For most Americans, news reports of conflict in the Middle East are simply updates from a foreign land. Not so for hundreds of families across the U.S. that opened their homes this year to Muslim teenagers participating in a groundbreaking U.S. State Department program designed to build bridges between the United States and predominantly Muslim countries in a post-Sept. 11 world.

Nearly 300 students from the Youth Exchange and Study program are in Washington, D.C., next week after spending the past year studying and learning about American culture with families in communities across the country. They will cap off their year in the United States by meeting with members of Congress, visiting historic D.C. sites, and learning about the inner workings of American government. These experiences, along with the lessons they have learned from their host families and as students in U.S. high schools, will allow them to help foster understanding between cultures when they return home.

The YES students will join two of the program’s biggest supporters, Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), on Wednesday for a reception and discussion of the role the program played this year in fostering understanding between cultures.

“YES program scholars are extraordinary ambassadors for peace,” said Sen. Kennedy. “The lessons they learn from their year in the United States — and the lessons they teach us about their countries and cultures — contribute to a deeper understanding between America and the Muslim world.”

Dana Aljawamis, YES student from Jordan who spent her year with a Minnesota family, will return home with a new respect for Americans’ tolerance and appreciation of different religions and cultures. “The family that I lived with made every effort to make practicing my religion here as easy as possible,” said Dana. “It made me very respectful of the freedoms here — particularly the freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights.”


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