MANILA (MindaNews/29 June) — After studying abroad for a year, the lives of 28 Muslim youths will never be the same again.
Bryan Khetmir, 17, a student from the Ireneo Lopez Santiago National High School in General Santos City who was hosted in Spokane, Washington, said the experience taught him that “no matter what color your skin is, your nationality, or even if you’re Muslim, Christian or Jew, these do not define your capability, decency and attitude as a human being.”
Bryan is among the youths from the cities of General Santos, Marawi, Iligan, Zamboanga, Cotabato, Iligan, Isabela in Basilan and Jolo, Sulu, selected for a year-long study program in the Unites States.
They are scholars under the Keneddy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Progam which was established by the US Congress in October 2002 in response to the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. It is funded through the US Department of State and sponsored by the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs to provide scholarships for high school students from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend up to one academic year in the US.
US Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg said this is the 10th year of the program and through the years, they have tracked how successful the scholars have become in the respective fields they have chosen. He said with the positive impact it has on the scholars, he is optimistic the program will continue for more years.
There are already 393 Filipino YES program alumni scholars since 2004.
“Getting these students out of their community when most of them haven’t even been to Manila or have never ridden an airplane, and seeing them now – I am impressed,” he said during the debriefing of the scholars at the Thomas Jefferson Center of the US Embassy in Manila last June 23.
He said there is “no pay back” for the scholars and they do not expect the students to embark on programs after their return home. The US is just giving them the opportunity to expand their experience at a young age, he said.
Juhary Matuan Mustapha, a high school student from the RC-Al Khwarizmi International College Foundation Inc. in Marawi City was hosted in St. Thomas Pennsylvania where he studied as a senior at the James Buchanan High School. He excelled academically and was recognized by the United States Achievement Academy Scholarship Foundation in Who’s Who Among Honor Students for 2013-14 School Year. He was a member of the Theater Club and was selectd to attend the Media Lab after a highly competitive nationwide selection process.
He managed to balance his academic life with extracurricular activities through sports like badminton and table tennis.
His respect for diversity and openness to learning new cultures and meeting new people helped him adapt to life in the US.
Arriana Kani Jupakkal from Basilan National High School in Isabela City, wanted to know how Americans treat people coming from a different cultures and how the educational sytem in her city compares to US schools. She also desired to improve her English language skills.
She went to school at Southwestern High School in Flat Rock, Indiana and learned that student life in the US was not as tough as she imagined it to be. She said the students were friendly and supportive which allowed her to excel in various school and community activities.
She said it was a year of great experiences – her first snowfall in Michigan with her host family, seeing Niagara Falls in New York side, first rollercoaster ride in Gatlinberg, Tennessee, first Halloween and Thanksgiving. She also performed a Yakan Dance during the Indianapolis International Cultural Festival.
It was a busy year for Aiza Majid Dahman, a student of Notre Dame of Jolo, Sulu who stayed in Tonasket, Washington. At the end of the schoolyear, she received numerous awards: honor roll, Tiger Pride, Sportsmanship Award, Recognition of National Honor Students from the US Achievement Academy and more. She also rendered a totalof 103 hours of volunteer work and community service.
“Before I left for the United States, I personally hoped that I will do better academically. When I came back, I realized I achieved way beyond my expectations. I became a better person and I have a better understanding of the US. I gained better leadership skills and have more respect for diversity and tolerance for others with different views and beliefs,” Aiza said.
Good social skills and open-mindedness smoothened the transition to a different culture for her. She said that she is open to learn their culture and was able to share her culture, as well.
Jherfar Sali Ajirim studied at the Ontario High School in Oregon where he honed his interpersonal skills.
“I was outgoing, I would say hi to everyone, played sports, joined clubs in school. And I volunteered,” he said when asked how he was able to adapt to life in America.
The changes of the scholars after a year spent in America are visible in the way they speak English like a native, their confidence in articulating their opinion and the way they carry themselves.
Bryan knows that there will be some adjustments when he returns to General Santos City.
“I know they will think that I am arrogant because of the way I speak but I am prepared for this and really look forward to sharing my experience in the US,” he said.
He said it was a unique cultural experience and was an opportunity to acquire new skills and forge friendship in another country. While in Spokane, he was able to appreciate his own culture, became more tolerant to differences and appreciate diversity.
The YES Program is implemented by the AFS Intercultural Programs Philippines. The students live with host families, attend high school and engage in activities to learm about American society and values, acquire leadership skills and help educate Americans about their countries and cultures.
It is administered in partnership with the US Department of State by a consortium of non profit organizations led by American Councils for International Education and various placement and recruitment organizations. (Amalia Bandiola Cabusao, editor in chief of Mindanao Times, is one of the founding members of MindaNews Co-op).