Saturday, April 20, 2013

Frequently Asked Questions about YES Abroad

I've decided to a frequently asked questions post about the YES Abroad program!

1. What does the application process entail?
The application process has two rounds of selection. The first is an online written application, which was due in early January this year. The application had three essays, one host family letter, and a ton of other information to fill out. If you become a semifinalist, you will advance to the second round of selection, the In Person Selection Event. In late March, YES Abroad will pay for you spend a weekend with them. This year it was held in Chevy Chase, but it's been held in Denver and Houston as well. At IPSE, you have interviews and group evaluations.
2. What is a timeline for acceptance?
For this year, the application came out October 20. It was due January 10. We were told we'd hear back about semifinalist status in Late February, which means the last day of February. The IPSE was March 22-24. Everyone heard back about finalist status on Friday, April 12th. The last day for alternates to be accepted is the day the PDO begins. The time line for alternate acceptance varies for any given year depending on who drops the scholarship.
3. How many people apply? How many people get in?
YES has never released specifically many people applied, however, we do know that over 1000 students started the application. (We don't know how many of them finished it.) 120 semifinalists were sent to Chevy Chase and 65 finalists were chosen, along with 10-15 alternates.
4. What should I wear to my interview?
I wore a skirt and blazer, most girls wore dress slacks and a nice shirt or a skirt and a nice top. Guys wore knakis or slacks and a button down shirt. It doesn't really matter, as long as look presentable and feel confident!
5. What is the French Interview?
If you've taken three or more years of French, you will have a French interview at the IPSE. It lasted about 10 minutes and was conducted completely in French. It does not affect whether or not you become a finalist, just where you are placed if you are chosen.
6. Am I guaranteed to get my top country?
No. When you apply for YES, you get to rank your country choices. However, there is no guarantee that you will get a certain number choice or above. Most people get within their top five, but people have gotten lower choices than that before. This is why they stress the importance of being open to all countries. Before I went to IPSE, I really wanted one of the countries in my top five. But after I learned more about YES and the countries, I realized I would be honored to be chosen for any of them. Many of my fellow finalists felt the same after they left. It's okay to have a preference, though, you can explain why you want a certain country in your interview.
7. How many kids get chosen for each country?
That depends on the country and the year. YES Abroad can send students to Bosnia, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mali, Morocco, Oman, South Africa, Thailand, Tunisia, and Turkey. However, due to unrest in Mali, Tunisia and Egypt this year, students were not sent to these countries. The 65 scholarships were divided among the remaining countries. There are eight of us going to Morocco, but there are fewer students going to other countries. The amount of students ranges between 5 and 8.
8. How can I convince my parents to let me go?
Because my parents have been really supportive about exchange, I didn't have to deal with this. However, many of my friends have had to work hard to convince their parents. They've made slideshows, had their parents talk to YES staff, set up phone calls with alumni, and begged incessantly. If you're having trouble convincing your parents, the best thing to do is explain the situation to your fellow applicants and them for suggestions. And check out this blog--it's my friend Caillean's mom who is blogging about her experience as a YES parent!
9. What is included in the scholarship?
Everything. Your airfare, room and board, school fees, visa, health insurance and a stipend. The only things not included are extra spending money and, in some countries, additional trips throughout the year. In certain countries, the cost of these trips around the country are also included. You do have to buy your own passport though.
10. What type of support will I have while abroad?
YES Abroad gives grants to American Councils, Amideast and AFS, all of whom have representatives, coordinators, or offices in your host country and town. Throughout the year, they'll be able to give on the ground advice, set up volunteering activities, and/or run trips within the country.
11. On the website, it says gap years are not allowed or recommended for certain countries. Does this mean gap years cannot apply to YES?
No, it just means that gap years cannot go to certain countries. They can go to: Ghana, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, South Africa, Oman, Thailand and Turkey. 
12. What are they looking for in a candidate?  
Qualified candidates come from diverse backgrounds, with varying experiences and skills, but according to the YES website: Finalists will be selected based on their demonstration of qualities that are necessary for a successful exchange experience. These include but are not limited to: global awareness, interest in diverse cultures, curiosity, open-mindedness, and flexibility. 
13. Will I receive orientation before I leave? 
YES! We all receive a packet in May with more specific information, packing lists, and other guides. The Pre Departure Orientation (PDO) takes place in late June (June 26-29) each year. All finalists go and learn more about their host countries, visit their respective embassies, and tour the State Department. We also have conference calls and webinars with the other finalists to our countries to learn more about our upcoming year. Some finalists have an additional orientation in New York before leaving and most of will have some sort of orientation when we arrive in our host country. Just to make sure we are very, very oriented. 
14. What is an alternate? 
An alternate is someone who will take the place of a finalist if they are unable to go abroad for any reason. If a finalist drops out between now and the PDO, the alternate will take that spot. 
15. How do they choose finalists?
The application process is fairly opaque, but I'm told that your application is read and scored by two people. You are then interviewed and scored by two other people and evaluated in a group by two people as well. They then use these scores to make an informed decision.
16. If I apply for a less popular country, does that increase my chance of being accepted?
No. YES chooses all the finalists before assigning them to their countries, so how you rank your countries doesn't affect if you are accepted or not.
17. When will I leave?
That depends on your host country. Students going to India and Thailand left right after the PDO this year, while other students leave throughout the summer. Malaysia leaves in mid July. Bosnia leaves early to mid August. Morocco and Oman depart around the same time in late August, and the rest of the programs in the first week of September. Your return depends on when you leave, but it's usually 10 months following your departure.
18. Can my parents visit me?
Visits are strongly discouraged by YES Abroad, and your parents must get permission to come. My family is  planning on visiting me, and as long as it's after Christmas, they should be approved to come.
19. What are other ways to get involved in YES?
You can host a YES student from another country in your home or at your school! Check out these links: and
20. Should I apply to YES Abroad?

