What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger

By Angelina Jefary

I am from Sampun Asajaya, Samarahan, a rural village in Sarawak, Malaysia that most people have not heard of before.

Since I was young, I’ve always been eager to discover what the world and I could offer one another. One of my biggest dreams and goals has been to join an exchange programme, and over the last five years, I’ve been waiting and researching the programmes that were offered.

When I finally turned 17 and became eligible to apply for an exchange programme, I applied for The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) scholarship.

A little bit about the exchange programme…

The KL-YES Programme was established by the US Congress in October, 2002 in response to the events of September 11, 2001.

The programme is mainly funded by the US Department of State and sponsored by the Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs (ECA) to provide scholarships for high school students of 17 years of age from countries with significant Muslim populations so they can spend up to one academic year in the US.

A full scholarship is offered to all students aged 17 years or in Form 5 who wish to go to the US for the semester program. For more information about this program, just log on to http://yes-abroad.org/ or www.afs.org.

I started to dig deeper into this exchange programme when I joined a camp called Click! Camp 4.0 in 23rd September 2014 organised by the US Department of State and the US Embassy Kuala Lumpur. It was managed by LifeChampSdnBhd and co-managed by the Malaysian Alumni Partnership (MAAP).

The embassy’s annual premier social entrepreneurship programme is aimed at students aged 14-16 and promotes a strong three-way relationship between the United States, the business community and local communities. For further information about this program, do check these links out:

  1. https://my.usembassy.gov/click-camp-4-0-get-set-go-empowers-the-next-generation-of-young-leaders/
  2. https://m.facebook.com/clickcamp4/
  3. www.mylifechamp.com

At Click! Camp, I met incredible, young and successful leaders and I was really inspired by their enthusiasm and stories. From them, I wanted to inspire others and create my own stories by being an agent of positive change through a lot of ways and one of them is connecting cultures and values with countries across the seas.

I chose the exchange programme as a medium for my journey because I have always been really passionate to travel, learn about new things from different perspectives and also to share my cultures and values. I believe that although we may come from different backgrounds, countries and even beliefs, we can still be united as one if we have a better understanding among one another.

The more people we meet and differences we see, the more understanding we gain about ourselves and the world. I am committed to being an agent of positive change and I strongly stand in the power of love and unity to merge our differences. Through the exchange programme, I expect to gain new ideas on what a community means.

There are tons of benefits studying abroad or being in an exchange programme. Through activities like this, we learn more about ourselves and become more self-aware.It also boosts our self-confidence and independence levels. Besides, participating in an exchange programme also gives us the skills and knowledge we need to succeed in the 21st century.

We will also experience new perspectives, learn how to adapt to unexpected circumstances, work with diverse peers, communicate in other languages, experience another culture firsthand, enhance our cross-cultural competency and the list goes on and on. This can definitely transform us into globalised citizens.


More stories by Angelina Jefary:

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Studying abroad makes us more aware and care about our own country too because wherever we go, we serve as ‘youth ambassadors’, promoting mutual understanding by forming lasting relationships with people we meet from countries all over the world.

There were basically and roughly three stages to go through to be in the Antarabudaya Malaysia (AFS), The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange (KL-YES) Programme.

The first stage was filling up a form from the AFS Malaysia website and mail it to them before the deadline which is usually at the end of April.

Then it is the State Interview, followed by the final stage which is the National Interview.

Please note that you are competing with thousands of other Malaysian teens to get to the final stage. You should be proud when you have the courage and initiative to even apply for the programme! This year, there were 162 participants selected for the National Selection Camp from all over Malaysia but there were only 45 students who would get the scholarships.

Yeah, life is a race sometimes but the most important part is that we should never give up no matter what the obstacles are.

Now, I would like to share my whole journey applying for this programme. Since January, I had been waiting for the application process to start. I checked the AFS website every single day and I never got tired of doing it.

When the application finally opened for registration, I immediately downloaded the application form and filled it up. I had, like, five copies of it, just to make sure everything was neat and ready to be sent.

