Aleksis explains why the Albanian flag has an eagle with two heads on it.

Albanian Enthusiasm During IEW

International Education Week (IEW) was one of the most amazing experiences that I've had in the United States so far! In the beginning of the year, I set up with almost all of my teachers to present for their classes, and I also told my friends a little bit about IEW and its importance. My first presentation was for an international potluck that my coordinator organized. My whole cluster presented our home countries for her family and our respective host families. We also cooked and shared national dishes! With the help of my host family I made fërgesë, a national side dish with cottage cheese and veggies. It was delicious!

When the time came, I started presenting in all of my classes, one by one, and my heart filled with love, as I heard my friends and teachers ask questions and I saw their facial expressions while I spoke. I also brought Albanian currency that I passed around. The outcome of my presentations was so, so amazing! Many of my friends came up to me and told me that they wanted to visit Albania someday, and I'm currently working to help a friend apply for the YES Abroad program, which I mentioned and described in all of my presentations. 

My English teacher dedicated two class periods to my presentation on my home country! First, I presented myself in Albanian, showed my friends how it's written, and then taught them how to count to ten. The next day, I gave my PowerPoint presentation and everyone was so excited! Right after class, my teacher asked me to help him connect with my local coordinator and told me that he and his family really wanted to host an exchange student with PAX. He said that my presentation made him realize how beautiful cultural exchange really is. I felt very proud and grateful.

Outside of school, I arranged to present for my family's church ward, as well as my local coordinator's preschool class. The little ones were so happy! I played a traditional Albanian game with them, and then I read a story. They were all paying attention and asking questions! It made me so glad! I can't help but feel immense gratitude for this experience.

My American friends and relatives weren’t the only ones to learn from and during International Education Week. This week inspired me to offer to make dinner for my host family more often, so that I get to cook national dishes for them, as well as to help them out. It inspired me to talk more about my culture as I submerge myself in the American one.

Though I didn't change the whole population of the United States, it makes me so happy to know that someone out there, somewhere, knows where Albania is and why our flag has a two headed eagle on it. 

Luckily, there are many exchange students all over America right now and this week helped me realize the impact that each and every one of us has on their host community! I am well aware that my journey as an ambassador of my home country and culture is ongoing, so I'll continue making national dishes, giving presentations, and answering everyone's questions throughout this year and beyond! 

—Aleksis (YES, Albania), hosted by the Gwilliam family (UT)