by Martin Al-Bazi
Since the day we got back home, I've been feeling like I’m nowhere. I find it hard to fit in again...
by Iea Rabbee
I started to feel weird the moment I put my feet on the ground of Washington, D.C. at the end of IYLEP
by Shireen Aziz
The GAL (Guarding Alumni Lungs) Project is about saving the health and environment in Iraq by raising awareness...
by Zamen Alsamar'y
When I left home I was so afraid. I had so many doubts, and I didn’t know what to expect or what to do.
Written by Hannah Kim, IYLEP 2012 participant
As the first anniversary of my time at IYLEP approaches, I think back to last summer and am instantly transported back to that time. I remember my growing excitement as that day approached (July 25th for me!), how nervous I was to meet my fellow Cleveland IYLEPers, the staff, and, of course, all the Iraqis, panicking over whether I had packed enough stuff, if everyone would like me, how my host family would be, the inevitable joy and laughter of just being with my fellow IYLEPers, and finally how devastated I was when the month ended. Never in my life have I felt so wholeheartedly accepted by a group of people and been surrounded by so much love and support.
There are a few things that I remember: how it was constantly raining the first week in Vermont and how I was really disappointed because I wanted every single day that the Iraqis were here to be the most beautiful day that Vermont had ever seen. Going to John’s house and swimming, looking at the scenic countryside straight out of a painting, and singing songs together as the sun slowly died in the West. The seemingly never-ending van drive to Boston which, by the way, had no AC, exploring the beautiful city of Boston in an extensive scavenger hunt, and going to the beach with my Iraqi sister, Yasameen. How close I grew to my Boston group – Jack, Mary, Deo, MJ, Yasameen, Yaqeen, Sara, Zamo, Miran, Sophie, and Pam – but how anxious I was to see the entirety of the group again. That last week in Washington D.C. was especially bittersweet. Our reunion with each other mingled joy and the underlying sadness of eventual departure. As we left the 4-H Club in Maryland to go to the airport I burst into tears. I think one of the reasons why I was so sad was because I knew everyone else, now part of my family, felt the same way. Although this wasn’t goodbye forever, it was certainly the end of something.
I’ll be spending next year in Samsun, Turkey through another State Department funded program – NSLI-Y. I’m almost positive that I wouldn’t have gotten the scholarship without the experiences that I got through IYLEP. I’m hoping that when I’m in Turkey my Iraqi friends will be able to visit me and that we will get our reunion.
Even though Cleveland is not one of the cities involved in IYLEP this year, I hope that every single participant from the various other cities has a fantastic time, as I know you will. This post is a thank you to everyone who allowed me to have this experience and subsequent experiences and a message to 2013 IYLEPers and other future IYLEPers.
2013 IYLEPers, enjoy it. Bask in the love, bask in the sadness, take in every single emotion that you experience. Give everything you have to these people because they will respond wholeheartedly, they will cry and laugh and smile and dance (I should note that Iraqis dance really, REALLY well) with you, and it will be one of the best experiences of your life. Let yourself really enjoy your time with these people because this is an experience that you need to be immersed in. Live in the moment.
Written by Rand Al-Omari, IYLEP 2012 Participant
Last year, when I first received the email from the embassy telling me that I got the visa to the USA, meaning that I was going to experience IYLEP, I felt like the happiest person on this planet. It felt like a dream of mine was coming true.
I started to find photos and watch videos of previous IYLEPers and got super excited. A few months later, I went to the US and then I returned back to Iraq…and now, I am still an IYLEPer. The moment the airplane landed in Iraq, I discovered that it was like a dream! You can never imagine that feeling unless you live it.
In the past two days, I started thinking about IYLEP again and I discovered that it’s been a year since I received that amazing email with its cheerful title, “Congratulations”. I just can’t stop missing IYLEP and thinking about all the good feelings I had at that time.
I just wanted to tell the new IYLEPers that you guys should know that you are the luckiest people ever. You will never realize that until you guys go to the US and live the experience…so you should just make the most of every single moment, forget about everything else, and live the best month in your life and of course don’t forget to take photos EVERYWHERE…wish you guys best of luck.
Written by Ibrahim Riyadh, 2012 IYLEP Participant
Is it scheduled for March 7th, April 13th, or neither? After some scheduling changes, everybody was eagerly waiting for the Reunion Conference. Already 7 months had passed since the last time we were together; we did not know what we were most excited for: to have fun, for the things we would learn and remember during the Youth Development Conference, or to be reunited with our beloved staff!
