Samira’s Story – “My cheeks hurt from smiling!”

“What not be the one to act?”

Hello, I am Samira from Ghana, placed in Richmond, Maine and I would like to share my story to bring a spark to the eyes of exchange students (future or current).

Unlike many exchange students, I was placed in an academy:  The Maine Arts Academy. This is a school based on arts–singing, acting, dancing, and many other talents but it also offered core classes. My school has an immense passion for art hence, there was no room for sports at my school. Honestly, in the beginning, I was a little sad because I wanted to participate in basketball. However, I did not let that demoralize me. At my new school, I was required to pick a major. I remember being asked on my first day what my major was and I said Biology and Chemistry. A little embarrassing? Now, a funny memory. I took a pause and reflected on myself… How much I liked to sing even though I was not good at it.  How much I liked to watch movies even though I criticize some acting skills. I then thought to myself, “why not be the one to act?’’

“Every day is mesmerizing”

After my first week of attending my American high school, I loved it! My art classes feel like a break from reality and the scenery at my school makes me feel as though I am in some American high school movie. I mean for the pep rally, we had performances from the students in the hall. It was amazing, their vocals were awesome! Every morning at school, we are welcomed with the beautiful sound of a cello by our Biology teacher. At lunch, we are entertained with musical performances by any student who wishes to sing. Every day is simply mesmerizing!

Samira and her cello-playing Biology teacher

On my second week of school, I was required to perform my first five minutes play with my class partner in my Intro to Acting class. After rehearsing the short script for about 30 minutes, it was time to stage it and I did just that. I was a bit nervous, but I mustered up the courage and did it. A lady from the office was by chance present and saw my performance. After school, on my way to the bus, she called me and informed me she had nominated me and some other students to participate in an upcoming workshop mainly for Black, Indigenous People Of Colour (BIPOC) theater students. At that immediate moment, I was stunned. When I got home, I found out she had sent an email to my host mom. It was a two-day event.

Samira reading through a script

“The best experience ever”

My host mom is a Regional Manager for Greenheart. This means she is very busy and has a lot of work to do with other exchange students and their host families. But as soon as she found out about my workshop, she planned her whole two days around my activity. The workshop was at 4:30 pm on 3rd November 2021. My mom drove an hour to pick me up from school, and drove me to the workshop which was another hour from my school. At the workshop, I got the opportunity to meet the actor of the play, Cartography. We learned about what the Cartography play was about, how the idea came about, shared our cultural background, history, family, tribes through acting and games we played and how we were all currently in America. I also met students from other schools who were the same age as me and looked like me (religion and color). It was the best experience ever.

Samira in the acting workshop

“I was on the moon”

After the workshop, we were presented with tickets to watch the play the following day. I was asked if I wanted to bring anyone along with me and I said, ”Yes, my host family”. I could not believe my eyes. They gave me four tickets. I was on the moon! When my host mom picked me up, I told her about my day and the tickets and she was happy for me and agreed to go together as a family.

The next day after school, my host dad picked me up at the gas station since my mom was making dinner. We got home, dressed up, had dinner, and left for the performance. The Merrill Auditorium was huge and beautiful. I had never seen anything like that before. We arrived early and were ushered in. We found our seats –right in front. They had loud music on which I continuously tapped my feet to. Then, to my surprise, they began to play a song from my country. OMG! This was the least coincidence that could have happened. Then after, they performed the play. I loved the entire performance and everything that happened within those 48 hours.

My cheeks hurt from smiling

It was the best experience ever! After the show, I met with the characters, thanked and congratulated them. I also had the opportunity to see the governor of my state there. On our way home, I could not stop smiling and felt my cheeks hurt.

It was the best moment of my life. I appreciate my family, YES program, and school for this experience.


THANK YOU Samira for sharing your story!  

If you spark to this story and want to help a foreign exchange student’s dreams come true, consider being a host family.  Learn more about hosting an international exchange student.

The U.S. Department of State’s Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program provides high school students from countries with significant Muslim populations the opportunity to live and study for an academic year in the United States. Applicants compete for YES scholarships through a rigorous, merit-based selection process. Those who win scholarships live with American host families, attend high school, and engage in community service and civic education activities.  YES students serve as youth ambassadors of their home country, promoting mutual understanding and forming lasting relationships with their host families and communities.  They have the opportunity to learn about U.S. society and values and also help educate Americans about their home country and culture.  The YES program was established by Congress in October 2002 in response to the events of September 11, 2001.  Learn more about the YES Program and the scholarships that help students like Samira experience the U.S. way of life.