YES Abroad Application Process and Semi-Finalism

Basic Facts About YES

YES Abroad is a congressional initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of State in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. It provides full scholarships for 50 American high school students to study abroad in countries with significant Muslim populations for a full academic year.

YES exists to let Americans learn more about Muslim communities as they learn more about Americans. The program's mission is to "build bridges of international understanding between Americans and people in countries with significant Muslim populations."


  • Students must be U.S. Citizens
  • High school students when applying
  • Age 15-18.5

Available Countries

  • Egypt**
  • Ghana*
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Mali (semester)
  • Malaysia*
  • Morocco
  • Oman
  • Thailand
  • Turkey*

* – Designates countries available as gap years.
** – Due to the 2011 revolution, Egypt was not available for this year.

The Application Process:

Official Website:

I discovered this scholarship just a few days before it was due. Although it was last-minute scramble, it was worth it in the end. The application seemed quite long at first, but is very manageable if you keep your eyes on the prize.

According the the representatives at the semi-finalist event, over 600 people started but did not complete the application due to  its length.

The application for 2012-13 will be available in the fall of 2011. Sample short answer questions asked in the 2011-12 application include:

  • Describe a challenge you experienced in the past two years when you had to be flexible and adjust your expectations. How did you react? Why?
  • Why is living in a country with a significant Muslim population important to you?
  • How will you use your role as an alumnus of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Abroad program to support intercultural learning and cross cultural understanding in your home community upon your return?

Just when I had almost forgotten about my application, I received word that I was one of 75 semi-finalists to be flown to Denver for 3 days of group interviews during mid-March.

TIP: As soon as you discover your semi-finalist status, join Culture Shocked. Through this forum, I had met and chatted with at least 10 other semi-finalists before I arrived in Denver.


In a nutshell, Denver was amazing. The 74 of us (1 person didn't show) quickly bonded, and we have been talking nonstop since then. Although there was a lot at stake, the atmosphere was relaxed enough for everyone to have a great time.


The workshops are not evaluated, and seemed to be intended to give us a sense of who we are as Americans and all that we represent. The information gained from the 3 workshops and speeches are sure to be useful when traveling abroad any time in the future. Role playing exercises given out that I would highly reccomend acting out include the following:

  • Your host family is very generous and each time after you're done eating your meals they keep insisting that you should have even more food even though you're very full. How do you explain to them that the fact is you're full and the food is great – without hurting their feelings?
  • You are watching the news with your host family, and you watch a feature on TV that deals with a topic you feel strongly about. Your host family, however, feels the complete opposite way. Do you express your very different opinion to your host family? How do you do this, and what exactly can you say? Can you agree to disagree?

The Alumni Factor

About 25 alumni of YES were with us in Denver. Semi-finalists were on a rotating schedule for individual interviews, so those not being interviewed got the opportunity to have an open table discussion with alumni from each country. This is a unique aspect to this program; make sure you ask questions while you're there to get the first-person perspective.

The Talent Show

As soon as people heard there was going to be a talent show in Denver, people got nervous. Just relax- take a few deep breaths, and finish this paragraph. The talent show is really nothing to worry about. First of all, it's not part of the evaluation. Secondly, talent shows are just about showing off what you're good at. While this is theoretically the definition of "talent", people sometimes don't realize that this can mean anything from reading poetry to making origami. It's all about having fun, and (sometimes) making a fool of yourself.

Evaluation Process

There were 3 group evaluations in Denver. Each one involved accomplishing a somewhat difficult task by working together with your groups through various obstacles.

There was also a rotating schedule for individual interviews. Alumni conduct these, and each one lasts about 30 minutes. If you search on Google, you can find some potential interview questions from AFS. These probably won't be the exact questions asked, but they will give you a good idea of what to expect.

In Conclusion…

YES Abroad for Americans is an amazing scholarship which has the power to change your life. Even if you don't end up receiving the final scholarship, you will meet friends to keep for years to come. I heavily encourage anyone interested to apply for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I made it out of Denver as an alternate, and am proud to say so. The other contestants and finalists are amazing people who all deserve to study abroad, and I am looking forwards to following their lives during the upcoming year.

If you have any questions/comments, feel free to ask away.

Finalist Blogs:

Adriana in Ghana
Kyla in Ghana

Ana in India
Hannah in India
Harriet in India
Jenny in India

Andrew in Indonesia

Andrea in Mali
Hope in Mali

Peggy in Malaysia

Bailey in Oman
Emma in Oman
Jaira in Oman

Liz in Thailand
Tyler in Thailand