Soon, I mailed the application form to the AFS team in Selangor and waited for the State Interview results to be revealed.

After months of waiting, I finally got an email from AFS saying that I was chosen for the second stage which was the State Interview. This was my first ever scholarship interview, so there were a lot of preparations I needed to get ready before I hit the road.

My teachers offered to write my recommendation letters and when I received them, I broke down in tears.

I was so surprised by the love and support that everyone had for me. I could not think of a better place to be with this kind of people. This made me realise I was not going through this battle alone but I was bringing along all the big hearts to share with. Meanwhile, I also talked to some AFS alumni for some guidance.

Sarawak finalists with the AFS Volunteers at the NSC in KL. Cat pose because we’re from Kuching!

Sarawak finalists with the AFS Volunteers at the NSC in KL. Cat pose because we’re from Kuching!

At the State Interview, I met truly amazing friends.

Although I knew everyone was fighting to get a place for the scholarship, we still gaveeach other support and encouragement.

To be honest, I thought there was no way I was going to pass the State Interview – for a lot of reasons – but I never gave up hope. So, again, I waited patiently for the National Selection Camp results to come out.

The day when I actually got an email and text from the AFS saying that I was shortlisted for the final stage is still crystal clear in my head.

It was on Tuesday, June 21. I was headed to the teacher’s office right after school and about to call my mom to pick me up, but once I unlocked my phone, I read the text from AFS and was jumping with joytill I was about to faint.

The very first person to know was my beloved English teacher, Ms Sed Sei Fong, followed by my lovely English Teaching Assistant (ETA) from America, Ms Katelynn Kundrata. Everyone in the office was thrilled. Soon, I informed my awesome former ETA, Mr Andrew Taylor, my devoted parents, close friends, caring teachers and eventually the news spread to everyone who knew me.

From there, everyone started to give me cards, hugs, wishes and all the positive vibes for me to bring along. This opened up my mind as I was not doing this just for myself but for my whole community.

afs angelina p2

I had, like, two weeks to do some preparation before the final stage and interview during the National Selection Camp so I started to look for facts and information about AFS Programme, Malaysia and America.

I even went to my ETA to ask questions about current events and issues in America and its general figures like geography and history. I learnt a lot and I really enjoyed knowing all the new information I gathered. I flew to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a day before my interview on July 21st.

Although I was very sad because I had to miss Sarawak Independence Day and the SUKMA opening ceremony, I was still looking forward to going for an adventure and this was also my first time travelling alone.

I boarded the first and earliest flight but eventually when I arrived, I still had to wait seven hours for my uncle who lives in Malacca to pick me up from the airport.

Let me stop you there, if you think it was extremely boring being alone in completely different surroundings from home, it really wasn’t! I used the spare time reading and brushing up on all the facts I got for the interview. Also, I made a lot of new friends at the airport!

It was such a coincidence that most of them were actually going to Borneo. They asked a lot of questions about Borneo and I was really happy to share everything I had with them.

I know when we were little, our parents always reminded us not to say even a word to strangers, but in this kind of special case, I just let it be.

I was the earliest participant to arrive at the National Selection Camp (NSC) because I was staying in Malacca the night before and my uncle had to go to work.

Again, I had to sit alone for another three more hours because registration had not even started. Three hours passed by so fast when I kept myself busy reading up facts and replying to all those lovely texts from everyone back in Sarawak.

Soon, one by one, people started to fill up the space.

There were seven finalists from Sarawak but only six managed to attend the NSC. The camp was held for three-days, two-nights at The Quality Hotel, Kuala Lumpur. Our whole camp schedule was neatly planned by the AFS committees. When the room started to get crowded, I started to make friends with the participants from all over Malaysia.

The most exciting thing to do when you have friends from all the states is definitely listening to one another’s slang or accents when speaking Bahasa Melayu. Some of them think that those of us in Borneo have such unique accents, but I am not really sure why.

Dinner with new friends from the states all over Malaysia!

Dinner with new friends from all over Malaysia!

Anyway, back to my first day of NSC, the registration started at 2 pm and continued with the Parents’ Briefing session by the AFS Programme Manager.

