YES Virtual Student Spotlight (March 2021)
Virtual exchange student from Lebanon

Meet PAX's nomination

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

Abbas and his virtual host family established a great relationship from the beginning of the program. It hasn’t always been easy for Abbas and his host family to overcome time differences and their busy school and work schedules, but they have managed to develop a close relationship and engage in meaningful conversations. Abbas has established a very close relationship with his host mom Robin, and they talk almost every single day. The Knoll family feels like they have truly become a little family over the last few months with Abbas. They talk about everything, from the silly TikTok trends and their hobbies to politics, religion, school, family, food, and culture. Host mom Robin describes Abbas as hilarious, curious, smart, and eager to learn everything. She says that sometimes Abbas will ask her surprising, seemingly out-of-the-blue questions about American culture like, "I saw on this show someone was eating a stick of dry meat, I think it's called jerky? Is that a thing? Have you ever had it?" or, "Do universities really have sororities and fraternities?" Of Abbas’ seemingly commonplace questions, Robin says, “This has been a real learning experience.”

Of course, Abbas has also done his part in sharing culture with his host family, like telling them about “Dabke,” a yummy snack, and teaching them the corresponding “Dabke” dance. That led to his host mom trying to learn the dance and sending little videos back and forth. “That was really funny,” she says. Abbas also teaches his host parents Arabic phrases. He patiently corrects the way they say something, even if they cannot hear the differences. Robin reports that Abbas is “so kind and always ready to help us learn.” She says, “It is the tiny little day-to-day things that have grown our relationship so much. Abbas is such a huge part of our family now, and we hope one day to meet him in person.”

Abbas reports that he has learned a great deal about America from the multiple calls and meetings. He says he is fascinated by America's different cultures and traditions. He especially enjoyed learning about Halloween and autumn traditions, from the corn mazes to the pumpkin carving. For Halloween, students of his cluster dressed up as their favorite movie characters or celebrities. They also talked about how they celebrate Halloween in their countries. Abbas says that he also enjoyed learning about Thanksgiving traditions like special foods and Thanksgiving blessings that each family member shares. He was also amazed by the Christmas holiday spirit with all the beautifully decorated streets, trees, and treats. Although far away, he felt that his host family and coordinator helped him experience the American holidays.

The program opened me up to the world and showed me that I am part of a bigger circle. It has improved my leadership skills and has prepared me to face new challenges with confidence.

Abbas also enjoys communicating with his virtual pal Escha whom he describes as, “one of the kindest people that I ever met.” Escha was very good at making Abbas feel welcome and helped him get to know Oshkosh, Wisconsin. She told him about the education system in the U.S. and helped Abbas gain a better understanding of what it is like at an American school. Abbas and Escha are both creative, artistic people who share some common interests. They enjoy sharing their artwork with one another for feedback. Abbas says, “It is wonderful to see some of your interests enjoyed by others.” Additionally, Abbas and Escha will sometimes invite another YES student, Erion from Kosovo, and his virtual pal, Ethan, to play a board game about teamwork. “It is such fun,” says Abbas.

Abbas has participated in all the enhancement activities organized by his Community Coordinator. “I enjoy meeting with my cluster and have made friends from Kosovo, Indonesia, Poland, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan,” says Abbas. “We do a lot of activities together.” Of the activities Abbas has participated in, he says his favorites were the Local Government and Entrepreneurship webinar with the Mayor Pro-Tem of Plymouth, Michigan, the discussion about the lifestyle of Old Order Amish communities located throughout Wisconsin, the “Disability Inclusion” webinar organized by the PAX national office, and talking about Native Americans in Wisconsin. Abbas shared in his reflection forms that he found these enhancement activities to be enlightening and eye opening.

Abbas is a very talented young man with a special love for arts. He was very excited to be part of the YES logo competition. He truly enjoyed working on the design of the logo he submitted.

Abbas is also a founding member of the “School and Academic Pressure” group, along with several other FLEX and YES students hosted by PAX and American peers from the Plymouth High School's (Canton, Michigan) International Baccalaureate program. After a lot of research and discussions about the underlying factors and impacts of school and academic stress and country comparisons, they also came up with a plan of ways to advocate for holistic wellness in their communities. 

Although Abbas would have liked to participate in person in the YES Program, he is grateful for the opportunity offered by the Virtual Program to meet his host family, coordinator, American peers, other FLEX/YES exchange students, PAX and YES community members, and many others. “The virtual program is an amazing experience,” says Abbas. “The program opened me up to the world and showed me that I am part of a bigger circle. It has improved my leadership skills and has prepared me to face new challenges with confidence. This experience is eye opening, it leaves you thirsty for more knowledge and it motivates you to meet more new people. It is a great way to become more social and make strong bonds with people in the U.S. and from all around the world.”

Abbas’s positive attitude, his commitment, and eagerness for learning have impressed each of us who have had the opportunity to communicate with him. He is a caring, inquisitive, and motivated young man and a fantastic ambassador of Lebanon and the YES program.

—The PAX Sponsored Programs team