I hope this is helpful to all the hopefuls out there!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Renewal of Funding for the YES Abroad Program

I came across this story while reading my Exchange Student Survival Kit:
“In an old story of a long running war between two kingdoms, the kings agreed to a peaceful exchange. Each agreed to send his daughter to live with the family of his enemy, to be cared for in another kingdom as if she were the daughter of that family. Each put his faith in the other to care for his daughter, and committed in return to care for the other’s daughter as if she were his own. These daughters also came to understand and became attached to the new kingdom, making it impossible from then on for either of them to raise war against the other.”
I know that one teenager headed for a foreign country won’t bring world peace. It’s never that simple. That being said, I really do believe that exchange brings a global and understanding perspective to the individual and to the community at large. James Bradley, son of a flag raiser at Iwo Jima and exchange student to Japan, wrote, “If more kids from more countries went to live in homes abroad and had a second Mother and Father, we all would benefit from the mutual respect, understanding, and love that impact both families.”
I’ve wanted to study abroad since the age of twelve. Yet it wasn’t until I discovered YES Abroad that I started to think more deeply about the importance of exchange. Exchange allows us to develop critical skills for our future, in particular, language learning. It allows us to become more competitive in an international job market. But no matter how important these skills are, their significance pales when compared to the wider purpose of exchange and in particular, the YES Abroad program. Created after 9/11 to foster better relationships between the U.S. and Muslim nations, the YES Abroad program strives to accomplish its goal one exchange at a time.
Misunderstandings of other cultures and religions exist both in the United States and in the YES Abroad countries. During my exchange, I will work towards alleviating these tensions, a critical step towards establishing a more peaceful global community. While abroad, I will represent a curious and respectful side of the United States, one that is not often seen in the media. When I return, I will bring with me an understanding of Islam based on my experiences in Morocco, instead of what is presented in the news. I am honored to study in Morocco, as I will truly be part of the important process of increasing understanding between citizens of the United States and of the Muslim world.
I am ready to experience life as a member of my host family and to see the vast differences between Portage and my host community. But I also am prepared to draw parallels between my two homes. I don’t simply want to observe the readily available differences; I want to discover what characteristics we all share, no matter where we live. I am confident that these similarities exist and that I will seek to identify them during my year abroad.
Despite the fact that we may live on different continents, speak different languages, or practice different religions, we all want the same things in our lives – peace, health, and happiness. This coming year, I will seek to gain a full understanding of my host community, and I hope to combine their values and beliefs with my own, to create a balanced multicultural identity. By using all the resources available to me, I will transition from the curious girl I am today to the global citizen I will be tomorrow. None of this would be possible or probable without the YES Abroad program.
I’m grateful to YES for all my new friends, for my incredible weekend IPSE, for the conference calls and webinars. But most importantly, I am grateful to them for facilitating a program that is truly part of the change I want to see in the world and for allowing me to a part of this program next year. YES Abroad has already changed my life, and I cannot wait to see how it will change many more lives in the coming years, whether I remained involved as an alumni or not (though I hope I will)
However, there is no guarantee that the YES Abroad program will continue. As you may know, YES Abroad is sponsored through the State Department and is funded by government money/tax payer dollars. Today, April 18, there was a Congressional hearing to renew funding for all the State Department funded exchange programs. Our nation currently faces a time of great economic hardship, but the YES Abroad program, and other State Department exchange programs, deserve to continue their important work. I have emailed my Congress people, and I urge you to do the same. A simple email or a phone call can confirm your support for the renewal of funds for State Department funded exchange and can enable the exchange dreams of thousands of students! Thank you for your support. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Moroccan Government

