The YES program was established following 9/11 to foster understanding between the United States and the Muslim World.
My wife and I have hosted two YES students. In our small community, experience with Muslim countries is most often a relative who has been deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Norma and Shadi were excellent ambassadors for their countries and their religion. They brought a higher understanding to our small town, especially to the young people at the high school. There is no question our YES students had a positive impact on their school and the larger community.
The YES program is a true cultural exchange. In the world of today that is connected by the media and the internet, teenage and pop culture seemingly dominate ethnic differences. Not so with the YES Program. YES students enter into another world rather than simply another country, and through hosting these students, we bring their world into our home. Although challenging, it was immensely rewarding to guide each exchange daughter through the maze of American culture. Concerning the other side of the exchange, the culture of our girls always surrounded them and was carried by them wherever they went. I fondly recall coming home from work and finding Shadi dressed in her traditional Yemeni costume, cooking Arabic food, and listening to Arabic music; these moments made me pause, because for a split second I felt as though I had been transported thousands of miles away to a distant place and culture.
The level of understanding I gained from hosting a YES student is immeasurable. I am sometimes frustrated in the difficulty in conveying that knowledge to other Americans. It is a true testament to these students that what is so complicated for me to explain, they could accomplish with ease in only a few minutes. This is why the YES program is so important. If the United States is to understand the Muslim world better, there is no one more qualified for the job than these young ambassadors.