U.S. Embassy charge d’affaires honors returning Yemeni exchange students [Archives:2007/1073/Reportage]

August 2 2007
U.S. Embassy charg d
U.S. Embassy charg d’affaires, Angie Bryan awarding a female YESprogram returning student.
By: Essam Addu'ais
For Yemen Times
[email protected]

As a step in strengthening bilateral relations between Yemen and the United States, the American Embassy in Yemen organized a ceremony to celebrate the return of Yemeni Youth Exchange Study (YES) graduates, who spent 10 months in the U.S. immersed in American culture. The celebration was held in the Sana'a-based Movenpick Hotel last Monday evening. It was attended by U.S. Embassy staff headed by the charge d'affaires, AMIDEAST staff, YES returning graduates as well as departing students and their parents.

At the commencement of the celebration, the U.S. Embassy charge d'affaires, Angie Bryan, delivered a speech in which she congratulated the retuning students saying, “The YES program students are the key leaders of the future. They have worked as unofficial diplomats, representing your own country, Yemen. You have carried with you an open and lasting message of friendship to the people of the United States, your American high schools, and your host families. Your parents have helped to spread this message of friendship between the people of Yemen and the people of the United States. Each time you wrote them and they repeated tales and adventures you were having in the United States, all of you were building bridges of understanding.”

She continued, “I am especially delighted that you 'outgoing' YES students have come with your parents tonight. Ties between our two countries are strong, but there is always room for improvement. Strong bilateral ties are even more important today when we see that there are extremists among us who want to sow seeds of discord and suspicion, as, for example, last Monday in Marib, when Spanish tourists and Yemeni workers were killed or injured, as the result of the actions of a few radical extremists.”

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. It is administered by a consortium of organizations, including AMIDEAST. Such public diplomatic program build bridges of international understanding between the United States and Yemen. The students serve as cultural ambassadors for their home country, representing Yemen as well as their own rich heritage to their American host families. Through such programs the host families with whom the Yemeni students stay in the United States learn about Yemeni culture and traditions. This cultural experience is a good chance to introduce Yemen to the outside world and also a good opportunity to correct incorrect stereotypes formed by outsiders about Yemen.

One returning student commented, “I just want to say that I was the last one to go to America. I was really scared to go alone. But when you go there, just ask people and they will help you. I remember the first day. I was confused whether to stay in the plane or to go somewhere else. They told me 'Just relax, take it easy.' I saw big buildings and how life is a lot different. The culture is very different from here. However, I realized something. The question that should be asked is not why Yemen is like that. You should ask how can I make Yemen like that? How can I make it better? You have to know how to develop your English mainly, your skills, computers and physics to improve your country.”

Another female returning students said, “It is definitely not easy. I just opened my eyes to different people with different cultures and lifestyles. They talk another language. However, we understood each other and this is the most important thing of the interchange between the two countries.”

After the celebration, the charge d'affaires shared, “A lot of problems that we have in international relations are due to a lack of understanding in a family and in one country as well. But I think the better people understand each other the less chance there is a conflict in misunderstanding. In America it is very important for our students to go visit other countries and for other students to come visit America. Because when you really live in another country as a student, you can build relations with American families, other students. You are not basing your opinions of a country on what you see on TV, but rather you are basing it on real life. You get a much better understanding that will stay with you for the rest of your life. We don't send people to America because we think they are going to come back loving everything about America. That is not the point. The point of the program is to have them understand America better, the good part and the bad part as well. And also to share things about their own country, in this case Yemen, with Americans. The experience of visiting other countries has a special place in one's heart, changing life for the better. The students' journey was successful. It is to increase their understanding of other cultures of other countries. It is also impossible to live somewhere without deepening your understanding. The YES students have gone around this night, talking and asking about their program. The first thing they did instinctively like a reflex was smile, which I think is a good sign.”

Megan Goodfellow, assistant public affairs officer, commented, “The goal of this program is to enable more mutual understanding between the Yemeni people and the American people. The students of the YES program were such wonderful representatives of Yemeni youth, culture and life. They are able to do initiatives with the American people for taking better understanding of important countries. When they returned, they were able to explain points of the United States to their Yemeni families.” She also pointed out that program coordinators will certainly encourage Yemeni students to look to higher education opportunities in the United States.

Another group of 20 to 25 male and female students will travel to the U.S. under the YES program for the upcoming academic year, serving as cultural ambassadors representing their country. Applications for next year's exchange program will be available at AMIDEAST Yemen after October 22.