We started by sharing magnificent stories about the work we have done on our community service projects, which include: environmental projects, charity projects, awareness raising projects, etc. We also spent time in workshops, improving our skills, meeting local leaders and representatives from local organizations, and we were even hosted at the US Consulate in Erbil.
The staff led us in an activity that helped us to remember our summer in the United States. We all brainstormed, “What we shared”, “Where we went”, “What we did”, “What we gained”, “Who we met”, etc. (All the “W” questions). Everyone had so many memories, that each question had many, many answers.
We also spent some really fun time together – as is proven by the little sleep that we got – singing our favorite songs: “The Watermelon Song” and “Shied Abu al Sipa”, playing games (especially one about truth) and enjoying being in the group again. Everything was more fun because of the group of people that we were with.
Finally I will say that being a part of a group, or a team, like what we experienced at the Reunion – and actually as we still are – is the best thing you will ever experience in your life. With a team you can have fun, share your dreams and ideas of how to improve upon the issues that you see, and learn from each other.
Written by Hajer Nabil, 2013 IYLEP Participant from Kirkuk
It was my first time in Baghdad. My dad says I have been there before but I was so little I couldn’t remember. I was very excited. What made me even more excited was being there with my best friend! We were both accepted together in the same group, which is great!
Once we arrived in Baghdad, the first thing we did was call our friend in Kirkuk who is originally from Baghdad to tell her that we were finally there after about a 5-hour drive from Kirkuk. We soon found our way to the hotel. After checking in, we went out to Al-Karada. In the evening, we had a little meeting with Miss Mayada who had interviewed us all before. We got to meet the other IYLEPers in our group and we talked about the plans for tomorrow.
At first, I was nervous about the interview. I had read a few blog posts written by previous IYLEPers saying how easy the visa interview was and the fact that it was the easiest step out of everything we’ve been through so far.
The next day, we were supposed to wake up at 5 am but we got up at 5:45! We only had 15 minutes to get everything ready and go down stairs! We managed to do so in 20 minutes though. We went downstairs and saw everybody having breakfast. Once we started eating, Miss Mayada arrived and we had to go. She had a check-list and checked us off.
We arrived at the embassy and waited in a queue. Then, our names were called and we stepped into the Embassy. After a few check points we waited for the Embassy bus to take us further in. Once we were finally in, we waited for our numbers to be called to have the interview. We met a man called Myzell there. We all became friends with him, he was quite funny.
When my number was called, I wasn’t nervous at all. And when I saw the consular officer smiling I felt confident. I answered all his questions easily. “Your visa is approved!” he said. I was very happy! I knew it would be easy, but it was easier than I expected it to be.
I sat down and had little conversations with a few new friends, my best friend and our mentors. When we were all done, we went back to the hotel. We took a photo there and left with the joy of knowing that we will meet again.
I know that being in the U.S with my group will be a lot of fun. I am looking forward to enjoying every second of it. I just want to say to the future IYLEPers, don’t worry at all! The visa interview is really the easiest step. Try to enjoy it and keep calm.
Written by: Ahmed Alaa, 2013 IYLEP participant from Baghdad
My mentor was a huge help to me. He told me about how his interview went. What kind of questions are going to be asked and he said I should remain calm and there’s nothing to worry about. Big thanks to you Hasan That’s for the mentor I contacted when I was filling the application. As far as for the mentors we met in the interview day. They were the most amazing people ever! They were so kind and compassionate they were like big brothers to us. They were so responsible and organized. We’re very lucky to have them. Huge thanks to the best mentors Sarkawt , Zain, Nawar, and Hussein.
To be quiet honest I was nervous about meeting other IYLEPers that day. I was worried about fitting in and such but all of that was gone the second I arrived. It was like having 31 brothers and sisters. I also met some of the IYLEPers I had met before on the day of my interview with Ms. Mayada. We never stopped talking and laughing with each other. They are truly amazing people. We’re still in contact we talk to each other pretty much every day.
It was A LOT easier than I expected it. The interview was literally only a few minutes long. It was like having a chat with an American friend. They asked simple and routine questions. Meeting other IYLEPers was so nerve-calming; it kept me calm and relaxed throughout the whole day.
I am from Baghdad and I live there so it wasn’t my first time but it was my first time visiting the Green Zone. It was a really nice experience.
For now, I can’t wait to reunite with my IYLEP family and spend some time with them and I daydream every once and a while about how it’s going to be when we go on the trip and work together. Who knew you can get so attached to people you’ve met for just one day?