Through the U.S. Department of State, the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program gives high school students, between the ages of 15-17, the opportunity to live and study for an academic year in the United States.
There are currently 29 Lebanese Youth Ambassadors doing an exchange year in the U.S. through the YES program, according to Lea Abdel Khalek, a Lebanese participant in the program who has shared her experience with 961.
During the year, the participants, coming from countries with Muslim populations, live with a host family, attend an American high school, and acquire education and new skills.
They also get to promote their own cultures while engaging in activities to learn more about U.S. values.
Applicants then compete for the YES scholarship through a rigorous selection process.
Established in October 2002 as a response to the tragic event of 9/11, the YES program provides scholarships each year for 885 high school students from various countries, including Lebanon, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Egypt, Kuwait, Macedonia, Tanzania, and more.
The program was launched in Lebanon in 2003, aiming to expand communication between Americans and Lebanese and promote understanding and respect.
The YES program also provides Civic Education Workshop in Washington, DC., which grants the finalists a visit to the U.S. Department of State and participation in seminars on the U.S. federal and state government systems.
They also get the opportunity to visit Capitol Hill and meet with the host states’ Senators and House Representatives.
Lea Abdel Khalek told 961 that she has served as a Social Media Specialist Lebanese, the only one from Lebanon, for the Civic Education Workshop.
“During the two workshops combined, they had over 150 students travel to Washington DC from their many host communities throughout the country,” she said. “And out of the 150 students, only 13 were selected as Social media Specialists.”
She shared that most of her friends in the program were accepted to the National Honor Society and maintained a 4.0 GPA while playing professional sports in American High Schools.
They also took on leadership positions in school clubs in their host community.
“The Yes Program truly changed my life. Representing Lebanon at only 16 has been an opportunity I’m honored I had,” Lea Abdel Khalek told 961.
“The amount of stereotypes and assumptions that the country’s name carries is wrongfully describing us. When Americans think of Lebanon, they think of the wars, the explosion, and the revolution,” she said.
“However, they don’t know the hospitality, generosity, and congeniality of the Lebanese people. They don’t know the youth and how much they strive for change and betterment. I’m lucky to be able to change that perception for people in my American Community,” she added.
The application period for YES 2022-23 has concluded. However, interested high-schoolers can check the website in fall 2022 for more information on how to apply to the 2023-24 YES program.