Youth Leaders Reflect on their U.S. Exchange

World Learning recently hosted the Youth Ambassadors Program with Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The program brings high school students to the United States for several weeks to build leadership and civic engagement skills. The students visit different cities throughout the country to live with host families and participate in American cultural events and community service projects. We caught up with two of the students, Irene from Ecuador and Joe from Peru, at the end of their program in Washington, DC, to find out more about their time in the United States and what they learned on the program.

What has your experience in the United States been like?

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Irene, a YA participant from Ecuador.

Irene: This is the best experience ever because we shared moments with people from other countries, from South America — from Bolivia and Peru — and from here too, American people. I think everything was amazing, I can’t choose just a single moment as the best part because it isn’t. I think everything was unique and everything just was amazing.

Joe: It’s is very different than my country and the other countries, Bolivia and Ecuador. Especially what I think is the big difference is the people. In our countries I think that most of the people are not friendly, don’t care about the environment, and many things. Also in the schools, the education is definitely much better than in my country because I think they give more liberty to the students to you know, talk, to give their opinion. But in my country you have to listen to your teacher and do whatever he wants.

What were your host families like?

Irene: I stayed in Portland with my host family, just two people. Their names were Michael and Nicole. They were really nice with me, very cute. They really loved me, I think, and they cried when I came here [Washington, DC].

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Joe, a YA participant from Peru.

Joe: They were very nice with me, they tried to make me feel as if I were at home and that was very nice because we cooked sometimes, we used to go out, they helped me buy, for example, this sweatshirt of Chicago [where my host family lived], because I was looking in all of the places, even in the Woodfield Mall, that is one of the biggest, and I didn’t find anything, so you know we were running from one place to another.

What project will you implement when you return to your hometown?

Irene: I’m going to work with kids who have trouble, some physical troubles, it’s a personal project of mine, so I think I will take everything that I learned here, all of the skills that I learned, all of the moments that I lived, because I would like to share with them what I did here. All the knowledge that I’ve taken in here, I want to take there and apply it to my project. Some skills of leadership, I would like to apply them and speak to them about it.

Joe: I was thinking to collect books from people that don’t use them and places that have books that aren’t being used, so we can take them to the communities of the countryside and give it to the schools and let them borrow them. Because the kids need to learn, need to read, and that’s how they will learn more. We can borrow those books so they can improve their abilities and become more educated.

Why do you think programs like this are important?

Irene: I think it makes the relationships stronger between each country that came here. It makes stronger the relationships with the United States, and with new friends, new experiences, new skills, and things like that.

Joe: Well because we are living between all of the races and all of the countries and we have to improve those relationships. I not only learned from the American culture, because I learned a lot of things, but I also learned about the culture of Bolivia, and of Ecuador. That’s very important because in this world we cannot live, with one [group] on one side and the other ones on the other side. We have to be together because we are part of this world and we need to live together. We need to accept each other as we are. That’s how this program will help us to have better relationships between these countries.

What was the most memorable moment of the trip?

Irene: On Sunday I ate with the friends of my host family and I made some food from Jipijapa, the city where I am from and they really liked it. It’s ceviche with peanut butter. It’s really delicious. And also I think when we were in the forest [in Portland] there was an amazing view and you feel like you’re at peace and you just concentrate and listen to every single song of the birds and the water that is falling.

Joe: Well that’s kind of difficult because everything was very good, but living as an American with my host family was the best part because they made me feel really good and I miss them.

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