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YES Abroad Alumni Spotlight: Leah Whitmoyer
By Leah Whitmoyer, YES Abroad 2019-2020, Morocco
What are some of your biggest accomplishments since becoming an alum of the YES Abroad program?
One of my biggest accomplishments since YES Abroad was getting to research sustainable agriculture in Jordan, funded by the Boren Award. I got to expand on the Arabic skills that I started developing in Morocco and got to see its intersection with my interests in sustainable agriculture. Just generally, getting to learn new Arabic dialects, and continue using my Moroccan Arabic has been such an honor and feels like a wonderful accomplishment that I hope to continue building on. I also feel accomplished in how I’ve kept in touch with my cohort, my Moroccan host family, and my Moroccan friends. It has been so lovely to reconnect with them when visiting Morocco, or to send a couple whatsapp voice messages. Learning how to keep these long-distance friendships alive is such a rewarding aspect of returning from exchange.
What are some of your favorite memories from the YES Abroad program?
I have so many lovely memories of olive picking in Taounate, eating Msemen ba3sl, the delicious flaky Moroccan pastry with honey down the street from Amideast, spending hours in cafes with new friends, running errands with my lovely language partner Imane, and eating endless tagines with my host family. Some of my favorite memories I think about most are the routines I built in Morocco. Every weekend, I would visit the nearby Hammam, or public bath, and would spend up to 3 hours scrubbing my skin, deep washing my hair, and enjoying the steam room. Sometimes I’d go with my host sister or language partner, but sometimes alone and it became a lovely part of my routine and a great way to engage with Moroccan culture.
What are some of the ways you’ve stayed connected to fellow alumni since your exchange experience? What about your host family or friends that you met abroad?
The YES Abroad alumni community has been such a wonderful group of people to get to know since returning home. I’ve gotten to meet other YES Abroad Morocco alum during my last summer internship in DC and have stayed really close with my cohort. My language partner in Morocco, Imane, is an alum of the YES inbound program and she spent her year in Connecticut, and so just being able to bond over being an exchange student during my time in Morocco and getting to keep in touch has been really lovely.
Most recently, during my semester abroad in Jordan, I was connected to the Jordanian YES alumni and got to volunteer with them in Amman, and as expected, they were so welcoming and just a great group of people to know during my time in Amman.
My host mom and I continue to send WhatsApp voice messages to each other regularly, and I got to stay with my host family for a week last year when I returned to Morocco to visit.
How did the YES Abroad program impact you professionally? What about personally?YES Abroad introduced me to a region and careers that I otherwise would have known very little about. The opportunity to immerse myself in Moroccan Arabic gave me the confidence and skills to continue studying Arabic. Even after studying Standard Arabic and the Jordanian dialect, I always come back to love the Moroccan dialect.
YES Abroad set the foundation for me to continue studying in the MENA region and hopefully pursue a career that will allow me to continue making connections there. Some of the trips we took during my exchange year are still ones I reflect on when thinking about my future. My cohort spent a weekend on an olive farm in rural Morocco and my capstone project researched a women’s land rights movement. I now study biological science and agriculture and these experiences in Morocco were some of the first that made me interested in this field.
What is one piece of advice you would give to current or future YES Abroad program participants?
Try the things you never thought you’d be interested in! So many new experiences and opportunities are waiting to be had on YES Abroad. There were times I felt hesitant to try something new but now those memories are ones I cherish or are at least a funny story.
In 10, 20, or even 30 years, what do you hope the legacy of the YES Abroad program will be?
I think the YES Abroad program will continue developing globally-minded students and hopefully the program will expand to have more students participating and more countries!