Ghalia Aamer is from Edmonton, Alberta. She participated in the Youth Ambassadors program between Canada and the United States from July 16-August 6, 2017. The program begins in Ottawa, travels to Plattsburgh, New York, and completes in Washington, D.C.
When I received the phone call from Dr. Christopher Kirkey at SUNY Plattsburgh regarding an interview for the Youth Ambassadors program, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After having found out about the application a mere two days prior to the deadline, I was surprised yet overjoyed to receive an interview. Speaking to Dr. Kirkey truly solidified my interest in the program and I was filled with excitement when told I was accepted. Looking over the itinerary and list of other students coming, I was quite nervous going into the program especially because I didn’t know anyone else. Travelling for three weeks was new and different for me, but my communications with the staff over email truly made me look forward to the adventure.
It was almost midnight on July 16, 2017 as I took the escalator down to the baggage area in the Ottawa airport. That was where I first met Amy and Tom, staff of the Youth Ambassadors program. I felt so welcomed right from the start and within minutes I started meeting other members of the program. I immediately bonded with one of the girls and I knew I was in for a really fun time over the next three weeks.
The next day we walked over to Gatineau, Quebec and visited the Canadian Museum of History after having a delicious breakfast at a local restaurant. The next two days in Ottawa went by really fast as I mingled with the students from all around Canada, visited the U.S. Embassy and started to make the best of friends. While there were several highlights of the trip, my favourite part during our time in Ottawa was the visit to the U.S. Embassy. Meeting with officials, learning about my peers’ community service ideas, and gaining insight on Canada-U.S. relations was an awesome way to kick off the program.
Soon enough, it was time to head to the United States and meet our homestay families in Plattsburgh, New York. The bus ride went by in the blink of an eye and it wasn’t long before we were discovering the names of our host families. I had never experienced living with a complete stranger before and now I was about to stay at another person’s house for twelve days with a couple girls who I met only two days earlier. As my house sisters, Molly, Bryanna, and I drove away with our host mom, Marjorie, I was filled with anxiety and nervousness, but that definitely didn’t last long. Marjorie was so welcoming and I felt at home within an instant. We sat in the living room of a British style home and we shared our stories with each other. I learned about my host mom’s journey to America and I told her about my parents immigrating to Canada. That evening, we went for a walk around downtown Plattsburgh where we interacted with many local people and got to know the place. Plattsburgh started to feel like my second home by the time I went to bed that night.
The next several days involved a daily walk to SUNY Plattsburgh where we heard from a wide range of speakers every single day. From topics such as diversity to how the press works to meeting with government officials, there wasn’t a single presentation where I wasn’t engaged. Working with the Youth Ambassadors staff, I was able to meet with a doctor at the hospital as well as someone well versed in business, both of which allowed me to explore my potential career interests. While learning about community service, diversity, and inclusion alongside multiple other ideas, I was also able to enjoy the homestay. Whether it be saying grace before dinner, sharing stories about my family with my host mom, or pool parties at another host family’s place, every single experience was so memorable and something I could never forget.
Washington, D.C. was definitely a great way to conclude the exchange. My favourite part of the time in the city was the visit to the Canadian Embassy. It was amazing to see how connected Canada is with the United States as well as how welcoming the embassy is for Canadians who live in America. Tours of monuments and visits to the Capitol and White House all gave me insight into the variety of different aspects surrounding governmental relations and community service. On the final day, hearing presentations of my fellow fifteen ambassadors about their community service projects really helped me see how much we had each grown throughout the trip.
The community service project is a vital part of the Youth Ambassadors program. Over the three week exchange, I worked with two outstanding adult mentors (also from Canada) to formulate my project. While my initial project regarding autism awareness did not work out as I had hoped, with continuing support from my adult mentors, I was able to focus myself towards another initiative I am truly passionate about – public speaking. As of now, I am collaborating with people across my province to enhance the opportunities for debate and public speaking especially for French speaking students and those in schools without debate clubs as well as connecting different cities, both rural and urban in expanding the debate communities.
The biggest takeaway from my trip was undoubtedly to cherish my time, no matter where it is spent and to give back to my community within that time. The three weeks with the Youth Ambassadors program went by in a flash. I made friends that I know will last forever, and I learned about important aspects that affect my life. I am so grateful for the opportunity that I had and wouldn’t have spent my summer any other way.
The Youth Ambassadors program is hosted by SUNY Plattsburgh, funded by the U.S. Embassy Ottawa, and administered by Fulbright Canada and World Learning. To learn about applying as a youth participant or as an adult mentor, please visit www.plattsburgh.edu/cesca/youthleadership.php