“There is a high school exchange program funded by the United States. Anyone who is good at English can apply,” said our school principal. I went home thinking about whether I should apply. After dinner, while watching television with my dad, I told him about the scholarship and asked his permission to apply. My dad not only permitted it, but also encouraged me to take part in all academic-related things.

After two days, I took a test for the program. The results were announced seven hours after the test was given. All the girls were standing in the line waiting for their names to be announced. A lot of names were read, and I was feeling disappointed not to hear mine, but finally my name was read, and my happiness was at its peak.

Then came another test and an interview. The process took almost ten months. At that point, I really wanted to go to the States; it was like my dream to be an independent person. Also, I was very excited about sharing my culture with people from a totally different culture and different religions.

Finally I got my visa and ticket. The day I left was full of tears. All the students were supposed to go to the office of the American Councils, which provided this great scholarship to Afghan students.  My family members were crying along me, but were also happy for my achievement. The day was filled with different feelings: happiness, worry, and excitement.

Before going to the United States, we had a pre-departure orientation in India for almost a month to learn about American culture and lifestyle. I think it was one of the best and most unforgettable experiences of my life. I made so many friends in just one day. We 37 students had a great time studying, playing, talking, dancing, singing and a lot more. We never felt we missed our families because we became like a second family for each other. I made some really good friends who I will never forget. I don’t know how this month went by so fast.

Finally it was the day to say goodbye and leave India, but I was one of ten students who were told we couldn’t go to the States because we didn’t have host families. It was really sad to see my other friends leave. Everyone cried that night. We ten students were called the “Terrific Ten” by our great and beloved teacher Mr. Tom. We spent ten more days in India, and got to visit the Taj Mahal, and then we also were able to head towards the United States.

In the small town of Antigo, Wisconsin, my host mom Lin picked me up at the airport with balloons and my picture in her hand. She gave me a huge hug and welcomed me to Wisconsin, which seemed really beautiful and green. I went to my new house and met my host dad Charlie, the dog Eve, and the cat Solomon.

It was hard at the beginning to live without my family in a new place with different people, but when I got to know my host family better, everything went all right. I had a great year in Wisconsin. I tried so many new things: skiing, ice skatin, and many other things. I joined the dance team at school. My coach called me “a natural performer.” I was on the dance Varsity Team and I can never forget the day when our team won the state’s Hip Hop Dance competition. The next season, I joined the soccer team. I made so many friends. My host mom said she had never seen an exchange student make so many friends so fast.

I had the best year of my life. It feels like it passed in a blink. After returning from the States, the patriotic feelings for my country grew stronger. I felt a bright future for Afghanistan was not only my dream, but also my passion, and that I must work for my country so it can one day be “The Developed Country” of the world.

By Zarlasht F.

Wisconsin photograph by Todd Klassy