After a short break, the camp started with an ice-breaking session and introduction by our camp leader. I took this opportunity to meet and make new friends – as many as I could- in those three days.

Soon, it was the room key distribution. Each room had two participants.

My roommate was from Selangor and she was just the loveliest roommate of all. We exchanged stories and always checked up on each other all the time. In three days’ time, it felt like we were sisters!

So, after freshening ourselves up, we headed for dinner. The day did not just end like that though. After a delightful dinner, we then sat for the English Language Test for International Students (ELTiS).

It was a tiring day but I had so much fun. Before we all went back to our rooms, the AFS volunteers called out the names of those who would be interviewed the next morning. There were 162 students so they had to divide us into groups and sessions. Surprisingly, I was the first person called! It was just the most amazing thing I had ever heard that day. Seriously!

The next morning on July 23rd, I went for breakfast and got ready for the interview. It would be a lie if I said I was not nervous at all but I managed to stay up on my feet and gave everything I got. Also, I was so touched by the encouragement and love that all my fellow applicants had for me.

We all knew the number of scholarships was very limited but we always supported each other as we went through the whole journey together. Again, amazingly, I was the first person to be interviewed among all 162 applicants.

I was actually glad at the same time because later on, I could just enjoy the rest of my time at the camp. This camp was not just about attending an interview but we also did a lot of other activities such as team building to boost our leadership skills. We also had a sign language workshop and learnt Braille.

Again, I met truly awesome, intelligent and lovely friends at NSC whom I call family now.


The 2016 AFS Malaysia family!

Soon enough, the results for the KL-YES Scholarships were announced, and I found out that I didn’t get the scholarship. I was not disappointed at all because I knew those who did make it to the list truly deserved it.

I was among so many bright, hardworking students and I am so proud of my friends for being able to stand out with their unique skills and passions.

I don’t mean to brag but I am also proud of myself for taking up this challenge and managing to get to this stage. I am delighted and glad to be surrounded with a lovely community who always keeps me going.

Since the announcement of the results, I received lots of motivational and encouraging texts and wishes. To be honest, I did not cry when I got the results but I cried when people all came together to support me:

“Every experience is an opportunity.” – Andrew Taylor

“When they close one of your doors, more windows will open and bring light into your life.” – Cayenne Lai

“Maybe you cannot win everything in this huge world, but you are and always be a winner in our world.” – Friends

With that, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude especially to my incredibly supportive parents and family members, my English teacher who never gets tired of all the fuss I have made, Ms Sed Sei Fong, my dedicated former ETA, Mr Andrew Taylor and my current ETA who is also my American sister, Ms Katelynn Kundrata, a lovely mentor and friend, Ms Liew Lee Joo who had been always keeping me in good shape throughout the whole journey, all the support from Ministry Of Education Malaysia (MoE) and Sarawak State Education Department (JPN) officers, especially Mr Rezuan bin Ahmad and Datin Evelyn Ritikos, awesome Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) batch 2014 to 2016 for the guidance and advice, school board, teachers, friends, the whole AFS Malaysia team, everyone… (I wish I could mention everyone, seriously. But you know every single one of you is very special for me.)

Also, not forgetting The Borneo Post SEEDS especially Ms Margaret Apau. It has been a solid three years writing with your team and I am truly honoured and thankful.

Me, Hana and Nadhrah.

Me (left) with Hana and Nadhrah who will be representing Sarawak in the KL-YES programme.

Shout out and lots of love to my close friends during the NSC – Nurfarhanah Muttaqini and Nor Hazwani Nadhrah who will be representing Sarawak for the KL-YES Programme. Also, to all my friends back in the NSC, congratulations everyone!

Until today, I cannot stop talking how amazing y’all are. For some of us, this might not be our chance but we still have a long way to go. Never give up and remember to always be yourselves. Sending tons of cawat and ayam pansuh from ‘AJ Sarawak’!

Sometimes in life we may trip and fall, but this does not kill us… it only makes us stronger.

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