From Albania to America
PAX students from Montenegro and Albania with Navajo dancers in traditional dress at a tribal dance competition in Utah
Aleksis and fellow PAX student Damir from Montenegro join Navajo dancers at a tribal dance competition

Learning about the Navajo

I met my beautiful host family on August 17, 2018, and we went straight to a huge family reunion with everyone from my host dad's side. We ate together, played fun board games, and talked a lot. Everyone was so open minded and so interested to learn about my culture. I really felt at home. My new big family was so amazing and my heart filled with joy, knowing that I'd become a part of it. The very next day we went on a hike to a waterfall together and it was very fun. I had no idea I could experience so much of a place's culture in just one weekend and I could already tell that this year will be amazing.

Back in my home country there is a special time at every event when people, even if they don't know each other at all, hold hands and dance together in a line. This means a lot to me because it shows the desire of my people to be together and celebrate with traditional dances. I attended a traditional tribe dance competition in Salt Lake City with my local coordinator and my cluster and I made the most beautiful discovery. We got to see the dances of the Native American tribe, Navajo. When the competition was over we all held hands and danced together. I truly felt at home as I discovered that our cultures, though very different, have so much in common.

During our orientation in Washington, D.C., one of the speakers told us that just like every year in our lives, we would go through difficult situations during our exchange year, and not a single one of them would make our experience less amazing. As soon as I arrived in my host community I really felt that and I've looked back on those words ever since. From jet lag to homesickness, I've seen many sides of living away from home, all while appreciating the fact that I'm living close to another, equally beautiful culture.

Having three little siblings has been a lot of fun, and even though adapting can be challenging at first it always gets better. I miss my home, even the people that I didn't think I would. But I don't miss them in a painful way. I do miss them in the sense of acknowledging their importance in my life, and looking forward to having them become a part of it again after a while. For now, I just want to experience the beautiful gift I've been given and give back to my amazing host family and community here in the beautiful United States.

—Aleksis (YES, Albania), hosted by the Gwilliam family (UT)