I don't know anything about Moroccan politics, government, or current events, so here is my attempt to learn a bit more!
The government of Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament and independent judiciary; historically, the king has been the dominant authority. In July 2011, the King announced a series of reforms that would transform Morocco into a constitutional monarchy.  Executive power is vested in the government, while legislative power is vested in the two chambers of Parliament. The House of Representatives has 325, elected for a five year term. Only 30 seats are held by women. The House of Councillors has 270 members, elected by local councils, professional chambers, and wage earners. Mohammed VI is the current king, and he became king in 1999 after his father's death. His official title is "His Majesty the King Mohammed the Sixth, Commander of the Faithful, may God grant him victory." (quite a mouthful!). He has a son and a daughter. He is the latest ruler in a dynastic line, and because of his direct lineage with the Prophet, he serves as his nation's moral and spiritual head. The King can appoint or dismiss the prime minister and dissolve the legislature. Moroccans over the age of 18 have the right to vote.The population is estimated to be almost 34 million. While Morocco has a developing economy, modern tourist facilities and means of transportation are widely available, though the quality may vary depending on price and location.  

On March 2nd, 1956, Morocco gained its independence from France. Independence day is national celebration held on November 18 with parades and celebrations! I'm excited for it! European interest in Morocco grew in the late 1800s, which let to a clash between Spain and France. However, the Sultan signed an agreement saying that Morocco was a French protectorate in 1912. The demand for independence grew after World War 2. The Sultan stressed the need for complete sovereignty  In 1953, France exiled the current Sultan. In the wake of public outcry, France let him return to Morocco. Independence day celebrates his return to Morocco. 

The flag of Morocco features a red backdrop with a five pointed star. Each point represents one of the Five Pillars of Islam. A seal was added to the flag during colonial times, but was removed after Morocco gained independence. Green is the color of Islam, the dominant religion, and red represents the ruling dynasty. 

Hot button issues in Morocco include: the Western Sahara territory, the Spanish control of certain islands and water, Algeria's border with Morocco, and Morocco's position as one of the biggest producers of the illicit drug hashish. Morocco serves as the launching point for many illegal immigrants to Spain. 

Reading all this has made me realize all I am going to learn this year about Morocco! I'm hoping to post more about Morocco-US relations soon! 

Pictures of Morocco!

Here are some pictures of Morocco! 
A map of Morocco! 

The Moroccan Flag! 

Desert in Morocco! 

A view of the Moroccan coast (I am not sure what city this is) 

Some ruins in Morocco! 

In Rabat!

A panorama of Rabat! 

Beautiful vases!

The Medina (old city) in Rabat!

The Amideast offices!

I'm so excited! Morocco, here I come! 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Acceptance Forms!

