Living in a "Melting Pot" Society - A Kosovar's Experience in the U.S.
Alba submitted the following essay as a part of the 2012-13 My American Experience Essay Contest and won first place! She was asked to write about her experience as a exchange student in the U.S. and how that has affected her as a leader. Alba is on the YES program and is from Kosovo.
That unforgettable August morning remains in my fondest memories, when the sun was smiling down on the earth as the airplane was heading towards Texas. I was sitting anxiously on the edge of my seat and I knew everyone who looked into my eyes could feel the air of nervousness sweeping over me. Time was passing quickly as I was imagining my new life, and just then the captain announced that we had landed in Houston. A new chapter of my life was about to begin, and I was excited about my first encounter with my host family.
I went to the baggage claim to pick up my luggage, and while I was waiting, someone asked me if I knew what time it was. After a quick response in my thick European accent, she knew that I was a foreigner and she suddenly uncovered a poster that said “Welcome Home Alba.” I was astonished for a moment. My nerves were swiftly relieved as I turned towards her. It was my host sister, Kruti! I was so pleased to finally meet her. As she carried my luggage, she broke the handle. That made us both laugh so loudly, and I suddenly realized my incredible journey in a new country had begun.
As days passed, my life started going smoothly, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I had wonderful host parents and amazing siblings of Southeast Asian Indian origin. I felt blessed to be part of their generous family. Despite the differences in languages, cultures, and traditions, we were able to create a warm atmosphere and see many similarities between us. It was a great experience to be introduced not only to American culture, but also to Indian culture. Even though I was the only Caucasian at most of the Indian events, it didn’t make any difference because I was welcomed as part of their warm community and family.
Being introduced to the Indian community was not my only experience in this country. I began volunteering at a retirement home. Once a week I would dance with the senior citizens and paint their nails. Not only did I learn American dances, but I also taught them traditional dances of Kosovo. Spending time with them made me realize that bringing a smile to someone and helping an individual is much more satisfying than doing something just for material benefits. I await [the chance] to share this experience with my people back home so they can also realize how volunteering in community service and reaching out for people can make our country a better place.
By living in this great melting-pot society, I realized that being an exchange student was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I had the opportunity to be an ambassador of my country and build a cultural bridge between Kosovo and United States. I also had the chance to meet people who came from all over the world. The beauty of meeting these people was that no matter where we came from, we were all equal, speaking the same language and treating each other with respect. This came to a climax with my pen-pal relations with people across the world, one being Serbia.
For the first time in my life I had a chance to meet people from Serbia; even though there is a tense relationship between my home country and Serbia, we as young people were able to find a common language amongst us. Due to the War of 1999 and the problems that occurred in the past, both people from Kosovo and Serbia were raised with prejudices and misunderstandings for each other’s culture and values. Even though sometimes it seems that this tense relationship is never going to fade, I truly believe that we, the younger generation, can build a better future.
It has always been my dream that one day I can do something to bring peace between these two nations, and today I know that am not alone because there is another person from Serbia who shares the same dream as mine; the dream that one day people will be able to see all cultural similarities that exist between us (same as I was able to see these similarities between Kosovo and India) and those will help us to create a better understanding for each other and to make the world a better place to live. She is an exchange student that I met in Washington DC, who right after I came back sent me a letter which had a big impact on me.
She wrote “I’m glad that we can get along as we are the future generation who has the potential to strengthen relations between our countries and realize that we weren’t the ones who made bad decisions. Thank you for making my first impression of an amazing Kosovar!” I was amazed and I responded to her immediately by saying that I just hope that one day we will be able to accept each other for what we are and to work united for a better future.
As I shared her letter with my friends in Kosovo, they were very surprised to see that the disputed mindset that Serbians and Albanians do not get along has begun to fade. I was very content to know that with the help of my Serbian friend, we will one day make our dream come true.
The experiences that I have encountered in the United States made me have a new vision that the future begins with the younger generation and despite the differences between societies, there is a common language that will lead us to a better understanding of each other by showing acceptance, respect, and tolerance. This is a message that I want to give to my fellow citizens; a better future of peace, a better future with hope, a better future for love, will create an equal and respectful society amongst all individuals across the world.