I often write blog posts about my experiences, trips, and block breaks while living in Squamish. However, I have hardly written any blog posts where I talk more in depth about my life experiences before coming to Quest University. So today, I am going to write about my year abroad in Iowa, U.S.A. as an exchange student. Throughout this blog, I will explain how I met my exchange family, how high school in the U.S.A. is like, and what other states I visited.
In summer of 2008, a group of students and teachers came from Iowa, U.S. to Kosovo, to work with Shropshire Music Foundation. Shropshire Music Foundation was founded by Liz Shropshire, and it provides free musical instruments to former child soldiers and refugees in Kosovo, Uganda, and Northern Ireland. Since 1999, this foundation has taught more than 10,000 young people that through music they can bring healing, hope, and peace to their communities. This is the first summer I met my host mum Aimee, and my host sister Kelli. I do not remember them very well from this trip since I was twelve years old. However, in the summer of 2011 with Shropshire Music Foundation and Muscatine Youth Choir (in Iowa), we went to Samothraki Island in Greece, for a ten day joint training retreat. We lived together, worked together, and explored together a place that was new for all of us. This is the summer I got really close to Kelli and Aimee, and later on kept communicating with them through email and phone calls.
Aimee and I kept communicating for one year, sharing with each other our traditions, cultures, education system and many more. I had told Aimee for many years how I had always wanted to go to North America and learn to speak English fluently, visit big and famous cities, and become more independent. Well to my surprise, my big dream became a reality when through a nonprofit organization, the mission of which is to provide quality international exchange experiences in an effort to promote global understanding, I travelled all the way from Kosovo to Iowa.
I met Kelli, Aimee, and Brad at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport, and so the American Dream began. After three long flights, two car rides I finally made it home. That is how I called it from day one, because everything about that house was very welcoming and not one day did I feel like I was not part of the family. Brad my amazing host dad, was always there whenever I needed someone to pick me up from school or when I needed someone to help me built a house from paper for a class project. Aimee my host mum was always there whenever I needed someone to support me while I gave speeches about war in Kosovo or when I just needed to talk to someone. Kelli my host sister was just like a big sister to me; she introduced me to her friends, took me shopping, and watched countless movies with me. My host brother, host grandparents, friends, and teachers made my experience ten times better. They accepted me from the very beginning, and were very patient when I could not understand English.
*Top picture: Kelli and I met after two years at the Chicago O’Hare Airport.
Bottom left: My host grandparents and I, in my graduation.
Bottom right: My host parents and I.
Talking about my year abroad in just one blog posts is going to be hard but I will try to keep it short. The first trip my host family and I did was going to Disney World in Florida. I had grown up watching Disney movies, wearing Cinderella inspired hair bands, and dreaming about kingdoms and palaces. This trip was like a gateway to childhood dreams. I wish my six-year-old sister, Melodi, could have been there. She would have had so much fun. Another trip I did was going to Chicago in February with two other exchange students, and program coordinator. Even though it was freezing cold, we still had a lot of fun. The best part of this trip was meeting my cousins Anila and Albina, whom I had not seen for more than two years. Last but not least, I visited New York in April with the music department of my high school. New York, by far was the busiest and biggest city I have ever been in my life. It was such a great trip, and cherry on top of the cake was when we won the Gold Award with the school choir in a competition with forty other schools.
After an amazing school year, I graduated from Louisa-Muscatine Junior/Senior High School in May of 2013. I will never forget all the friends that I made throughout the year, who helped me if I were struggling with schoolwork and if I were feeling homesick. From the very beginning it felt like I had known them all my life. Also, the teachers made a huge difference, from helping me learn more about the history of the U.S. to becoming a better writer. Today, I still keep in touch with all of them and cannot wait until I visit the high school again.
In addition, I went to two school dances: Prom and Homecoming. They were both magical, and very entertaining. Even though, prom dance is a bit different from the one in Kosovo, I loved it. My favorite part was the corsage, since it is not a tradition back home.
The last picture is a photo of Fortesa (friend from Kosovo) and I after the graduation ceremony. Fortesa was attending Muscatine Community College (about 15 minutes way from my host parent’s house). It was heartwarming having a friend from Kosovo, whom I have known for so many years. We had numerous sleepovers, went shopping, and always supported each other. She made my American experience even better.
I want to apologize if this blog posts was a bit too long. But my American experience was amazing, and I did not want to leave out important trips and experiences. I want to thank my host family for treating me like their own child, and still to this day mailing me cards and presents. They are my second family, whom I will never forget.