Words From Students

Special thank you to special people

My name is Salma Muslim. I am an exchange student from Pakistan, placed in Rushford-Peterson, Minn. It’s been almost nine of the amazing, life changing and memorable months I have ever spent in my life. This year is, without a doubt, enhancing my personality and enriching my mind and knowledge.

For me, transition from Pakistan High School into American High School was one of the most exciting aspects on my exchanging year, a journey I’ll sure cherish. Coming where your teacher changes the classroom to where the moment the bell rings, the hallways are flooded with students going to their next class, it was embracing.

The first day at Rushford-Peterson High School was the most memorable day ever. As usual, I forgot to take with my information file from home, so my host mom brought my file to the office. Before she was back, my counselor brought me to my class after discussion about my choice of classes.

As this year is not counted as an education year for me, when I go back I will be a junior again. I was asked in my interview for being an exchange student, “This year is not counted as an educational year for you, but you will get to see new culture, you are losing one year of your life.” My response was, “I am not going to lose a year of my life but for sure I am going to live my whole life within this one year.” And I was true, as experiencing a very different culture and sharing about my country has been honored for me. A female who cannot go outside alone, and a male (father or brother) should be with her, can now at the age of 16, have traveled alone to the other side of the world.

I am glad and thankful that I am blessed with parents and family who trust me and have confidence in me and programs like YES (Youth Exchange and Study) helped me to come this far.

Now having two families is something which everyone is not blessed with. I always had a dream to do something different but we know better that there are obstacles everywhere.

I want to be a cardiologist but it seems like it’s just a dream, nothing else. My parents can’t afford to send me to the college of my dreams. I want to come back and go to college in USA. Still praying I hope one day I will get help and my dream will come true. I am very happy with what I have and I pray for strengths.

My exchange year has given me many things. Things that are not bought with money, friends and a new family. As now it is about the end of my exchange year and it is hard to believe that time runs this fast. So far, I gave 23 presentations about my country to my high school and different clubs like 4-H.

I have done 120 hours of community service (volunteering). It has been my routine to go to the nursing home on every Wednesday after school and spend my time from 4-7 p.m. visiting the residents, playing games, and taking them to their supper, drawing and painting. It has been fun for me. And giving my study hall to second grade at my high school, listening to kids reading stories to me and sharing about my culture has been just awesome.

I am going to miss everyone a lot once I am back to my home country Pakistan. It has been an honor for me being part of speech, choir and having different classes at my high school. It was a great feeling getting Superior, Best in Sight and Perfect scores in choir concert and getting my Excellent award for performance and a letter from my high school.

I want to thank every single one who have special part in my life and have helped me make my exchange year a perfect exchange ever. Thank you to my biological parents back in my country. Thank you to YES and ACES and a very special thank you to my local coordinator Mrs. Donna Ryan, my host family (Sylvia and Jeff Passow, my host siblings Sarah Bearbower, Anna Rae Nelson, Delane Horning), My high school principle Jake Timm, my teachers Mr. Dan Mlsna, Mr. Mike Honken, Mr. Duane Koenen, Mrs. Sam Cunningham, Mr. Forrest Mussleman, Mrs. Bethany Engen, Mr. Mitch Thompson and Mrs. Jenny Helgemoe and all office staff, students and related people. Thank you to Lenora Powell and Bybee family for their good friendship.

Special thanks to Rushford, Peterson and Spring Grove communities for making my exchange year awesome. Now I am not only Pakistan Ambassador, but also your Ambassador representing America in Pakistan. Thank you for all your love and care. And thank you for your time for reading and I hope you can forward my message to everyone by posting my message. Thank you again. I appreciate your kindness.

Salma Muslim


I think the most important thing I’ve learned (during my exchange year) is to talk about it. You can’t just keep everything to yourself. It is very hard for us to cope with all these changes, we come to  new country, live with a new family and speack a new language . Then we get used to it and suddenly before we even know it, it’s almost time to leave. If you talk to somebody about it it will help tremendously.

Rima G., Tunisia


I don’t like football. To me soccer is the game. But for the past 3 months I have watched more high school football games than I can count. This because my host brother is a starting linebacker. To me football is not about who wins or not, or how cold it is. Football is about seeing my host brother out there doing his part. And I know he appreciates my coming. We have become closer since.

Cyril G., Ghana


I just wanted to thank you for an amazing year and to say that you guys have changed me for the better. I am student leader in my school and I have been doing well in my studies. This all thanks to you guys especially my coordinator Val who has made me believe in myself. I can still remember her last words before I took the plane to Washington: “Lesh you are the brightest girl in the world.” I hope to be attached to ACES in one way or another because you will remain my first step to my bright future ahead.

Leah T., Kenya


Being with a host family is like having that trust and faith just like it is your own family. Despite being on the other side of the globe and in a different culture, I have been blessed with a great family. It is a great feeling to know that someone has my back in every circumstance. The trust and love start building once you start spending time together. And once you build that trust you no longer feel like you are in a different country.

There are many practical reasons for living with a host family as well. Firstly, we are here to have an American experience and living with American people is the best way to do that. It is impossible to get a total American experience living in the dorm with the people from your own origin. Secondly, living with a host family provides that discipline factor in the life which helps deal with peer pressure and realize our priorities. And lastly, host family is a relationship that lasts forever and you know that you will always have people who care for you even are away.

Due to these benefits, living with a host family is definitely a decision worth making.

Amol, India


“I learned a lot about the American culture, the language and a lot of other stuff. My host family was so good to me, and they opened my eyes in a really good way.”

E.O. Turkey


“I was so excited and happy to meet my host family at the airport. I had tears in my eyes when I hugged them!!!”

Pankti, India


“I’ve gained lots of different experience which changed me to a responsible and independent man and helped me grow faster.”

Zhangshui, China


Hello, I want to send this letter to you after we met for the last time. It was an unforgettable experience to be in the USA, to meet new people, to make awesome friends, to see amazing placed and cities, to speak in different language, to attend a completely different school and to learn as much as possible about this culture. You know that there were some days when I cried and felt terribly homesick but on the other hand there were some days which were the best in my life. I am writing this letter because I would really like to thank you. You did an excellent job being my local coordinator, you took a great care of me and you gave me really important advice for my life. It was a great feeling when you came to see me to the airport when I came here- because I knew that there was someone that will try to be my friend for the rest of this semester and try to help me. I can’t imagine being here without you! All the nights I spend in your house, all the time when you drove me to Ann Arbor, and all those fantastic parties that ACES had. Now I think that ACES is the best exchange organization ever and I will recommend it to all my friends in Slovakia. Once again (the last time), thank you for everything!

Thank you, your exchange student,



Varun is scheduled to return to India on 12th of May after completing the one year Cultural program. I would be failing in my duty if I do not thank you and your organization for Varun’s transformation into a man from a kid during his one year’s stay in Arkansas. The arrangements made were perfect and every individual he came across in USA made him feel absolutely at home. It is a tribute to the people of USA and our gratitude may kindly be conveyed to his host family, his Local Coordinator, his teachers, his Principal, school staff and every one in your organization. Varun will of course carry fond memories of his stay that will remain with him all his life.

Father of Varun, India