait until the last minute to submit these forms! 1) It will be a great hassle when you have to compile them all together and 2) you might lose track of your record.
Apply for workshops
When the past students refer to “apply for workshops,” they are referring to the Civics Education Workshop, English Teaching Workshop (WTLYE), and the YouthTech Camp. These are put on by IRIS’s partners either with AFS or American Councils. Also, IRIS has different workshop opportunities available to our students like the ISGLC conference in February, the World Food Prize GYI (October) and the World Food Prize IYI (April).
Build good relationships with your local coordinators
Having a good relationship with your local coordinator is key to helping you grow. With a good relationship, comes trust. It will be easier for you to open up and seek advice from your local coordinator knowing that they have your best interest in mind.
Reply to emails
You are young, but that doesn’t mean you cannot take on responsibility. Reply emails from your local coordinators and the IRIS staff. Be timely about it, because putting it off is just going to cause more chaos for you.
We at IRIS are anxious to welcome the new students to Iowa! We hope that these advices from the past year’s students will be beneficial for your incoming exchange year.