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My Learnings from 2017 Fall YSEALI Academic Fellowship in University of Nebraska at Omaha

On June of this year, I received an email about my being shortlisted for an interview for the Fall’s YSEALI Academic Fellowship. I don’t know why but the email gave me the feeling that I would be going to the United States this year. Then come July, it had become apparent. I was chosen to be part of this year’s academic fellows. My intuition was right!

I was placed at University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). But wait! I don’t know anything about Omaha nor Nebraska. Even those around me are clueless. Because of this, one thing is sure. My placement in this state would pave ways for the enlightenment of me and those around me about this beautiful place.

I spent four weeks in Nebraska including the weekend getaway at Kansas City, 4 days in Portland, Oregon and 4 days in Washington DC to learn about civic engagement. There were a total of 21 participants from ASEAN, 10 student mentors from UNO and the program staff and others. It seemed like a short stay with a hectic schedule, which it really is; but in such period of time, I gained so much – from meaningful relationships to additional set of skills and knowledge that will be helpful in future endeavors that I will undertake for the sake of the country.

Here are some of the learnings, if not all, that I gained from my short stay at UNO:

Cross-cultural understanding among ASEAN participants, between Philippines and the US, and between ASEAN and the US.

Although I have participated in HiPeC-BM in Japan and WIEF Young Fellows 2016 in Singapore which paved the way for my cultural understanding of other races, YSEALI Academic Fellowship opened the door for me to fully understand how an integrated ASEAN, PH-USA relations, ASEAN-US relations work.

My meeting with youth from across the world in UNO changed some of my perspectives for the better. I learned that to understand means to immerse yourself in learning about the culture and behavior of the other.

At the exit of White House after our tour. (L-R: Malaysia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Vietnam, Philippines, Myanmar)

The American lifestyle and parts and parcels of its history

I watch some American TV series. And it may not necessary mirror the real American life. Coming to the US and experiencing the country for myself made a lot of impact. There are some stereotypes about the US that I learned over the course of my life prior to coming to the US. However, I gained wider perspectives about this and many more when I talked and met with Americans on a daily basis.

There are a lot of American attitudes and characters that I admire. Some of these are confidence in one’s self, committing one’s self to the service of the country, being the prime mover for the benefit of all, and being frank with one’s beliefs. These are some of the attributes that I wish to learn to inculcate within myself.

Civic Engagement

I didn’t have a concrete understanding about civic engagement before this fellowship. I thought civic engagement is only about suffrage/voting. But I learned that as simple as random act of kindness can be a civic engagement. And that the definition of civic engagement is relative.

Through the lectures we attended and site visits that we went to, I learned how civically-engaged organizations work for the benefits of their constituents. The visit to homeless shelters also opened my eyes to the reality of the issue of homelessness that is faced by a first-world country like the US.

YSEALI participants during the UNO DACA protest.

What leaving my comfort zone is like

I don’t do sports, let alone extreme and adventurous things like zipline and giant swing. It is only in the YSEALI Academic Fellowship obstacle course and team-building activity that I participated in such. Altho, I didn’t go for the roller coasters in the Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, the aforementioned extreme activities made me felt how it is like leaving my comfort zone. It can be uneasy, but the feeling of accomplishment afterwards is greater than the fear of trying.

The measure of friendship

Everytime I attend fellowships, the best part is always meeting and connecting with people but it is also the saddest one. Spending time but eventually leaving is just heart-breaking. It is so hard to leave when you are already attached to the presence of your new-found friends.

However, I learned that friendship doesn’t end when you need to leave. The bond continues to strengthen even thru distance. The commitment to always be in touch with the fellows should be done in order for the friendship not to fade and make it actually work.

At the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge.

The constant need to reconnect one’s soul to one’s belief

In order to stay sane being away from home, being in constant connection with your belief such as Islam is very much needed. My visit to the American Muslim Institute made such a huge difference in my four-week stay at Omaha. The emotions during our first visit was inexplainable. And during our Friday prayers, happiness and gratitude was overflowing.


I learned so much about the world, about life and about myself during my five-week stay in the US. I came home with renewed hope to be of service to my community, country and the world.

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<p>Kai Darul is a 20-something accountant, blogger and occasional speaker from Tawi-Tawi, Philippines. On her free time, she blogs about her life, interior design, finance, personal development and Islam. She loves exploring and learning new things. You can find her at <a href='http://kaidarul.com'>kaidarul.com</a>.</p>