ETHS Exchange Experience

Hania Farooq, Guest Writer

Hi. I am Hania Farooq, an exchange student from Pakistan. I came to America last August and I leave in June. Two years ago, I discovered this prestigious program called Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study, commonly known as the YES Program. It was started by Sen. Kennedy and Lugar after 9/11 as an effort to bridge the gaps between Muslims and Americans. Students from Muslim majority countries are chosen and brought to the U.S. for a whole school year. I applied and luckily, got selected for it. After my selection, the next step was my placement. I had no idea which family in all 50 states of America would choose me or where I would get placed. In April of 2018, I got my answer. A family in Evanston had chosen me and I discovered that I was going to Evanston Township High School. I searched up the school website and tried getting an idea of what I would experience in the months to come. I was looking forward to it. I arrived in Evanston at the start of August and my host parents got me all signed up for school.

The first time I saw ETHS I was mesmerized. ETHS reminded me of a castle out of the fairy tale books. The tall building, so glorious and so majestic, just like Hogwarts. My first day in ETHS was a memorable one indeed. I got lost countless times. It took me some time to understand how the classes work because, in Pakistan, the teachers switch classes and not the students. Everyone was very helpful and welcoming though. Security helped me out a lot. They are such nice people. They guided me to my classes and showed me where the maps were so I could use them if I got lost again, which I did. Communication was a little difficult because I have an accent when I speak so people have a hard time understanding me. The teachers were very nice and welcoming. I will add a little fact that the activities teachers plan for the first week so students can mingle and get to know each other, are very effective. I met one of my very closest and dearest friends, Malcolm Donati, through such activity. We interviewed each other and presented that in front of our whole class. We have been friends ever since and plan to remain good pals even after I leave. One thing me and my classmates had difficulty with was names. My name was totally foreign to them and their names were hard for me to pronounce. Some thought it was Ania or Hannah, but it was just Hania. I really appreciate the effort all my teachers and classmates put in to learn how to pronounce my name correctly. It really touched my heart. Anyways, back to my first day here, I was going through my day and the lunch period rolled in. I was nervous because lunch is the time you make friends. I tried to talk to some people and I failed. For the next two days, I preferred sitting alone and taking a break, because I was taking in a lot of stuff and I felt overwhelmed. My third day some people invited me to their table and we became acquainted. On this quest of making new friends and experiencing new things, I had a partner; My host sister Layana from Palestine. We both started this journey together and have always been there for each other. We have taught each other a lot and discovered new people and passions.

One of the things I looked most forward to through the day was my gym class. I took Adventure Ed first semester and I am currently in Competitive Sports. I was not the best fit for Adv. Ed since I have a fear of heights but I tried my best and had a great time. I tried wall climbing even though I was scared. Every morning for a month or so, I would come early and try to climb the wall. I grew to trust myself and the people around me. I owe Mr. Salinas a big thanks for being there with me at each step. I only finished one wall out of the 11, but I am proud that I did it. I even went on my first camping trip and I formed a very special bond with my best friend Rose. She is the best person ever and she made me feel at home. In Competitive Sports, I have tried a lot of new sports. Softball has been eventful because it is so similar to cricket but they have their differences. When I hit my first home run, I had no idea what I was doing. I heard people say keep running and I did. It was exhilarating. One of the biggest moments of my life.

It took me a week or so and I had the names of everyone in my AP Biology class under my belt. I made a lot of good friends in that class and we are like a small family, very warm and welcoming. Dr. Slaton has the best treats ever. I just love the joyful spirit she emits. She is such a sweetheart. One thing I am going to miss a lot is my Biology partner, Arden. We have worked together numerous times and I really love our little everyday chats. They make my day. In the same class, I have another dear friend, Liz, who took me out on Halloween and made it an unforgettable experience.

I can currently speak three languages (Urdu, Punjabi, and English) and read and understand parts of Arabic At ETHS I started learning Japanese. It has been an amazing experience. Aurora and I became friends because we had a similar strong passion for Japanese. She is such a talented and amazing person especially when it comes to sewing. She is a true artist. When I heard that ETHS offered Japanese, I was over the moon. Japanese culture has always intrigued me and getting a chance to learn Japanese is invaluable for me. I am really glad I am learning another language. I have also learned how to play the guitar which happens to be my favorite instrument. I am currently learning the piano.

Every road has its bumps. There have been times when I felt like I didn’t belong or I had a breakdown. I have met people who have been mean and people who have been merry and I would always prefer to focus on the merry ones. On this journey I undertook, I have learned a lot. I have become a part of a community that is, in ways, opposite to mine but welcomes me and together we celebrate our differences and similarities. In all the names I have mentioned, I would love to mention two more; Ms. Ogura and Ms. Holmes. This duo is like a dream team. Both of these lovely ladies have always looked after me and made sure I was doing well. I would miss them with all my heart when I leave. I would miss everything about ETHS, how it looks when it rains or when the sunlight bounces off the windows. I would miss the crowds of students in the corridors, laughing and chatting away and walking towards their classes. I would miss every little detail I picked up. I would miss my lunch table where I sit every day with my friends and we talk, about everything and make different plans, and talk about life. I would miss all the clubs I joined. I would love to give a shoutout to my ultimate frisbee team. I had so much fun with them. I wasn’t with them for a long   I have had enough to form a deep bond with them. ETHS has offered me so much. I know I couldn’t experience everything it has to offer because I was only here for 10 months, but everything I experienced, has been magical. ETHS is full of opportunities. The staff here really look out for their students. Dr. Witherspoon always makes my day when he wishes me a good day or says good morning. It really makes a difference. I have been exposed to so much and I have been forced out of my comfort zone, but I am glad all of it happened. I would not have it any other way. Along the way, I met many new people and made a lot of friends. I really wish I could name every one of them. I would still love to say thank you to all of them for supporting me and being there for me when I needed them. I want to say شکریہ (Shukriya: Thank you in Urdu) to each and everyone in this school that has made my time here, so amazing and unforgettable.