Submitted by Le Sen from Cambodia
When a dream combined with actions, reality comes to life. I had gone on one of the most dynamic programs called Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI). It is an open door to a full potential, which I was absolutely dying to get in.
WHAT IS “YSEALI?”
YSEALI is an educational and cultural exchange program between ASEAN and the United States of America for five weeks. There are participants from ten Southeast Asian Countries such as Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. There are three themes: Environment, Civic Engagement, and Entrepreneurship. The selected candidates will be placed at one of the host universities in the US.
HOW IT ALL STARTED?
First of all, I was a little scare to make a move to apply for YSEALI. However, what came to my mind was “Better taking risk than sorry for not even trying” plus the people around were quite cheerful, so I decided to go for it. Through a few rounds of the selection process, I got even more nervous. I got the email from the embassy that I was selected during class, all my spirit came back to life. I was the only one who was placed at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO). It was quite terrifying, but I was ready for it anyway. On the departure day, I was a little freak out since it was my first solo flight, but it was such a great experience to encounter.
The first day I was there, I knew it is going to be a great journey of my life. I knew that it will be one of my life-changing experiences I will ever have for the rest of my life. Went on civic engagement theme helped me to analyze on the problems happen in the society and able to see quite many solutions to that in order to give back to my country, which inspired me to do more. It did enable me to see what is going on in parts of the world also the little thing that means a lot to me was to discover more about myself. Being the only one represent Cambodia at UNO was my great experience.
What did I learn from YSEALI?
Classes were designed with a great consideration. I was able to learn many more things that I never or had little understanding of civic engagement. Learned on how to socially engage was quite challenging, but it was fun to learn and knew how to improve them. I was able to see the similarities and differences of class participation between my Cambodia and America. They improved my critical thinking skill in analyzing the problems and find solutions. I was inspired by the speakers’ experience that has shaped them into a great person. I could also participate in the training from Gall Up strength finder, which helped me to know what my strengths are, how to develop them, and how to help other people through those skills. Furthermore, it was great that I could learn not only the theory from classes but also from the visits and volunteers.
In addition, I got to know more about how the organizations were started, how it works, and how can they keep it sustainable from most visits. This helped me to not only learning the strategies from classes but the actual experience to see the challenges and how to overcome them. Each organization has its own unique strategies. Moreover, I was able to see the differences between some states through traveling during the program. Especially, visited government’s offices like Nebraska State Capital, Omaha City Council and also participate in the public county commissioner’s meeting was amazing since I know how transparent the government is.
I was impressed to such talented people in the program who aim to develop their communities to be better. I learned from the program teams, fellow participants, and the people who are really committed to social work. Mahatma Gandhi quoted that, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” I found what he said was true. Being able to learn and share at the same time totally got me more into diversity appreciation. Every individual came up with great ideas. What best? Everyone comes from different background, fields, and countries but had one common goal “To make the world a better place.” One of the best moments were meeting elders who were retired, but willing to share their experience. Furthermore, a chance for cultural exchange between ASEAN and American was really helpful for further learning.
Last but not least, there were lots of fun spending time with friends and family like going to the movie, zoo, museum, hung out, shopping, cooking, and tries kinds of food. These were all the fun parts. What was even extra fun? Went to the Worlds of Fun Park and told others that the rides were not scary at all.
For that I’m so thankful to the Department of State, US Embassy Phnom Penh, Program Team and student mentors at UNO, Host organizations and families, YSEALI fellows, and to all the people who made this an unforgettable memory I’ve ever had.
What I really want to say is “Be sure to have a dream and give yourself a chance or even second, third, fourth… Do NOT give up without even trying.” For instance, I was about to give up on this dream for reasons. Maybe, it was just an excuse that I was so tired of trying. Suddenly, I remembered one thing my teacher used to tell me that “Great thing comes with small packages” and I did everything I could. Then I gave myself a second chance and really committed to it. Guess what? I did it and I was glad that I gave myself a chance to apply for YSEALI because it was trying for. You never know what you will get unless you take the risk to see what’s up there. If I have a chance to tell my younger self, I would say “Be true to who you are. Just because you’re on the difficult road doesn’t mean it won’t lead you to a beautiful place, you only have to dare enough to take it.” Ms. KG quoted that, “If you want it…go for it. Take a risk. Don’t always play it safe or you’ll die wondering.”