I'm sending in my official acceptance form tonight! This is slowly beginning to feel more and more real. I told many of my friends at school today, and they were so happy for me! I'm going to miss them all so much! There's so many things to begin researching, and I'm already learning so much about Morocco. I'm hoping to do a post in the future about the government there, once I do a bit of research. Some of my friends have had the funniest questions, I'm glad we cleared up the idea that there is no running water in Morocco. But really, I love talking about Morocco and I could do it all day (and often do, as my family knows!). Rabat is actually a very modern (and big) city, and I'm looking forward to spending my year in an urban location. 

I'm looking into getting some Arabic books, Moroccan Arabic is different from Modern Standard Arabic but I don't know a word of either. I'm hoping to know the alphabet, the sounds, and how to introduce myself before I leave! Until I have more information, ma'a as-salama! (that means goodbye!)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Morocco Bucket List

In the next four months before I leave home, I want to enjoy my hometown, quirks in all, as much as I can. Though I'm certainly excited to leave, I know I will miss this place next year! More importantly, while I'm abroad, I want to Carpe Diem. I guess you could say YOMO--You Only Morocco Once, and it's true! I want to soak up as much as possible from this experience and I want to take advantage of all the opportunities I am offered while on exchange. So these are my bucket lists.
Before I Leave Home:
1. Stargaze (YES!)
2. Go to a concert (One of my favorite bands is coming in late June!)
3. Go to the beach (Lake Michigan is beautiful)
4. Start driving again. (I have an irrational fear of driving, which I need to get over!)
5. Get a job (I can check this off--I'm working at the summer camps held at my high school! )
6. Have a going away party. (I'm going to miss everyone so much!)
7. Go to the used book store next to my high school and the cafe there. (I've been meaning to do that for a while)
8. Try not to let the sophomore slump get to you (Not likely but it's worth a try)
9. Write letters to my family. (Leave them in our house before I go to Morocco).
10. Study French. (Possibly go live in Quebec with my distant cousins to practice).
11. See The Five Founders (my best friends from camp who live in St. Louis and Chicago).
12. Learn some Arabic (This is going to be a challenge).
13. Spend time outside. (Running, biking, swimming)
14. Buy Morocco appropriate clothes. (I'm not sure what that means but it shouldn't be hard. I love shopping).
15. Fast during Ramadan to learn what it's like. (I will not be in Morocco for Ramadan so I want a taste of what it's like).
16. Make a scrapbook of life here for my host family. (I just started)

In Morocco:
1. Make good friends with my fellow YES finalists (They're all pretty awesome so I don't think I'll have any trouble).
2. Go to a mosque. (I'm excited for this!)
3. Go to the souk and learn how to bargain. (Gotta work on Arabic for this)
4. Do some volunteer work. (I've heard I might be able to teach English! That'd be cool!)
5. Share American traditions. (Including Halloween and Thanksgiving).
6. Keep up this blog. (I may or may not have Internet)
7. Explore my neighborhood (So excited!!)
8. Develop Moroccan fashion sense. (Harem pants!)
9. Learn about Moroccan politics and government. (I don't know much right now).
10. Learn about the Berber people (I'm very interested in this).
11. Send letters home. (I love snail mail).
12. Learn French fluently. (!!!)
13. Learn conversational Arabic to the best of your abilities. (marhaba!)
14. Explore other parts of Morocco. (We'll take trips during the year!)
15. Keep in touch with the YES scholars worldwide. (Love them!)
16. Learn the public transportation system. (I am so excited about this!)
17. Visit the important museums and landmarks. (I know I'll do this)
18. Take tons of pictures. (Ahhh!!)
19. Go to a hamman. (a type of bath in Morocco)
20. Get Moroccan henna. (I love henna!)
21. Wear hijab at least once and learn to tie it. (I've always wondered what it's like)
22. Take advantage of each day (This one's the hardest but the most important).
23. Get homesick. (It'll happen)
24. Get over it. (I'm sure I will)
25. Keep up with my journal. (I'll have so much to write about!)
26. Learn a new sport/type of dance. (maybe Moroccan dance!)
27. Learn to cook Moroccan food. (YUM!)
28. Go to a festival/holiday celebration! (!)

