I received tons of questions everyday about ESTA Application, US Visa, Form I-20, Tourist Visa, and Exchange Programs in the United States etc. I am not a lawyer to tell you about all these legal stuff. However, I wrote this blog post to share my story of one year in United States as an Exchange Student. It all started from Peshawar, Pakistan when I applied for the Community College Initiative Program (CCI Program) in November 2015. I was shortlisted and called for in person interview in January 2016. I went to United States Education Foundation for Pakistan (USEFP) office and showed them (selection committee) the best of me. I convinced them that I am a good choice for this opportunity. I had many dreams in my life. One of them was travelling to USA. I didn’t believe that it could come true until I got the email from USEFP (United States educational foundation Pakistan) about my selection out of hundreds of participants from all over the country for the program. I was informed through email that I am selected for the program in March 2016. I got my tickets in July 2016. Then I packed my suitcase and said good bye to my family, friends and my mother land. I flew from my beloved country Pakistan where I spent my whole life to the United States of America which would be my home for next ten months. I spent ten months in Scottsdale, Arizona which is the most livable city. I studied Business Management in Scottsdale Community College. I volunteered for 125 hours in the community. I completed my internship with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA).
“Exchange isn’t a year in your life, it’s a life in a year”
An exchange is an unforgettable experience. Living away from my family, great friends, comforts of home, and on the other side of the world has impacted me that will always be with me for my whole life. I never traveled outside of my country before coming to the United States. I never washed dishes, never did laundry, never was so emotional and sensitive and at the same time very strong. I also never seen boiling heat in my life that I experienced in Arizona. This experience not just taught me the professional competencies I needed to improve for my career but it also taught me how to live life. You live with a person not from your country. He/She might speak totally a different language. Your dress code, food, music and routine will be completely different but trust me you will enjoy every moment of this experience.
My Personality Growth in CCI Program and in Scottsdale Community College
It has been challenging, eye-opening, difficult, entertaining and amazing experience. I saw myself really growing during the program every day. I have become open to new things, new ideas, new beliefs, and new people. I am cent percent sure that every exchange student at the end of the program says: “Respect every culture and all faiths” and that’s the beauty of these programs. I have gained more confidence in myself. I have gained so much knowledge not just about USA but also about Indonesia, India, South Africa, Cote d’Ivoire, Brazil and Dominican Republic through my friends from these countries. I can proudly say that they are the best people, and they changed me into what I am now. I never know that there is a country like Dominican Republic on earth. This program gave me an opportunity to learn about other countries, flags and their cultures. I also got so many chances to be leader in different types of academics and extracurricular groups. I improved my writing skills. I enhanced my entrepreneurial skills by meeting so many entrepreneurs. I learned technical skills as well such as Photography, Videography, Windows troubleshooting, and MS-Office 2016 etc. I received certificate as a Motivator in CCI group. My CCI cohorts believed that I was very good in motivating to get the things done.
Al and Melita – The Best Host Family I Got
I was introduced to Melita Hillman and Al Potter by my Program Coordinator Megan Young in July 2016 (ten days before my departure). I am very lucky and blessed to have such an amazing host family. They are the best people on earth and I see them as my real family. They are very adventurous, wonderful and warm people. They took me to kayaking, hiking, skydiving, and different restaurants. They did so many things for me that made my exchange experience more than perfect. They introduced me to their families. They showed me the markets, mosques and important places I needed throughout the program. I told them that I was very young when my father died. Believe or not they treated me like their own son. If I start thanking them every day, I can’t pay off. They are blessing of Allah on me. I am very thankful for their willingness to reach out and help me without asking for anything in return. I am always very amazed that how selflessly they accept students from other cultures into their home. They give us (students) bedroom, access to laundry, access to internet and access to everything in the house. They treat us like their real sons and daughters. They always give, give and give more. They just want the students to be succeeded in the program. Community College Initiative Program (CCI Program) is accomplishing their goals every year because of the support of host families. I will never imagine CCI program without a host family. Thank you Mom and Dad.
Things I Am Glad I Did During My Exchange Program
1. Introducing my culture to Americans. The Community College Initiative Program (CCI Program) wants us to introduce our cultures in different events. The American people need a global awareness and understanding of other cultures so that they know the cultures differences of other parts of the world.
2. I made friends from all over the world
3. Although I volunteered in Pakistan too. However, Volunteering in routine now became a vital part in my life.
4. My internship was the best part in the program because it was not only Internship but volunteering too. I completed my internship with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) where I helped people to submit electronic tax returns for free.
5. I visited SeaWorld in San Diego. It was a nice and thrilling experience.
6. I visited Mexico U.S border in San Diego. I saw a family who met each other after 15 years.
7. Sky Diving: This was the scary time in amazing CCI experience. I will never forget those ten minutes in the air. Imagine you are going to do an experience where they tell you that you can die (50% probability).
8. Visit to Grand Canyon which is one of the most remarkable natural wonders in the world.
9. I spent time with host families and participated in American festivals such as Halloween, Christmas and Easter.
10. Road trip to Oklahoma from Scottsdale was an awesome trip.
11. An unforgettable visit to Los Angeles and Hollywood.
Things I Learned From My Exchange Experience
– I am more open to beliefs and ideas. During the program I saw a Muslim for the first time in my life who ate pork and drink alcohol regularly. I never experienced that before coming U.S. I could not believe that a Muslim can eat pork and call itself a Muslim. So, whatever people do, it’s their individual stuff. I am not responsible for their actions. I have to be open to their beliefs. Whatever they are practicing, I have to embrace them as a Human first.
– I am stronger than I think. I faced a lot of difficult situations. Some of them were intentionally created to distract me. However, I went through all the hurdles and finally graduated with respect and honor.
– If I want to succeed in life, I don’t have to push people back. I can’t win by crushing my competitors. The only way to defeat them is to grow myself.
– Help others whether in program, community or in my family. Give your hand and lift them up. So, someone definitely will come to lift you up. That’s rule of Allah (God).
– I improved my personal skills such as time management, personal finance and leadership.
– I improved my cooking skills
Regrets so Far:
– Never been to any Football game
– Never watched any Baseball game
– Didn’t go to New York Time Square
– Didn’t go to Washington
– Didn’t attend live concert of any celebrity
– I haven’t been to Starbucks yet
– Didn’t take help from KG to promote my YouTube Channel
– Spent too much money on shopping and Food.
This one year of CCI Program and its wonderful memories are unforgettable. It wasn’t all good. There were times when I felt so lonely. I didn’t notice so many festivals came and left. Eid ul Adha one of the biggest Muslim festivals was spent like an ordinary day in America. Sometimes I was loved and sometimes people hated me without any reasons. I lived in one of the hottest weathers in the world.
To sum up, I would say that my exchange year in the United States was the best year in my life. I would like to thank U.S. Department of State, Community College Initiative Program, the whole program staff, host families and my wonderful CCI cohorts for making year wonderful. God bless you all!