Faith Aruwan (YES alumna 2012-2013, Nigeria, hosted by American Councils in Cedar Falls, IA) first came to Iowa as an exchange student. She left after that year with a second family, a second home, and a goal: to return to Iowa for higher education. Since her exchange year, Faith has returned to Iowa and shared her story about what it was like to be both an exchange student and a returned alumna.
The YES program selection process in my country of Nigeria was based on student academic and interview performance. I was fortunate enough to be among the top six students with the highest GPA in my high school sophomore class. We took an aptitude test to test our knowledge on general subjects. I qualified with a few of my friends, and we were invited to attend an interview in Benue state. The final step of the process was a one-on-one interview with representatives from IRIS. I and two of my friends were the only successful candidates from my state that year. I was very overwhelmed with joy, but nervous at the same time. I knew this was going to be an experience that would change my life forever.
I was placed in Cedar Falls, Iowa for the duration of my exchange year. I had heard a couple of things about Iowa, but not enough to say I was well informed. I kept a very open mind on what to expect because I knew everything was about to be a cultural shock. The first moment I stepped into Iowa, I had the best welcome from my host mother and sisters, Debbie, Sarah and Hannah Canady. I felt so welcomed, like I was already a part of the family. They gave me the best transition into a new culture.
During my exchange year, doors opened to so many opportunities I didn’t think were available to me. I started to create goals for myself, and I was willing to work hard to make them possible. The feeling of always being welcomed in the Iowa community is very nice. I knew it would be the right place for me. Over the course of my exchange year, I had built long lasting relationships, from my host family to my high school friends. Something I learned a great deal about was how I could achieve a lot if I believed in myself and put the work in. Both of my host parents were very encouraging and reassured me that I could achieve a lot, even returning to the states for college.
My feelings for Iowa have grown over the years to be better. My first time being in the state and the experience of coming to Iowa to spend a whole school year here was something I wasn’t sure exactly how to feel about it. The more I understood the culture and the community, the more my feelings grew for Iowa. I first grew a strong love for my host family, my next door neighbors – who also welcomed me as part of their family – the Kremers, and the entire community of Cedar Falls.
I returned to Iowa in January of 2016. I was two weeks late due to the late appointment for my visa, but my school was very understanding of the entire process. College is a lot different from high school because with high school, I had a lot of guidance from different people. There were people who made decisions on your behalf, but with college, most of the responsibility is on you. There is higher value and cost to keep progressing. I absolutely love college! It has made me strong and shown me what more I can do. I received a lot of help in college from faculty and staff. My housing was prepared and I had professors who were kind enough to start late due to my arrival. The student life board made sure I was involved with campus activities and assisted in any way needed.
My passion for volunteering when I returned to Iowa connected back to my high school exchange year, when I was first introduced to volunteer work. My host family made sure I fulfilled my volunteer requirements while still staying involved with sports and clubs. I understood and learned about the importance of giving. After my program, I became very active alumna in my state chapter. I planned and participated in as many different projects and community service workshops as I possibly could. Returning to college, I started volunteering the first week I resumed schools. I volunteered for the school choir three hours every week, as well as any activity that required help. I am still looking for more ways to volunteer to this day.
The more progress I have made, the more obstacles I’ve had to face. It’s not easy being an international student, for it is a lot of responsibility. You have to make sure your grades are in perfect standing, your forms are right with the government, you compete to get scholarships with residents or citizens, and you are paying the full price of college. In my situation, finances have always had a way of stressing me out and getting in the way of my progress. However, there are different ways mistakes can happen and you are forced to deal with consequences on a limited period of time.
I am currently majoring in Management Information Systems at Ellsworth Community College, and I plan to transfer to UNI to complete my studies. With my major, I hope to receive a degree and take on positions where I will develop and use my technological and career skills. I eventually want to develop into a position that allows me to continue my advancement in business and modern technology.
Doing all this without my family nearby is very hard, but I have goals and God giving me strength to face obstacles thrown my way to accomplish these goals. My advice to other exchange students looking to further their education is this: the journey is not going to get easier. There will be bumps, but remember to stay consistent and true to yourself. Don’t let difficult situations discourage you, and don’t be afraid to seek help. In the end, it will definitely be worth the journey.