A dream come true

Foreign-exchange student shares her path from Pakistan to the US

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With hopes, ambitions and dreams, I decided to do something new, adventurous and get out of my comfort zone. Nearly a year ago, I applied for a cultural exchange scholarship, YES program, which is a fully funded scholarship provided by the U.S. Department of State for students across the globe to come to America. The foremost purpose of this scholarship is to create mutual understanding between the countries and their people. Numerous students participate in this program every year to experience American lifestyle and promote their culture as Youth Ambassadors.

In the same token, I decided to leave my parents, my people and my home country and go on an adventure that I call “my exchange year.” This decision was not as easy as it seemed to be. After a complete year of vigorous tests and interviews, I was finally selected for this scholarship on Jan. 9, 2019. That evening when I got the email congratulating me for being a finalist, I had the sky on my palms of my hands and stars beneath my feet. No word in the world could be used to describe how grateful I was and how blessed I felt for this major achievement in my life. Yes, I would call it a major achievement because no achievement could be this tremendous to me as this was and will always be.
Let me just take you all to the whole scenario, how turning dreams turning into realities actually feels and looks like in real life. I was surrounded by a mixture of assorted feelings. I was excited for the year that I would spend in America, which is a dream for billions. I was happy for the accomplishment that I achieved at a very young age. I was nervous to leave my parents far behind and fly by myself for the very first time in my life. But most importantly, I was glad because I was amongst the luckiest 77 students from Pakistan who were selected for this scholarship after a very tough competition.

How can I forget to be thankful to God? I still remember after screaming, yelling and shouting for half an hour due to my over excitement that I finally sat down near a pillow and tears spontaneously started dropping down my eyes, and I could not be more thankful to God than this.

And of course, my parents. I always felt lucky to be their daughter because of who they are and who they have made me. Despite living in a dominantly male society, they never discriminated against me and my brothers and raised me just as a human. Despite struggling in life financially, they still gave me everything including freedom of speech, and they allowed me to pursue my dreams. Most importantly, they believed in me no matter what others said about me.
I could often feel how lucky I was to have them as my parents because all they gave me might seem normal and equal for the people in other parts of the world, but from where I live, this is surely a privilege. I was and will always be grateful to them for letting me be me and allowing me to pursue my dreams. I am not a perfect daughter, but they are the perfect parents one could ever ask for, and I will always be a proud daughter of them.

However, coming to the U.S. was not only my passion or ambition since childhood, but it is a dream that I have longed for my entire life. I have always known that miracles can happen but never knew that miracles could happen to me.
On Aug. 5, 2019, I left my home country of Pakistan and was on my way to start a new journey of my life. On Aug. 9, 2019, I landed on the place of my dreams, Indiana. Upon my arrival in Indiana, my host family was already at the airport to pick me up. My nervousness turned into happiness when I saw the happy and smiling faces of my host family who have been eagerly waiting to welcome a stranger into their lives. At that moment, I realized after travelling a distance of 7671.4487 miles that I have ended up nowhere but home.

I still find it a dream when I see myself living with an American host family. They mean the world to me, not because they are the only people I know here, but because they are the best people I have ever met in my life. Two years back, I had no idea what it would be like having a family in another part of the world, but this exchange year has made it possible for me. I have an amazing host mom who is so afraid of losing me that she had nightmares even before I got here, a loving host dad who motivates me to chase my dreams and three outstanding younger host brothers who love me very much.

Apart from an awesome family and great opportunities, this exchange year has given me so much that I have never thought of. This year has transformed me into a whole new person. I have become a braver, stronger and bolder young lady. When I look back and compare myself to the person I was before coming to America, I realized how much I have changed from the way I approach people, raising my hands for every activity, not being afraid of anything and knowing that everyone has scars and imperfections that makes them beautifully unique. I realize how hard life is or how rough our days are. There is a way to be good again and that there are possibilities in life. I have grown up to become a very amazing lady within just six months.

I always look forward to making the most out of my exchange year and trying as many new things as I can because as mentioned in all exchange programs,“This is not a year in life, but life in a year.” I have decided that when I get back home, I will counsel all the younger generations and motivate them to follow their dreams and make efforts to make them come true. I want to make a difference through my work and all that I have learned here and will learn so that the younger generation is more focused and determined to follow their hearts.