Why I love YES Abroad and You Should Too

One of my goals for this year is to spread the word in my communities about the Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES). I love the YES Abroad program, not only for giving me my scholarship, but also for the work they did around the globe to increase cross cultural understanding. I am so honored to be part of a global network of people working for change in US-Muslim world relations. Every time I meet an exchange student or someone from another culture or lifestyle, I am reminded that borders are superficial boundaries, and that we are one humanity, despite our differences. I love this program!

The YES program was founded after 9/11 to increase understanding between the U.S. and predominantly Muslim countries. Initially, it only brought students from around the world to live in the U.S. These students came from all the YES Abroad countries, but also from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, and many other nations. These students positively benefited the communities they lived in by sharing their culture and religion, experiencing American life, and ultimately breaking down the stereotypes many Americans harbor about the Muslim world. However, once these students returned to their communities, their families and friends wondered why they, too, couldn't host exchange students from the U.S. In 2009, The YES Abroad program was founded as a reciprocal to this program. Along with my 64 fellow finalists (the biggest and best-est group in YES history), I will "serve as a youth ambassador, promoting mutual understanding by forming lasting relationships." I will live with a family, attend local high school, and engage in leadership activities to learn about my host family while sharing my own values.

YES Abroad will cover the costs associated with a year abroad. This includes airfare, orientations, cultural activities, school tuition, and a monthly stipend. YES Abroad is implemented by the YES consortium, which consists of American Councils, Amideast, and AFS. These organizations are on the ground in our host country, finding us host families and supporting us throughout the year. My implementer is Amideast ( They will orient me once I arrive in Morocco and provide me with Arabic/French classes!

As I've mentioned before and will undoubtedly do again, I LOVE YES ABROAD. I feel: empowered by fellow finalists and I am inspired by the enthusiasm we share for this experience, thankful to the YES program staff for all their hard work and for their dedication to this exchange, happy to know YES exists and will continue to exist for many years, comforted by all the good YES students are doing world wide and honored to be part of something bigger than myself. Today I attended a local Peace Jam Conference, and I met some YES students currently in the U.S. from Bangladesh, the Phillipines, Egypt and Kuwait. My fellow YES students shared my excitement for my journey, along with offering me some tidbits of advice and a few anecdotes about theirs. It reminded me that unlikely friendships such as these become possible because of the YES Abroad program! YES brings about interactions and conversations with people from around the world and forces us to remember how similar humans are, no matter what the circumstances! So thank you, YES Abroad!

The In Person Selection Event

One of the parts of the selection process for YES Abroad is the In Person Selection Event (the ISPE). The IPSE took place in Chevy Chase, MD, at the 4H Center. I flew from Detroit with my flight buddy, and we were picked up by the YES staff, who then took us to the 4H Center. Throughout the weekend, I met almost all of the semifinalists. I had made them all bracelets with Michigan colors (go blue!), and giving them out made me so happy! The weekend consisted of a lot of down time, which provided us with chances to connect with our new friends. I know everyone left with at least a few close friendships!

Of course, the weekend played a huge role in the process, so we did have to be evaluated at certain points. We all had one individual evaluation and two group evaluations, which took place at different times throughout the weekend. My individual interview took place Saturday morning, and I admire both of my interviewers (Shino and Kyle) so much for their work with YES Abroad. They made me feel so comfortable and we shared a great conversation. I enjoyed it, and apparently they did too. For Group evaluations, I was part of Group B. We were asked to work together and solve a problem, kind of like a team building exercise, and we were evaluated during that time. I loved all of Group B and I can't wait for our reunion D.C. We'll be the representing Group B in Morocco, Ghana and Oman next year! My weekend wrapped up Sunday morning with a short (10 minutes at most) French interview. This didn't count towards whether or not I advanced to the finalist stage, it just helped with placement.

Throughout the weekend, we could go to Country Tables as well  and find out more about each of the host countries. I spent a good amount of time there on Saturday afternoon, and I enjoyed talking with the coordinators! Saturday morning, we all participated in a workshop to get us thinking about our lives as Americans. We each drew a timeline of our lives, telling about the events that created our identities. Everyone was open to sharing, and I loved that!

