Jim, a Malaysian returnee to the US who had the opportunity to experience working for AFS-USA after his exchange. Read on to learn about the story behind his involvement with AFS.
What has been your involvement with AFS?
My involvement with AFS started back in 2008, when I applied for the YES Semester Program. It was indeed a pleasant surprise when I was informed that I was chosen for the program. Needless to say, my experience after that was probably one of the most defining chapters of my life. I was hosted in a small town called Albany in Oregon. I honestly couldn’t be more grateful for the experience I had; a great host family, amazing school and lovable friends.
You can definitely say that my experience abroad has brought me closer to AFS as a whole. Upon returning from the program I started volunteering with AFS, specifically with the YES Alumni Malaysia. I started volunteering for the YES orientations and later on ventured into community service programs. Since I’ve been introduced into the AFS world, I can say without a doubt that who I am today is thanks to the 7 years of experience I have had with AFS.
How did you feel about your arrival to the U.S. when you were a YES student?
It was surreal. I can still remember the night we arrived in Washington, D.C. 7 years ago like it was yesterday. Our bodies were exhausted after the long flight but our minds were racing with excitement! I remember clearly the moment I stepped outside the airport; the still cold air, the dark skies reflecting the lights of Dulles. As we rode the bus into D.C., the street lights gave me a certain serenity and calmness towards the whole experience. Witnessing the cars pass by reminded me of something so familiar but so foreign at the same time. It was at that moment, the realization that I have now arrived in the U.S. for the first time sank in, and that exact feeling resonates in me till this very day.
This is a hard one! I don’t think I’m able to provide a specific ‘best’ experience during my exchange as I think that would be unfair. But I can say this without regret; the one thing that made my exchange experience unforgettable is the people. My host family, my teachers and my friends. They are the ones that made every single moment I had in Oregon the best. Till this very day, I’m still connected with some of them and the reassurance that these friendship and bond that I had 7 years ago will continue to grow for the rest of my life.
Working with AFS was a whole different experience all together. Besides the amazing colleagues I had while working with AFS-USA, I think the best experience was when I worked my first orientation as a staff member. At that point, I thought to myself, “Wow! I was a student, then a volunteer and now a staff.” I have completed the AFS right of passage if you can call it that. But jokes aside, that specific experience did not just gave me the reassurance that I have come this far, but every time interact with the students, it reminded me of myself 7 years ago, all excited and scared at the same time. And as I see myself in many of the students I meet, I see the importance of the program; not just for the students but to volunteers and staff of AFS as a whole.
What advice would you give returnees?
The experiences that you gain will be meaningful and priceless. If there is one thing that I’ve learned from volunteering with AFS, it would be this; whatever you do, do it with passion and do it from your heart, and the rest is memories that you’ll never forget.
Jim is an alumnus of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) scholarship program, funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by AFS.