Bassam Sallam writes about how his childhood dreams of coming to the United States came true, even though they looked different from how he imagined them. Here he writes about coming to the US as part of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange Program (YES Program), the civil war in his home country, and the change of plans that brought him to the Northwest Community College Initiative (NWCCI). Bassam is an NWCCI student from Yemen who is studying in the high school completion program at Edmonds Community College.
Even though I have only been in America for a year and a half, my adventure is far beyond that. America was my dream when I was a kid; I dreamed of going to America even though I did not know much about it. I remember when I was in the first grade, I told my mother that I would go to America someday and marry a blond girl with blue eyes exactly like the ones on the TV.
I grew up and the dream of going to America grew up with me, until my brother told me about a scholarship called Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program. That news was like an oasis in the middle of the desert. I immediately took the form, filled it out and applied for the scholarship. The days passed by and the phone never rang, but I never gave up and waited eagerly for the next year to come. The following year, when I finally knew that the scholarship forms were available, I did the same as the past year: filled out the form, applied for the second time and waited for the phone to ring. However, that time the phone did rang saying that I was selected for an exam that would determine if I was eligible to move on to the next step of the competition. I did my best studying for the exam, and I eventually took it with a mind full of concerns about passing since I had not studied English anywhere beside my public school. After taking it, I waited for a call, but I did not hear anything from them.
Despite these setbacks, I was still full of hope and passion to go to America and make that childhood dream come true. I was in the 11th grade, and it is my last chance to apply for the YES scholarship since it requires applicants to be enrolled between the 9th and 11th grade. In that final step to my dream, I started the application with humongous hope, ambition and determination. My family’s support increased my motivation even more. I did all my best and passed all the steps that finally brought me to be one of the twenty people who were selected to study English for six months in an American educational organization called “Amideast”. Even though I was selected to be one of the twenty students, it was not yet an assurance that I was going to America because only 15 out of 20 students would be selected to travel.
To increase my chances of being selected, I went to the Amideast Institute everyday after school. It was laborious for me to go there since my house was about an hour away and the lack of transportation made it even more time-consuming. I had to go every day ahead of time to catch the bus, otherwise I would be late. Going to study English there took six hours from my daily time which affected my studies in school and at the institute. However, it was a big deal for me to achieve my goal, and I persevered to reach what I had always dreamed about until that day finally came and I was selected to represent my country, Yemen, as a young ambassador in the United States of America.
I was hosted in the Lone Star State “Texas” with a temporary family and attended Buffalo High School. I was actually the first Muslim at that high school, yet I never felt that I was unwelcome; instead, I enjoyed my time there until I had to move to another district with a different host family. I lived with my local coordinator, her daughter and two other exchange students. The other two students were girls, one from Pakistan and the other from Thailand. I didn’t know them well, so I was afraid that we wouldn’t fit together. What happened was the opposite, I enjoyed my time with them, and we got very close to each other. The new school did not go very well at first because I joined it about three months late and I couldn’t make new friends as easily as I did in my first high school. Despite that, I accepted the challenge and made friends.
Six months after I had arrived in America, a civil war took place in my country and the situation was escalating until, one day, the coalition countries spearheaded by Saudi Arabia and the U.S. declared an aerial warfare against the rebel group, the Houthis, to support the Yemeni government. When the war started in March of 2015, I couldn’t contact my family back in Yemen because all the means of communication were shut down and no one was able to enter or leave the country. The war affected my studies and made me stressed and concerned about my family’s situation during that rough time.
Due to the conflict, there was no possibility of going back to Yemen after finishing my exchange year. Therefore, most of the Yemeni exchange students in the U.S. including myself had to attend a 2-week program in Lynchburg College, Virginia, and after that we spent one and a half months attending a summer camp in Bedford, VA. The time I spent in Lynchburg College was very rough for me since that period coincided with the holy Islamic month of Ramadan and I had to fast for over 15 hours a day. However, I got to spend time with my other Yemeni friends, and we got to know each other even more, which made that experience memorable and exceptional for all of us. During our time in the camp, we got to learn a lot about ourselves and the world from our professional instructors and their focused workshops. Moreover, we made everlasting friendships with people from all around the globe that we still keep in touch with to reminisce over our fond memories. Our new friends became our big family that care and share everything with us, and they were the shoulders that we cried on; the haven at the time of our emotional breakdown.
Eventually, the summer came to an end and everyone in our Yemeni group started a new journey in their life. The ones who were over eighteen years old had to experience totally different circumstances by leaving high school life and attending a community college in Washington State with the Northwest Community College Initiative (NWCCI) program, and those under 18 had to participate in the “YES” program for the second time. I was one of those who were destined to attend a community college in Washington State with the NWCCI program, and here I am now with such amazing people, experiencing a life full of adventures and opportunities.
The NWCCI program is part of the Community College Initiative, an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The opinions expressed in this blog by writers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Northwest Community College Initiative program, Edmonds Community College, Whatcom Community College, Pierce College, the United States Department of State or any employee thereof. NWCCI and Edmonds Community College are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied by the student bloggers.