An Enriching Journey

By Mohd Shakirin Shahrul Jamal, YES Malaysia, 2014

The writer, a youth exchange student, gives his take of his current stint in the U.S., and how it has broadened his outlook.

I WAS a Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) student and while the five years in MCKK were wonderful, what I am experiencing right now is really priceless.

I never knew how it was like to live apart from my family, home country and friends and although I miss them, I am learning and enjoying myself here in the United States (U.S.).
I am a fully sponsored student by the United States (U.S.) Department of State for the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Programme.

It is an innovative high school exchange programme that aims to promote better understanding, between Americans and people in countries with a significant Muslim population.

I first got to know about the YES programme from watching a TV show when I was 12, and since then I was determined to join the programme.

I am known as “Shak” which is the first part of my name and that’s fine with me.

I am staying with a wonderful couple, David and Nelda Clark, in Luck, a small town in the state of Wisconsin; their children are married and live away. There is also Peak, another YES exchange student from Thailand, who also stays with the Clarks.

I am truly grateful to be here in a small town, as it is easier for me to get to know almost everyone in just a short time. I have been here since January this year and will return to Malaysia on June 20.

I am a Junior studying at Luck High School and in Grade 11. However, I get privileges just like the seniors and am allowed to go on trips with them. In fact, I will also get a once -in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of the seniors’ graduating class and will join in their graduation ceremony.

There are so many reasons why I love being in the U.S. and they include the following.

Engaging with Children

Since I interact well with my peers and others of all ages, I was selected to spend time with elementary schoolchildren after school hours every Tuesday and Thursday. The programme is called the “After School All Stars — Where it’s Cool to Stay After School.”

The children are encouraged to stay back after school to join in some fun activities. So far, we’ve had reading classes and cooking and baking lessons, where my charges were taught to make desserts, muffins and cookies. There was even a lesson when the young ones were taught to make smoothies with fruits like bananas and strawberries.

I even inspired them by speaking about being good and living in peace. It’s important to nurture positive aspects in their young minds as they are all growing up.

It is also good to encourage them to treat people with respect and love, as they would then grow up having the same values and tolerance for others.

From Cricket to Baseball

Cricket has always been my favourite sport at school but since it is not popular here, I decided to join the baseball team. It was indeed a good decision. My teammates are friendly and although it took me almost three weeks to fully master the game, I am beginning to like it.

Being part of the school team has given me a chance to make more friends. I managed to hit the ball during my first game and I’m proud of it! During my second game, I managed to catch a ball, and all of my teammates, including my coaches, were really happy to see that.

Young Ambassador

My most important responsibility here is to showcase Malaysia for what it is — a peaceful, democratic country that has the best of the east and west. I have so far done a total of five presentations for freshmen to seniors in different classes. Unlike most Malaysian secondary schoolgoers who complete school when they are aged 17 after finishing the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) in Form Five, American teens only complete high school at the age of 18.

They are however allowed to have their driver’s licence at the age of 16.

My personal mission here is to have as many presentations that will portray a correct picture of my homeland to Americans and they include my friends, teachers and schoolmates.

So far, I must say that they have been truly impressed with our diversity, development and our way of life, and I am always given a roaring applause when I end my presentations.

The Americans are always curious to know about our different cultures, customs, languages, dialects and needless to say, our food — all these I share proudly and with an open heart, because that’s what being Malaysian is all about.

I must say that these things are to my advantage, as when I engage in such discussions, I am also enriching myself by listening to views and experiences of others. It gives me a different perspective of another’s opinion and most of all, I get to hone my presentation skills and take it to another level.

Meeting International Students

Recently I met other exchange students in Chicago, Illinois. It was good exposure for me, just as it was for the 40 others who came from Russia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Japan, Pakistan, Netherlands, Germany, Indonesia, Thailand, Norway, Senegal, Spain, Kazakhstan, Egypt, the U.S., Croatia, Tunisia and Slovakia.

We were of different backgrounds but still managed to share our dreams and aspirations together. We laughed a lot too.

What we’ve learnt from that internationl meet is that we, being the younger generation, should cultivate a mutual understanding and respect for one another irrespective of race, faith or creed.

It also pays to have friends in other countries, as such ties may be beneficial for networking in the future.

I will be doing the International Baccalaureate (IB) at MCKK upon my return later this month.

As I conclude my story here, I am grateful to have been given the opportunity by the U.S. Department of State to be an exchange student. I must also pay tribute to the 42 batch mates of YES 2014, for their untiring efforts in being Malaysia’s young ambassadors in the U.S. Hurray!

Original story and photos published in The Star Online

Learn more how to apply for AFS programs here: http://www.afsmas.org/go-abroad/downloads/


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