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From Students to Mentors: YES Alumni Return to U.S. to Serve as Role Models to Civic Education Workshop Participants

CEW Alumni Mentors outside White House

Each year, the Civic Education Workshops (CEW) convene a cohort of participants from the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX), Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES), and Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) programs, hailing from various host communities across the United States, for an immersive exploration of American civil society in the nation’s capital. During the workshop, students engage in sessions on topics like First Amendment rights, grassroots activism, foreign policy, and leadership, equipping them with a deeper commitment to community service and civic engagement upon their return to their home countries.

For select FLEX and YES alumni, CEW represents a unique opportunity to revisit the United States and assume roles as program ambassadors and mentors to current participants. Alumni, drawn from diverse backgrounds and professions around the globe, are eager to impart the impact of their exchange experiences to the newest cohort of participants hosted on programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs (ECA). 

In March, American Councils for International Education staff met with program ambassadors who were mentoring YES students at the Civic Education Workshop to discuss their experiences returning to the United States in newfound leadership capacities.

Aziz Alkhalid, Saudi Arabia

Aziz Abdulaziz (Aziz) Alkhalid, a YES alumnus from Saudi Arabia, spent an academic year placed in Richmond, Indiana, in 2009. During the 13 years since Aziz’s time abroad, he has proven himself as a leader in the YES alumni community. Aziz considers himself a “close friend of the United States,” actively promoting YES throughout Saudi Arabia and maintaining ties to U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs. He served a four-year term as Vice President of the International Exchange Alumni Steering Committee, helping to advance U.S. Department of State cultural exchange initiatives in Saudi Arabia.

After earning his bachelor’s in chemical engineering, Aziz volunteered on a sustainable agriculture project in Morocco, sharing insights with the Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture and experts from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) Farm-to-Farmer program. He now holds a master’s in renewable energy from Cranfield University. 

When reflecting on his experience as a mentor, Aziz described stepping into this role at CEW as an incredible journey that allowed him to recognize his leadership potential. "It's been amazing to mentor these young, ambitious minds," Aziz shared, humbled by the impact his projects and work have had on YES students. "I believe being a mentor means being both a friend and a guide to these students."

Aziz’s life and career have been significantly shaped by his time as a YES alumnus, motivating him to seize every opportunity the program offers. Even more than a decade after his exchange year, he remains deeply grateful, which fuels his commitment to giving back through initiatives like CEW.

Offering advice to current exchange participants, Aziz emphasizes the importance of fully embracing the experience. In a world filled with distractions, he encourages participants to stay present, ask questions, and nurture their curiosity.

“Do your part and put your phone aside—have a conversation with the person next to you who is on the other side of the globe. Ask them good questions and listen to their answers.”

Nicky Mahoque, Mozambique

Nicky MaroqueVânia (Nicky) Mahoque, a 2018 YES alumna from Mozambique, attributes much of her professional journey to the impact of the YES program. During her time in Wisconsin, she volunteered with her host family, contributing over 100 hours to community service. Her dedication to giving back was nurtured by her American teachers and counselors at Neenah High School, who also recognized and encouraged her passion for architecture. Inspired by her host grandmother’s sewing business, Nicky has launched her own fashion brand called Nicky Mahoque. Today, she is pursuing a career in interior design and architecture.

Nicky has maintained strong ties to the YES program since her exchange year, engaging with prospective participants in Mozambique and playing a pivotal role in selecting and preparing YES students for their own exchange experiences.

Reflecting on her growth over the past six years since participating in CEW as a student in 2018, Nicky emphasized how her maturity since her own exchange year allowed her to recognize the impact she can have on current students.

"It's a profound experience to have 100 students look to you for inspiration," Nicky expressed. "Knowing that everything I say could truly impact these students' lives makes the experience intense, but it also feels like I'm part of something much bigger than myself."

Nicky recalled her time at CEW in 2018 as one of her first networking opportunities, which helped refine her interpersonal skills. She advises current participants to embrace this chance to develop their networking abilities during their exchange. “One of the biggest takeaways from CEW is that this experience will benefit participants in their career by teaching them how to be in a place where you don’t know anybody and still knowing how to connect with those people.”


Amina Meric, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Amina Meric, a 2020 YES alumna from Bosnia and Herzegovina, found mentoring for CEW to be a meaningful experience, evoking fond memories of her own participation in the workshop as a student.

Since completing her YES program, Amina has remained committed to embodying and promoting its core values. In her hometown of Brcko, Amina served as the YES City Representative, leading initiatives focused on mental health awareness and community support for underserved groups. She took on the role of YES Alumni Coordinator for Bosnia and Herzegovina, demonstrating her leadership within the alumni network. Currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in IT, Amina plans to continue her education with a master's in the same field.

Reflecting on her week as a peer mentor at CEW, Amina cherished the chance to connect with YES participants from around the globe. She emphasized the growth she experienced, transitioning from a student to a mentor role.

"One of my favorite moments while attending CEW as a student was interacting with the alumni mentors and listening to their panels," Amina shared. "I remember thinking back then how cool it would be to return in that capacity, so actually doing it was incredible."

Like her fellow alumni mentors, Amina underscores the significance of learning to connect and communicate across diverse backgrounds. She emphasizes the value of maintaining strong connections within the alumni community, highlighting how these relationships can support both personal and professional growth.

"Stay connected to your alumni community," Amina advises. "Participants may not realize the full benefits initially, but these connections can truly aid in both professional and personal development."

American Councils is appreciative of the expansive network of program alumni who serve as constant sources of inspiration for current participants, offering guidance as role models, mentors, and friends.

About Civic Education Workshops:

The Civic Education Workshops (CEW) are one-week programs in Washington, DC, funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs (ECA). The program provides an opportunity for students to gain a better understanding of some of the key concepts and values that are an integral part of U.S. society and culture. Participants learn firsthand about the U.S. federal system of government and other important concepts through seminar discussions, briefings, and meetings on Capitol Hill.