Thursday, September 20, 2012

Life as I know it... about to end in just one day. Tomorrow morning I leave my family, friends, and hometown, something that I should be completely overwhelmed by, but that somehow I feel strangely calm about.  Don't get me wrong, I'm psyched to go and sad to say goodbye, but I don't have butterflies thinking about leaving and I don't feel like I'm going to cry when I leave tomorrow. Honestly, it all seems surreal and at the same time I am really comfortable with the idea of leaving. I guess that's the result of me contemplating the journey that is about to begin for the past 6 months, while not knowing what to expect or prepare for. I have no precedent to draw from, and only a small amount of information about what my year may entail. The possibilities with YES are endless.

When you decide to do YES, you don't really know what your signing up for. All you know is that you are going abroad for high school to one of 9 countries for a year, and that could mean so many different things. You could end up teaching English to elementary school students at an Islamic school, volunteering with special needs kids with your host mom, visiting your host family's durian farm, or squirted with water by an elephant at a holy temple (a few things other YES scholars have done this year). Your host family could have 5 kids or none, your school could be in English or the local language, you could have school on Saturdays or classes at different intervals during the day like in college, you could live in a big city or a little town, basically you can expect nothing, and have to be up for anything. That's why even though I've researched Indonesia and talked to my host family and YES alumni about school,culture, and life in general, It's hard for me to even imagine what this year will hold.  I'm excited to experience things one day at a time, until routine sets in and life in Indonesia seems normal.

For now I'm enjoying my last day with my sister who ditched college for the day to spend it with me :) and later tonight with my parents and my best friend. I've been helping my sister make gifts for her 'little (Sorority sister),  and later we're going to the North Georgia State Fair for a ride on the Ferris wheel and some funnel cake (and lots of other junk food). Then out to dinner with the family one last time and then finishing packing and probably unpacking to get my suitcase under the weight limit.

Before I start my posts from Indonesia here a few pictures from my extended summer and last few weeks here at home!
School Trip to Costa Rica! Helping make a basketball court for a school in Dominical.
My high school's Leadership Club in Costa Rica.
Me my sister Catherine and my friend Haffa at a waterfall near my house.
Me and the other YES Abroad students going to Indonesia this year at the Indonesian Embassy in Washington D.C.
Me and my friend Alyssa in Florida visiting her family and enjoying a week of surfing, boogie boarding, fishing, and failed attempts at skin boarding.
Meeting AFS exchange students who are living around Atlanta this year.
Stopping by my high school the first day to see my friends, dress up, and walk to school in the Senior Walk- I had to do one senior tradition before I left!
One last family camping trip to North Carolina. We stopped by this lake so my sister could practice rolling before we went kayaking the next day. You can't see, but there gorgeous blue mountains all around the lake.
Well, I don't wanna make this post too long so I think that's enough pictures.  I just wanted to show a little bit of my life now for the non-American ppl reading the blog, since a huge part of the program is sharing American culture. :) Talk to you when I get to Indonesia! Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thoughts on 9/11/12

Right now as I finish up dinner and see the news headlines on the TV I realize how important the vision and purpose of YES Abroad is.  The purpose is not only to bridge the gap between America and the Muslim world, but to spread the mentality that  different people and cultures can connect with and respect each other, and simply share in their mutual humanity. Somehow this simple idea, which seems to me and many others to be common sense, has been lost, or maybe just never gained, thanks to close minded, angry, and judgmental people who tend to get all of the attention. The past two days all the news stations have been discussing the new wave of protests in the Middle East and the attacks on the American embassies on Sept. 11th in Cairo and Benghazi. It's disappointing to me to see how much hate there is out there, on both sides. It's difficult for me to understand how people can despise an entire religion or nation of people, based on the actions a a small few, whose opinions and actions don't even match that of the majority.  One problem is that people feel the need to assign blame, and when there is no obvious person at which to point the finger the entire group receives the blame. It's hard for me to know who to blame for all the attacks, because I'm no expert, and the names of terrorist groups, resistance groups, and all the other people involved don't make much sense to me. I do know though, that blaming everyone is not the answer and that more hateful actions only spread hate. Its so sad that people hate enough to ransack an embassy and kill an ambassador, to burn a flag and attack sacred beliefs in the most rude and vulgar way. Although these acts aren't comparable, I think all are horrible.  As the news reports additional anti-American protests in other Muslim countries such as Yemen, Iran, and even YES Abroad countries Morocco and Oman, my parents and a few friends worry about my upcoming year in Indonesia, which is now just a short week away.  Call me reckless or maybe naive, but I'm not worried at all about my year (well actually I am a bit nervous, but not in terms of safety). The news may show all these violent and scary events, and they definitely need to be shown, but what the news hasn't show is the wonderful, welcoming, and warm-hearted Muslim people who have accepted my fellow YES Abroaders this year and in years past. From what I've seen in pictures, read on blogs, and heard in person, every YES student has had an amazing experience. In countries where YES students are, there is some anti-American sentiment, but it is mostly the kind that can be erased by a conversation or friendship with one of us, the kind that roots from fear of the strange and unknown and distorted stereotypes. It is rarely the extreme kind that incites people to violence. The fact that even with all of these problems in the Muslim world, there are so many great people out there, reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart." (Anne Frank) This fact may not fix things, but I think it proves that there is always hope. As I step out of the sheltered bubble which is my life, I hope that what I find only validates my optimistic view of the world.  As I prepare to leave for Indonesia, the current events going on only energize me more to make the best of my time abroad.  I feel that what I'm doing is important and relevant. I'm so happy to have the chance to change the way people view the world, even if I am only the tiniest drop of water in the ocean of that change. I have no idea how my new friends and host family will feel about what's going on in the Middle East, but I can't wait to see it from another perspective and maybe question my own opinions. My preparation for this year has already sparked a lot of thought and learning for me, so I can only imagine the impact this year will have on my life. 

On another note, I finally was able to send in my visa application yesterday, after receiving my letters of invitation. Hopefully there are no more complications and I can start my journey as scheduled (well, as re-scheduled) next Friday! Can't wait!