WINNER: "My American Experience" Essay Contest!

WINNER: "My American Experience" Essay Contest!

We are pleased to share the winning essay for our 2015 "My American Experience" Essay Contest! For this contest, we asked our 2014-2015 A-SMYLE, Cultural Bridges, ExCEL, FLEX, and YES students to write about the role leadership has played in their exchange year. We received many submissions, and it was not easy to pick our winner. Congratulations, Khaoula! 


My American Experience

by Khaoula Anassteme, YES-Morocco

Ambitious and earnest, I had an aim; to make a positive change. When I heard about the YES program, I instantaneously realized that it was the gate that will help me attain my goal; after spending 9 months in the US, my expectation about the program turned out to be right. YES program shaped me to not only become a better person but also a better leader.

As an exchange student, I was put in an environment very dissimilar from what I was used to, which inspired me to challenge myself in order to take the most out of my experience. From AP Calculus to AP US History, I took six AP classes, classes that I really revelled in throughout the year. I was able to stay on top of my courses and achieve straight As, but having such a heavy load didn’t stop me from getting involved in other activities such as SPARK tutoring, Science Olympiad, Key Club, etc. With the Science Olympiad team, I placed in all my divisions in regionals and with SPARK club, I started to tutor maths and with Key Club, we planned so many events to give back to our community and show appreciation. Noticing both my efforts and achievements, the school board selected me to join the Student Leadership Team (SLT). SLT, a group of well-rounded students that the school picks as leaders, works on identifying some of the school's problems and creating a detailed plan to tackle those issues. Being a part of this group taught me to both set a direction for my goals and use management skills to design steps leading to its attainment. It also trained me to be able to adjust and adapt; sometimes the set plan doesn’t work thus a newer and quicker one need to be constructed. Since developing my leadership skills was a priority for me, I applied for the Civic Education Workshop and I and 99 other YES students were accepted from 500 other applicants. During the week, I took part in seminars on the US system of government and discussions with representatives of civic organizations and the media; add to that, I got the chance to listen to the Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Kathleen Stephens address to us as exchange students and meet with Members of Congress and staff representing the districts of my host state, Wisconsin. Thanks to the Civic Education Workshop, I had the opportunity to interact with leaders and know about the qualities that made them as effective as they are. Another thing that I really benefited from because of the YES program is community service. I‘ve always believed in the concept of volunteerism and the idea of giving back to the community, but in my country or most of other exchange students' countries, this concept isn’t really as ubiquitous. Community service involvement helped me shape my personal leadership skills, gain a better appreciation for academic work and develop a spirit of involving myself  in the community.

Everything I learned from the Student Leadership Team to the Civic Education Workshop to the several community service projects I did would consist a perfect background and base to achieve my target and have a positive impact. I am fully aware that such big influence can only be possible through small effective steps. Therefore, I am planning to expand on and practice what I learned about volunteerism, citizen responsibility, and leadership back in my home country, Morocco. Since I regard education and knowledge as the key to success in life, I want to start a SPARK tutoring club in my school back home in which students with higher potentials in a certain subject would help others with lower ones. To be a leader doesn’t mean to be the boss but, for me, it is to demonstrate everything you expect from others to be, it’s to motivate and inspire them to be their best. 

Pictured: Khaoula, on the right in glasses, volunteering during her March re-entry workshop at Food & Friends in Washington, DC.