Annastazia Rutatina (YES alumna 2007-2008, Tanzania, hosted by IRIS in Pella, IA) recently wrote in to us to share what she misses most from her exchange year in Iowa. Annastazia was one of the first students to be a part of the Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program when it was established in Tanzania. As she mentions, the implementing of the program was a new experience for both herself and her community.
My name is Annastazia Rutatina, and I am from Tanzania. I am currently getting a Master’s degree in water engineering in Algeria. I once participated in a YES program from 2007 to 2008. I was part of the first group from Tanzania for the program.
It was a frightening but also daring moment when I decided to join the program. Such programs were new in Tanzania, especially in my community. Most people didn’t understand the program or know what they meant back then. It was like introducing a new culture to the community.
I was placed in Iowa, living in the town of Pella with a sweet single and independent mother. Her name is Bev Meyer, but I call her Mom Bev. I am so grateful to have her in my life. She has not been only a host parent but a close, forever friend. She helped me fit in the community and learn a lot about Iowa. We visited seven other states to be precise.
I have a lot of memories from Iowa. I remember prom, homecoming, the church community, sports, school courses, community service, weather challenges and local community festivals. I would love to share some of the things I miss from Iowa.
The first thing I miss is the people of Iowa. They are very friendly and conservative. People in Pella like to learn from other people and respect their culture. I felt safe and loved by people in Pella from the families, students, youth groups and the entire community. They helped me get over homesickness very quickly and made me feel at home. I will always miss this moment.
Also, the food was amazing! I couldn’t get over having fresh sweet corn. It has been my favorite ever since, followed by walking tacos. Generally, I loved the food in America! The following were my all-time good foods and best places to eat in Iowa: pepperoni pizza, cotton candy, chicken drumsticks, spaghetti and meatballs, Rozania, meatball sandwiches, Salady, KFC, Smoky Row, Chinese and Italian restaurants and Subway.
I have also missed meeting up with different groups of people. When I was in Iowa, I had different groups of people to meet with at all different times and days. There were also different activities within the groups. My favorite group activity was teaching middle school kids from Peace Church. These kids were so lovely. We sang, snacked and played together.
Another group was a group of elderly people from church (50+ group) in which I helped organize the place and sharing stories about me and my country. We ate some traditional snacks and played games. My third favorite was a youth group where we met up for singing and watching movies together.
The unique part of it all was my choir class and joining Pella High School tennis team. We had an amazing choir. We used to compete with other school choirs, having one spring and one winter concerts. Iowa people will come to the concert to support and enjoy. I found this very amazing and different.
The very last part I would like to talk about is Tulip Time, or the Tulip Festival in Pella. This festival happens every April in Pella. Many people in Pella come from Dutch origin and culture. The Tulip Festival is about enjoying the Dutch culture in America. People from all over the United States come to Pella to learn, explore and enjoy the moment. There are a lot of tulips around the city, a Dutch clock tower, windmills, and everyone wears Dutch costumes and eats Dutch food during the festival. There are also different exhibitions and museums.
If you asked me today, “Do you regret joining the program,” my answer would be very positive and so certain. “No, I don’t regret it. I think this is one of the greatest decisions I have ever made.” I was young and ambitious then, and this program helped me to explore other great characteristics I had. It showed me what I could do as a person.
There are a lot of things in Iowa; it’s hard not to miss it! It’s a beautiful state, rich in culture. Iowa and Pella will always be in my heart, and I miss them dearly.