Eddie Yambasu – A Brief Journey From Sierra Leone


One of the hardest things a teenager can do is drop everything and leave all his friends behind to move–especially when that teenager is moving to a whole new country. The language, the people, and even the food are different. It is an extremely hard way to live, and that is exactly what senior foreign exchange student Eddie Yambasu did in his short but interesting stay here.

Yambasu is from Sierra Leone, a country located on the west coast of Africa. The process to become a foreign exchange student is simple. Yambasu said, “I just applied for the paper.” But out of all the cities in the United States, how did he end up in Little Rock? According to Yambasu, it wasn’t a choice he made. It was random. He explained, “My placement organization chose Little Rock for me.”Once he was assigned to Little Rock, Yambasu was placed with the Lehigh family. Fortunately for Yambasu, the foreign exchange program is nothing new to the Lehighs. Junior Charles Lehigh said, “This wasn’t my first time hosting a foreign exchange student; I hosted Benjamin Schmid last year. The biggest difference in everyday life is making sure you are taking into account another person’s likes and dislikes,that kind of thing.”

Lehigh wasn’t worried when the school year came along. He knew just what to do to make Yambasu’s experience a bit easier. Lehigh did the best he could to help Yambasu break the ice and get accustomed to Catholic High. Lehigh said, “I told a lot of my friends about him and he went around the school with me the first day so I thought he could settle in fine.”

Some of the challenges Yambasu faced have to do with Americans’ different way of life. “The food in America is very disappointing. In Sierra Leone we cook everything ourselves,” Yambasu said. “We use the palm trees by taking their fruit and making palm oil. Then we cook rice, potato leaves, cassava leaves and add mangos after.” This is just one of the many meals that are common in Sierra Leone. Yambasu said, “Besides the food, the biggest difference from Sierra Leone is the schooling, the culture, and the way of life of the people.”

Besides the normal cultural shocks for foreign exchange students, Lehigh was impressed with Yambasu’s ability to transition into Little Rock. “He really knows a lot about American culture, the only thing he was confused about was that there are automatic cars because in Sierra Leone they only have manual cars.” Although he speaks some English, Yambasu is not yet fluent. He said, “I speak Mende and Krio and I have been learning English for five good years I think.” He faced the struggle of being fully immersed in another language, which is a great way to learn. He was very curious about all sorts of things and once even pulled a fire alarm to see what would happen. He turned himself in to Mr. Steve Straessle when he found that this was against the rules. When people asked Yambasu why he pulled the lever, he said, “It was unknown to me.”

Although Yambasu’s stay was cut short, he seemed to enjoy his time. “Everyone has been very friendly. Catholic High is good, and the teachers are very good and know how to explain things very well,” said Yambasu.

Junior Spencer Day was one of the first people to introduce himself to Yambasu. Day said, “Eddie was in my English class and I probably introduced myself the first or second day of school. He was very nice to me and I thought that it was going to be very cool that there was another foreign exchange student at Catholic this year,” said Day. “I think he got along well with everybody because he is a nice and funny guy.”

Imagine waking up one morning in a foreign country. It is a feeling of isolation. That is why the most common side effect of a foreign exchange student is homesickness. “He had a means of communication with his friends and family, and if he ever got homesick, he remembered he has a home over here and friends he can trust as a family,” said Lehigh. After his time in Little Rock, Yambasu was hoping to get to know the United States a little better. He said,“I would like to see more of America such as California in the future.” However, his desire to travel does not end with California. He wants to visit other places as well. “I’ve always dreamt of going to England,”said Yambasu.
Editor’s note: Rocket Times staff member Micah Stafford contributed to this story.

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