 Not only did I have a ton of fun at the IPSE, I also shared many great conversations about current events, other cultures, and the futures my fellow semifinalists hoped to build. I found it easy to talk to everyone and I felt like I could strike up an amazing conversation with anyone I met. It reminded me that there are many teenagers in the world who share my interests, and that is a beautiful thing to realize. My last memory of IPSE is getting onto the airplane dead last because I was in the middle of this great conversation. I'm sad that I won't get to meet all of you again, but please know that no matter where you are, I'm confident you're doing something incredible there and that'll we meet again someday. I hope I will remember the IPSE as the weekend that will set the tone for the next year of my life--one filled with challenges, new friends, and learning!

State Department Funded Exchange

The United States Department of State funds several exchange programs for youth to travel and live outside of the United States. The three main programs are the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLIY), Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES), and the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX). These exchanges are great ways for teens of every income level to explore the world, and I highly encourage all those considering exchange to look more into these wonderful programs! 

The first program is NSLIY. From their website: "The National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y), sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, provides merit-based scholarships for eligible high school students to learn less commonly taught languages in summer and academic-year overseas immersion programs." Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, Korean, Persian, Russian, and Turkish are all available for study. Their website is: This year, they awarded 100 scholarships. The admissions process began in the fall, and included a written application and a local interview, along with one reference. Everything is paid for, including a stipend.

The second program is YES Abroad: from their website "The Kennedy-Lugar YES Abroad program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is offering American high school students and recent graduates in the U.S. full scholarships for up to one academic year in countries with significant Muslim populations." This year, 65 scholarships were awarded to live in Ghana, Oman, Morocco, Bosnia, Turkey, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Everything is paid for, including a stipend. The admissions process began this fall/winter, and included a written application and a fully paid weekend, the In Person Selection Event, which took place in Chevy Chase, Maryland this spring. I plan to do another post about the beloved IPSE, because it was fantastic! 

The third program is the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange. I did not apply for this program, but it sends Americans to live in Germany for a year. Like NSLIY and YES, CBYX requires a written application and a person interview, though their interview events are day long meetings, as opposed to a weekend long event with YES Abroad. One of my friends, Dani, who also applied for YES with me, will be living in Germany through this scholarship and I highly recommend her blog: Everything but spending money and internal airfare to the pre departure orientation in Washington D.C. is covered.

I applied to both YES Abroad and NSLIY, and was accepted to both of them. Choosing between India, where I would have gone with NSLIY, and Morocco proved difficult. It was a great problem to have, and when I set out this fall, I would have never expected this. I have had a bit of an obsession with India for the past year, as many of my friends know! I love Hindi music and Indian food, and I did Bollywood dance this fall. However, I love the YES program and truly believe in its goals. I look forward to learning Arabic and French. I can't imagine not seeing my fellow semifinalists again. So in the end, I went with my gut feeling. I know I will make it to India at some time in my life, just not right now!

In general, these programs are very competitive. I don't know how the YES staff chose finalists, because everyone I met in Chevy Chase completely deserved this opportunity. I know it's a cliche to say "be yourself," yet it's the best advice I was given during my application process. Who we are, especially as teenagers, is a work in progress, and representing the many dimensions of our personality on paper or in a short interview is not easy. If you have passion though, your evaluations will reflect this! Remember that you can apply for these exchanges multiple times! One of my good friends, Allie, applied to all three scholarships for her senior year, but was not accepted. She reapplied again this year, and she is headed to Ghana in September! (Here is her blog Additionally, these are not the only scholarships available. If you check out the AFS and YFU websites, you will find more scholarships to study abroad! I wish you all the best of luck and please feel free to ask any questions you might have!

