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Meet West Hartford’s AFS Students: Cyrine Okbi from Tunisia

Cyrine in Central Park. Courtesy photo

This is the third article in the 2018-19 academic year series ‘Opening our homes and minds: West Hartford’s AFS foreign exchange students and their host families.’

Cyrine and Federico (another AFS student) in Times Square. Courtesy photo

Interviewed and edited by Jamie Cohen, AFS volunteer (now), host sister (1980s) and returnee from Japan (1984)

Meet Cyrine Okbi from Tunis, Tunisia. She is one of six AFS foreign exchange students at Conard this school year. She won a prestigious Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (KL-YES) scholarship from the U.S. State Department to study in the U.S. She is here through the AFS program.

Hi, Cyrine! Tell us about yourself.

Hi! I’m an exchange student from Tunisia. I like writing, reading, and meeting nice people. I’m a senior at Conard. Even though I come from a pretty traditional family back home, I am living here with a single host mom, who I love, and have no siblings. I went from having three sisters to now having one furry (puppy) brother. And I like it.

Why did you want to be a YES exchange student?

There are 39 students from Tunisia in the U.S., and 1,000 people applied for the program. For once, I’m not only going to be responsible for me – I’m representing my country, my program, and my organization. It will help me develop leadership skills. Being in another country makes me think differently and from another mindset – making me take more notice of my surroundings.

Did you choose the U.S.?

I wanted to come to the U.S. because I thought the country was so diverse, and that I would learn about myself from meeting different kinds of people in the U.S.

Cyrine (right) and Achraf (another AFS student) in traditional dress. Courtesy photo

What are the biggest cultural differences between Tunisia and here?

Things are definitely bigger here. It seems that things are familiar, but very different. Like food – some of the ingredients are the same, but the way they are put together is different. I am constantly surprised. And school is very different. You have so much choice in what you study – you are free, and it’s personalized. They don’t try to shape you into something. The teachers and students don’t have a barrier between them. And I think students are much more active here.

What have you liked about Connecticut and West Hartford?

I think the people are so nice, and so curious. There are so many people supporting the exchange students and me. It makes me feel really welcome. The nature here is beautiful. I think that West Hartford is the perfect mixture between city and the countryside.

What do you do outside of school here?

I joined the Improvisational Theatre club at school and also the Teen Advisory Board for the West Hartford Public Library. I love to read and think that it will be great to do something that benefits the community. I want to become more involved in the West Hartford community, and am excited to do even more.

What would you like people reading this to know about:

Tunisia: It’s a beautiful country. The people are very welcoming and open. It has a lot more to offer than you see on the Internet – a Google search won’t tell you enough about Tunisia. I hope you all come visit.

Hosting an AFS exchange student: Hosting is really enriching. It helps you develop a sense of understanding of other cultures. You don’t need a “traditional” family – you need someone who is committed to be there for the exchange student and welcome them into your home.

Being an AFS exchange student: It’s definitely worth trying. It will make you see the world through different eyes – our world is very diverse and being an exchange student will make you live in it fully. It will make you live more than just your life, and help you live the life you were meant to live.

About AFS:

If you are interested in hosting an exchange student for the 2018-19 school year, or if your high-school aged student would like to participate in an AFS exchange, please contact Jamie Cohen at [email protected] or visit AFSUSA.org.

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