10 months of the American way [Archives:2007/1064/Last Page]

July 2 2007
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Mohammed Al-Seragi
For Yemen Times

A group of 29 students, including nine girls, six from Aden, are home from the United States after an academic and cultural experience through the U.S. State Department's Youth Exchange and Study Program.

This was the fourth group to travel to the U.S. under the program, the first being nine boys and three girls in August 2003, according to AMIDEAST country director Sabrina Faber.

She added, “A good number of students did very well this year. The host families that the students stayed with have reported positively that they learned a lot about Yemeni culture and traditions.”

The exchange program is a scholarship funded by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for the Middle East and North Africa region and is administered by a consortium of organizations that includes AMIDEAST.

Such public diplomacy initiatives build bridges of international understanding, especially between Americans and those in countries with significant Muslim populations.

Participating students spend approximately 10 months with an American family, attending high school and learning about American culture.

According to AMIDEAST, students are selected based on many qualifications. Youth aged 15-17 by the time of the departure date must have maintained a minimum overall grade of B or 80 percent in all subjects for the past three years. They are expected to demonstrate maturity, good character, scholastic aptitude, flexibility and adaptability. Excellent English skills also are required.

Sabrina Al-Thary, one returning student who was in Washington state, commented, “I learned a lot from this year. It was a very beneficial experience and for sure, I'd like to do it again.”

She added, “I volunteered at the food bank for poor families in the community. It was a good chance to introduce my country to others and a good opportunity to give back to my host community.”

The students serve as cultural ambassadors for their home countries, representing Yemen and their own rich heritage to their American host communities. “All students are expected to participate in engaging their communities with Yemeni culture and they did,” Faber reported.

“I did more than 25 presentations on Yemen, which I offered to my host community, school, locals, etc.,” Al-Thary said, adding, “At the beginning, they didn't know anything about Yemen and some had many wrong stereotypes. However, everyone I met, I was able to change their minds about Yemen.”

For many, leaving their homeland and going to the United States for the first time is a culture shock. “People spend time wisely in America and stay busy all the time,” remarked Yasmine Al-Shaizeri, one of the returning students, “They actually don't have time to waste because they either work part time, going to school at the same time, or they're full-time workers.”

She added, “The U.S. education system was another culture shock for me because it's very different from ours. Students have the opportunity to choose their classes, the time of the class and the teacher. By letting students decide, most of the time, they like the subject and will do great in class. It's surely easier than education here.”

The exchange students engaged in many typical American activities such as American football. Ahmed Al-Houthi, who played the sport while he was in Dallas, Texas said, “When I heard about football, I thought it was soccer, but when I went to practice, it turned out to be something else. I played it and I started liking it.”

He added, “Now, my favorite sports team ever is the Dallas Cowboys, who play football the best. At first, I wasn't sure if football was a sport or not because of its roughness and the way it's played, but now, I say football is a sport and I love it a lot!” Al-Houthi is planning to return for college in the U.S. after a short break to visit his family and friends.

In July, 19 students, including five girls, from Sana'a will complete their pre-departure orientation and then leave August 7 for a new academic and cultural experience and to represent Yemen as little ambassadors.

Applications for next year's exchange program candidates will be available at AMIDEAST after October 22.