Yes to YES Abroad


Marcus Matthews, Reporter

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to go to school in another country? How the educational system and culture impact daily life? If this sounds like you, the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study program might be the perfect fit. The selective program awards 65 scholarships to students in grades 9 through 12 across the United States. The initiative aims to strengthen ties between the United States and the host countries.

The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study Program, also known as YES Abroad, was established by the US Congress in October 2002 in response to one of America’s most tragic events: 9/11. As a result of the attack, Muslims faced severe discrimination and violent hate crimes. Subsequently, YES Abroad was created, a program designed to break down any existing obstacles between the United States and nations with large Muslim populations. YES Abroad is open to any high school student with an unquenchable thirst for learning. 

Accepted students stay in their host country for the entire school year. They are able to choose from 15 total nations, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Morocco, North Macedonia, the Philippines, Senegal, Thailand, and Turkey. Students live with host families and attend local schools. They are completely immersed in the food, culture, and language of their new homes. 

The scholarship covers everything from round-trip airfare to lively cultural activities. Not only that, the program provides a monthly allowance. While abroad, students are considered youth ambassadors of the US. They are expected to break down stereotypes, learn their host country’s values and traditions, and teach others about American society. 

The application process begins in November, requiring applicants to respond to five essay prompts including high school transcript upload, extracurricular activities, leadership positions, and award recognitions. Final applications are due by December and students who passed the first phase are given semi-finalist status. To advance to the second phase, applicants must undergo a virtual interview answering six personality and academic-based questions. Afterwards, the selection process is completed, and admissions are emailed in March and April.

Dianne Barahona Bonilla, a sophomore at Briar Woods, was recently accepted into the program. She mainly applied because she “values perspective and [she feels] as if language is the key to understanding the world.” What better way to learn than a complete immersion program? She says she is looking forward to learning everything she can from the 10-month-long visit to Thailand. 

YES Abroad has more than 13,000 alumni around the world and another million alumni from sister programs. If a 10-month long program sounds like far too long, NSLI-Y’s seven-week summer program may be the ideal option. It is similar to YES Abroad in that it promotes cultural education and leadership for students, and is open to all current high schoolers. The program, however, is more language-focused than country. The same application process is required and the program offers a total of eight languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Persian, Russian, and Turkish. 

Whether you choose NSLI-Y or YES Abroad, both programs offer once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. All expenses are covered and all scholarships are awarded solely based on merit. Registration for the 2022-23 programs is already closed, but if you’re looking for an academic adventure, consider applying for one (or both) programs for the 2023-24 school year at and