YES Virtual Student Spotlight (April 2021)
YES exchange student from Mali and virtual pal from the USA

Malian invested in the experience

It is with great enthusiasm that we nominate Fatoumata, an exchange student from Mali, for the U.S. Department of State YES Virtual Student Spotlight for April 2021.

From the very beginning of the program, Fatoumata, her host family, coordinator, and virtual pal have had to be a little creative in order to stay in touch with one another. Communication has been a challenge due to connectivity issues in Mali. Internet connectivity is quite unpredictable in good weather, but whenever it rains, the Wi-Fi does not allow video. To combat this issue, the host family, coordinator, and virtual pal have looked into other ways of keeping in touch with the young scholar. If a video call isn’t possible, they share text messages, video messages, photos, or recorded videos.

Despite connectivity issues, Fatoumata has developed a great relationship with her virtual host family. She says, “I love the entire host family. We discuss, laugh, tell each other new things. It’s awesome.” She has developed a special bond with her host mom Michelle in particular, mentioning that Michelle is “kind and caring.” Fatoumata has learned a lot of things from her host family about the U.S. and American culture and traditions.

They talk about everything: food, trips, holidays, everyday life, current events, and COVID issues in both the U.S. and Mali. Fatoumata has enjoyed taking part in celebrations and holidays with her host family, including Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. She reports that her favorite of these was her little host brother Leo’s birthday celebration and the photos of the host family dressed as pirates during their trip to Florida and Universal Studios.

Her coordinator reports that among the many things Fatoumata has shared with her and her host family, they have especially enjoyed her presentation about Tabaski, the Muslim Eid al-Adha “Feast of the Sacrifice” which is an important celebration in Mali. “It was also fascinating to watch the traditional clothes that women wear in African weddings and the gorgeous henna that the women decorate their hands and feet with,” says her coordinator Sabrina.

Fatoumata and her virtual pal Kylie have become best friends. “I love discussing with Kylie,” reports Fatoumata. “We share about our schools, Mali and American culture, food, Girl Scout cookies, President's Day, Valentine’s Day, and many more. Kylie is kind, friendly, and lovely. Thanks to her and some other American friends I have made through the peer-to-peer program, my English has improved a lot,” reports Fatoumata.

Fatoumata is always eager to attend the activities organized by her CC or the PAX office. She is excited to engage and learn new things but also ready to share her culture and experience. Of the many activities she has participated in, Fatoumata’s favorites were learning about Black History Month in the USA, attending the Disability Awareness webinar, and participating in the plastic pollution project. The plastic pollution project was developed and implemented by a group of FLEX/YES Virtual Program students and American students of the IB Program at Plymouth High School in Canton, Michigan who share the common belief that it is important to explore the causes, impact, and complicated reality of plastic pollution. “As a group, we wanted to raise the awareness about consequences of plastic pollution. It does not matter where you are located, in Mali, U.S., or other countries, we all share the responsibility of taking care of our environment,” says Fatoumata. As part of the project, they created an Instagram account @pax_plastic_pollution.

Participating in the Virtual Program has helped Fatoumata to better manage her time and find the balance between the time spent on family chores, school workload, and the many activities of the YES program. She reports that she has learned to be patient with the internet, while still hoping that it does not rain on days she is scheduled to attend a virtual activity so she can have a decent Wi-Fi connection. Fatoumata is looking forward to participating in upcoming Virtual Program activities. In particular, she is excited to share about Ramadan traditions together with some PAX/YES alumni for a Johnson County Public Library presentation. She is also very happy to be presenting about her country to a class of fifth graders. Additionally, Fatoumata will be participating in a “Virtual Storytelling Festival,” a YES alumni project for which she looks forward to sharing a story in her native language.

Fatoumata’s positive attitude is contagious. Her coordinator Sabrina reports, “I love Fatoumata’s smile.” Sabrina adds, “Even when we’ve all been busy with school and just daily life, I appreciate that Fatoumata takes the time to respond, engage, and show that she’s invested in this experience!”

Fatoumata has proven to be a wonderful ambassador for her country, PAX, and the YES program, so we proudly nominate her.

—The PAX Sponsored Programs team