Did you know that 66% of US households own a pet? For many exchange students, this is one of many cultural differences they encounter during their time spent in America. In some cultures, pets are very uncommon, and some students may even have fears of sharing their home with a furry friend. But with time and treats, exchange students and pets usually become fast friends, and students end up trying to find a way to sneak their host pet into their luggage when they return home.
Youssef is an exchange student from Morocco and a recipient of the Kennedy Lugar YES Scholarship. Before meeting the Ward family in Tennessee, he had never experienced life with a pet. But since becoming part of the family, he’s found joy from spending time with his host pets. Here’s what he’s had to say about his experience so far:
“I love animals, but I was always so scared to touch them or approach them. In Morocco, it’s not very common to have a pet and to treat them as a member of the family, especially dogs, so the YES Program was a great opportunity to fight my fear and learn to live in a family where pets are as important as humans.
When I left Morocco, I had an orientation in Washington DC before I joined my host family. There, I met a lot of people from different countries: Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Mali, USA, Cameroon… Everyone was so kind and friendly, and I had the chance to make a lot of friends! During the classes, we learned a lot of information about life in the US, including how to behave in front of a pet.
We also had the opportunity to meet some people who introduced their pets to us to make us feel comfortable with pets. It was a little bit difficult for me, but I managed to pet them. Some of them were so cute and sweet, and others were very cool! I realized that they’re not dangerous at all and that they could be as friendly as people. I really loved this! It was so exciting! It was a very beautiful experience! I thought that after that, I would no longer be afraid to approach a pet.
Then, the moment every exchange student waits for had finally arrived. I was going to join my host family! I was very excited, but a little bit stressed too. I didn’t know if I could live up to my family’s expectations, but I discovered that they were so nice, so sympathetic, that I loved them right away. I’ve only been here three weeks now, and I have already had so many experiences. One of them was with their dogs, now my dogs too! They are Mia and Cooper. Even after the beautiful experience in Washington DC, I was a little scared when I first walked into the house I will spend many months in, and I saw Cooper and Mia coming to me, barking at me. However, I quickly got used to them. Ten minutes later, I was having fun with Cooper in the living room! Now, I love them as if I have known them all my life! Here in my host family, dogs are treated like humans. We have to take care of them, give them attention… they are like my brothers and sisters! It has been a great experience!
Mia and Cooper can be annoying sometimes, but they’re very amusing, friendly, and fascinating in their own way. For example, Cooper usually cries in the morning next to my room to wake me up so I can give him attention, and play with him. Cooper is very energetic! He loves to play and move around the house, he never gets tired! He is not human! While Mia is calm, loves to lie with my dad on the sofa, and watch a good Netflix series. She loves dad, but she comes to me when I have food. I love Cooper and Mia, my new host dogs!”
Host mom Lynn has enjoyed watching Youssef and her pets bond, and has been there to help them get more comfortable with each other.
“I think at first, Youssef was a little nervous around the dogs. To help with the adjustment, I have shown him how we treat our dogs and how they are just as much a part of our family as we all are. We talked about the difference between Americans and other countries regarding animals. I believe he’s starting to understand that better. I told him that our dog Cooper smiles, and he didn’t believe me at first. But then one night he was playing with Cooper and Youssef got so excited, saying ‘Look! Cooper is smiling.’ I have helped show him how we treat our pets, how we play with them, hold them, and love them. Now, Youssef likes to run all over the backyard with Cooper, and is trying to teach him how to fetch!
I’ve learned from Youssef that people in Morocco don’t have pets and that dogs have to fend for themselves for food and shelter. Learning about these differences has shown me how important it is to explain the role of our pets and how we treat them to our students early on so that they understand the importance of our animals to our family.”
Give your pet the gift of a new friend, and help a young person experience life with a pet! High school exchange students are eager to learn about a new way of life and share their own culture and background with their American family. Learn more about hosting an exchange student today!
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