The Road to Acceptance

It’s weird to think that the future I’ve thought about for so long is now happening! 
I found out about this scholarship April 27, 2012. It is now March 2013. Rereading my journal, I am in shock of how far I have come.
April 27, 2012 “Found a scholarship, to study in Muslim majority nations, one of which is Morocco. I never considered Morocco. It’s an amazing program, but only 55 kids get to go. Eek scary competitive!” 
May 22 “more obsession. I think I believe in myself. I want to apply NOW, not in the fall, NOW. Portage, it’s been fun, it’s been real, it’s been real fun. But there’s a world out there I am dying to see, a world beyond all of this. I don’t want to be set in my ways before it’s too late.”
May 27 “I want it so bad, but it’s so hard to get. I really really want the YES scholarship, so bad. But it’s so hard to get. I want it, I want it, I want it know and I want it bad! 
6th day of trail “Things that I am grateful for- YES Abroad, sunsets, conversations, laughter, food, roofs.” 
August 11th “I’m realized how slim my chances of getting this are. The confidence I felt in the spring? No longer. I need to believe in myself, I want that notification. I have no idea what to say besides please pick me, you won’t regret it. I want to post “I’m a semifinalist” I want to go to Denver, I want to be part of that picture, I want this like I’ve never wanted anything in my entire life. This is my BIGGEST WILDEST DREAM.” 
October 20 “I have choices, and the choices are purely my own. I know what I want and I want this so bad, and I really hope they can see that. 
November 12 “I started my YES apps and I feel good” 
January 7 “Submitted my YES app while playing Hindi music and wearing an Indian scarf.” 
February 1 “I desperately want to meet Allie, Dani and Sarah. I want the chance to prove myself. Plus, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to spend three days in a hotel with other amazing students who are JUST LIKE ME but also really different! Flying all by myself? So exciting! 
February 28 “I hoped and dreamed and omigod, I did it. I am a YES semifinalist. Today was the most agonizing thing…I was waiting all day, knowing it would come. I laughed and cried and I checked my email and there was no sign of it.At 7:39, we sat down to watch Downton Abbey. Mom looked at her phone and she handed me the phone, and there it was “we are pleased to inform you that…” I fell down, screamed, I don’t even know. I am going to IPSE! I am a semifinalist for the scholarship of my dreams! 54.16% chance of getting it now!  Nobody can take this feeling away from me, this joy. I am incredibly numb, proud, excited and exhilarated to continue this process.” 
March 22 "I made it here. I found my people and I'm exhausted. Everyone is absolutely amazing and I just need to be my best self and remember I was born to do this."
March 23 "Today was the best day of my life. Make no exaggeration, I have such faith in this generation, these people, this scholarship and even in myself." 
March 24 "So it's over. I'm sitting in the airplane and I feel like no time has passed and yet I've gone through the same changes that take months in real life. I can honestly say my life has been changed for good." 
April 4 "Missed IPSE. Thought about YES. Talked about YES. Breathed YES. I know this isn't healthy, but I forget how to not think of YES. It's killing me."
April 12 "Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I am a finalist to Morocco."
It’s weird in the best way possible to live something you’ve dreamed about so many times, to actually experience the moments you’ve envisioned.  It’s surreal, and I still can’t believe I am one of 65 teens from across the nation selected to live in a YES country next year. Even at the In Person Selection event, we felt more like a long lost tribe than cutthroat competitors and it’s finally starting to sink in that this is real, that I’m going to get to do so many things that I’ve dreamed of doing. To have met these people, to know that there are people out there who are just like me, and to call them my friends means just as much as any scholarship ever could. 

The Beginning

Hi there! I'm Catherine, and I'm going to be living my dream as an exchange student in Rabat, Morocco, for the 2013-2014 school year! On Friday, April 12th, 2013, I received the email that changed my life. The subject line read: YES Abroad Program in Morocco. As soon as I read it, I fell onto the ground and started hugging my mom, screaming, and crying.  For the past eleven months, I have hoped for and dreamed about this moment--the one where I would go from a YES hopeful to a YES finalist. I discovered YES Abroad through a google search for "study abroad in Morocco" and getting to the finalist stage has been an incredible journey in it of itself. I'm so thankful to everyone who has helped me along the way, there's too many of you to name but I will miss you all next year!
I've created this blog to share my experience (and whatever happens next) with my friends back home, my family (my mom in particular), my fellow exchange students all over the world, and all those interested in exchange! I hope to reflect on my journey, both physically as I travel to Morocco and internally as I change and grow, spread the word about the YES Abroad program, and encourage everyone, no matter your circumstances, to chase your dreams and explore your community.
I'm so excited to make a new home for myself in Rabat, and I'll be back soon with more information about myself and the YES Abroad program. I love YES Abroad!