A group of Saudi high school students traveled to Washington D.C. last week to begin a year of study in the US as part of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES).
The Saudi students, the 14th group to take part in the scheme, will be hosted by families in states including Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.
Under the YES program, which was introduced in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, students from countries with significant Muslim populations are invited to spend an academic year in the US, living with a host family and attending high school.
The program is administered by the US State Department, and seeks to bridge social and cultural gaps, and create a bond between visiting students and their host families.
In Saudi Arabia, YES is administered by an American non-profit organization, Amideast, which promotes education and cultural exchange between the US and the Middle East and North Africa region.
As part of the State Department’s annual Civic Education Week, a selected number of YES students from around the world meet in Washington D.C. to learn more about public policy and the US government. Students also meet Congress members who represent the districts and states where they are hosted.
Students who have taken part in the program say that it prepares them to be young leaders who seek to build bridges of understanding between nations. Although YES was established after a tragedy, is has created thousands of friendships around the world, and encouraged greater global understanding. The exchange is a turning point in Saudi students’ lives that empowers them to be ambassadors for their country.
Razan Farhan Alaqil is a political science, international comparative politics and global studies graduate. She is a Saudi youth representative at the UN and a board member of the Saudi Federation of Mass Participation.