Days passed after the interview and Mohamad El Osman or “Moe” as he likes to be called waited in anticipation for a phone call. Moe said, “We made a group chat with many of the applicants, and a few days after the interview they were saying that they had won, but I had not yet received a call.” Finally, a US embassy member contacted him. “I got an email that said I got placed and I would be flying tomorrow.” Moe said, “We were rejoicing in the kitchen and my parents told me they were proud of me. My life was about to look a lot different.”
The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study program. better known as the YES program. is a scholarship given by the United States government to qualifying students from mostly middle eastern countries with a Muslim majority. The goal is to eventually eradicate the post 9/11 stigma that people from the Middle East are dangerous. Finalists for the YES program can study in a US high school for one year fully paid for by the federal government. Finalists receive a host family who are expected to teach them about their culture. The scholarship is highly competitive, only 1% of applicants become finalists. In Moe’s home country of Lebanon, over 2,000 students applied and only 27 were accepted as finalists.
Born in the outskirts of Beiru, Lebanon, Moe came from humble beginnings. The son of a factory steelworker, the family fell on hard times when war began. Moe said, “In July 2006 a war broke out between the Islamist political party called Hezbollah and the Israelis. It was good that we were away from the action.” They chose to escape the fighting and live with their grandparents in a part of Lebanon that was distant from the fighting. Unfortunately, soon after they moved, Moe’s father lost his steel job due to a rise in outsourcing of steel to China. “Back then my dad did a lot of random work just to put food on the table.” Growing up was challenging, but despite his father’s circumstances, he never ceased to stress that education was vital.
Private schools were unaffordable for the family, but Moe’s father was headstrong that he would go despite the costs. He worked overtime and during the weekends just so they could afford the private catholic school’s expensive tuition. Throughout middle school and junior high, he perfected the French language and devoted all his time to his studies. During his freshman year of High School, Covid-19 struck the world. English was not a popular course at his high school, so he figured that he would spend all his much available time to learn English. “We only got one hour of English a week at my school. During covid. I binge watched Netflix to learn English vocabulary. I read books and practiced with my friends to become fluent.” Moe did not realize at the time that he was setting himself up nicely to win the scholarship.
“The first time I ever learned about the YES program was in 6th grade during a parent teacher conference. I forgot why I was even there, but a teacher that I was close with convinced me that I would be a great candidate.” The scholarship is only available for rising juniors, so several years had passed before it was time to apply. “It was August 28th, 2020, during Covid lockdown and my sophomore year of high school. I was scrolling through Instagram and I saw an ad for the YES program, I had almost forgotten about it, but I downloaded the forms and I applied that day. I did not think much about it, I just figured I would try.” The entry Zoom call began a month later and featured reading, speaking and grammar tests. “After each test they would only take people with the highest grades. There was a first test, second test and then the interview. Before the interview they were down to 60 people.”
Moe was surprised to have even reached the interview process; he knew that it was incredibly rare to even get to that point. “Reaching the interview meant the world to me. There had only been a handful of people from my high school to have an opportunity to hop on an interview. None had ever made it as a finalist.” The US embassy staff asked him challenging questions. “We were in groups of 6 or 7 and they were asking us to describe ourselves in three words. They asked us to describe what methods we would use to spread our culture in the US, and what we would share if we were in the US right now.” A week after he heard about his peers winning, he was informed that he was a finalist.
There are many skills needed to win the YES scholarship. One must be proficient in English, communication skills and critical thinking. Moe was proficient in French throughout high school, but he did not pick up English until it was close to the time of the application process. Moe attributes much of his academic success to his high school. “I was extremely disciplined to work and to study because in my school it was not easy to get good grades. The teachers would push you to the limits.”
Through hard work and determination Mohamad positioned himself for success in the early years of his life. The YES program is a prestigious scholarship, and Moe capitalized on it by soaking in knowledge during his junior year of high school in the United States. He was able to gain the presidential scholarship from the university of Evansville, and he is now receiving a great education at UE with support from his scholarships. His commitment to academics is relentless and he is actively fulfilling his family’s dream for him.