Saturday, November 1, 2014

AFS and NSLI-Y 101

Hey guys!

Sorry I've been more than a bit silent lately,  as I plow on through my so far very enjoyable but also immensely busy senior year, battling with the intense curriculum of my all-IB high school, scores of extracurricular activities, college apps, and trying to maintain some sanity in the process.

However, I wanted to get back to you all to share a bit of knowledge of mine on the two exchange programs with which I have traveled, AFS and NSLI-Y. Given that it's "application season," as I like to call it, that one of my best friends is applying to NSLI-Y, and that the deadline for preliminary applications (October 30) very recently passed, I thought it wise to get my two cents on this topic out in the blogosphere quickly, so here we go!

I'll start with NSLI-Y, since it's got a lot of structural things I can talk about.
Essentially, NSLI-Y, as I've stated before, is a government-sponsored scholarship that sends American high schoolers abroad to learn critical languages. The ones that they offer are Arabic, for which they send to Jordan, Morocco, and Oman, Mandarin Chinese, for which they send to China, Hindi, for which they send to India, Korean, for which they send to South Korea, Persian, for which they send to Tajikistan, Russian, for which they send to Russia, Estonia, Latvia, and Moldova, and Turkish, for which they send to Turkey.
There are a few key components to every NSLI-Y program - since NSLI-Y is essentially just a scholarship, every program is run by what's called an "implementing organization" that helps with the logistics of transporting NSLI-Yers overseas and overseeing their programs. My program's implementing organization, for example, was American Cultural Exchange Service (ACES). Implementing organizations often vary even within programs that travel to the same countries or teach the same languages.
There is also the overseas educational institution. As all NSLI-Y programs are centered around language courses in the country, each program has an educational institution in which these courses take place. What these are often varies program by program - sometimes they can be universities. Others are rather like TÖMER, the overseas educational institution for all of the Turkish programs, which is a cultural institution created by the Turkish government to promote both the teaching of Turkish to foreigners, and of foreign languages to Turks. It is certainly the largest of its kind in Turkey, so all of NSLI-Y's Turkish programs use TÖMER as their educational institution. Each program also has its residential director, or RD for short. This is a person who travels with the participants to and from their program destination and remains there with them for the duration of the program. They will be fluent in both the target language and English, and help to oversee the implementation of the program, language classes, and cultural activities and excursions.
That's about all I can think of for NSLI-Y programs.

AFS is generally structured very differently from NSLI-Y programs. AFS exists in a whole host of countries around the world, and sends between all of them, so whereas program participants in NSLI-Y programs are all just American high schoolers, an AFS program will have participants from all over the world. Every student who embarks on an AFS program will be placed in a host family (that could be located anywhere in the host country), and, once a specific family is secured, they will be placed in a local host school, which, in most programs, will mean a public school in which they will be immersed in their host country's language. The specifics on activities other than that vary widely in AFS from country to country, and even chapter to chapter. But, generally, it can be assumed that chapters will organize some sort of activities or excursions from time to time. For example, those in my Alexandria AFS chapter had weekly calligraphy lessons with a professional, and we were treated to a number of excursions to other cities arranged by our local chapter. A chapter usually has around 10-20 hosted students that could be from anywhere in the world.
In general, these activities are not quite as rigidly scheduled or regular as they are in an NSLI-Y program.
Oh, also: an essential component of every AFS program is that of several orientations held throughout the program, with a typical year program usually consisting of a welcome orientation (immediately after arrival in-country), a post-arrival orientation (usually 6ish weeks in), a midstay orientation (halfway through the program), a pre-departure orientation (6ish weeks before leaving), and a farewell orientation (right before leaving). These often are held in the capital or largest city of the host country, with ALL the participants in the country being present. This makes for very fun, dynamic gatherings at which crazy, amazing memories ensue.
Finally, aside from the shorter-term day trips or excursions like I mentioned before, oftentimes AFS will organize larger trips in-country for the participants to embark on. A good example would be the Aswan and Luxor trip that I went on during my exchange in Egypt. Others include the Camino de Santiago trip my friend who was in Spain with AFS went on, and the Lapland trip my friend who was in Finland with AFS went on. Those too are great fun, for obvious reasons - there is much to be learned, seen, discovered, and doing so with other exchange students makes everything SO much more fun. :)
That's about all I can think of for AFS.

Now, a few final notes. First up, deadlines. Unfortunately, the preliminary application deadline for NSLI-Y just recently passed, it was October 30. To all those who applied and are now waiting for semifinalist notifications, GOOD LUCK!! I'm so proud of and happy for all of you, and I'm sending virtual hugs and good vibes your way. :')
AFS applications seem to have a much larger time frame; I took a look at a couple of programs - both year/semester and summer - on the AFS website and it seems like most of them have deadlines from early to mid-March 2015. So obviously there's still quite some time for those if you're interested. But I would advise you to look at the deadlines for whatever specific programs interest you, and to keep a close eye on them/get your application done as soon as possible to secure your spot.
If you're interested in trying out for the YES Abroad (Youth Exchange and Study - full-ride scholarships for year programs to study abroad in majority-Muslim countries) or CBYX (Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange - full-ride scholarships for year programs in Germany), those are also potential options. CBYX is implemented by different exchange programs in different regions of the USA, and the application deadline varies by implementing program (so if you're interested, be sure to check out the deadline for the implementing program of your region!), but those all are between December of this year and February 2015, according to the CBYX website. The YES deadline is a bit more straightforward - January 7, 2015.
A few final scholarship opportunity I'd like to publicize a little include AFS's Project Change initiative. This is essentially a contest in which 8th-12th graders are invited to create and submit an idea for a volunteer project that would have a meaningful impact abroad, with the potential to be awarded a full-ride scholarship to travel to China, Columbia, Egypt, France, Ghana, India, Ireland, Kenya, Malaysia, Panama, the Philippines, Russia, Spain, or Turkey to implement their project on an AFS program. The deadline for that is December 10.
Another would be the Cultural Explorer Scholarship, which I had when I traveled to Egypt (thought it was called the Global Leaders Scholarship back then), which provides $3,000 scholarships for students traveling from the US to "out of the ordinary" destinations (Bosnia, China, Ghana, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Russia, Thailand, or Turkey) on unsponsored AFS programs.
Another is the Vaya a América Latina scholarship, which provides $3,000 scholarships for students traveling to Latin American destinations (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Panama, or Peru) for a year or semester program starting in the spring.
There is also the Viaggio Italiano scholarship, providing $2,000 scholarships for programs to Italy, as well as two different ones for programs to Japan, the Yoshi Hattori Memorial Scholarship, and the Sakura Scholarship, which are full and 50% scholarships respectively.
Finally, a variety of local scholarships are offered by state and chapter, both merit and need-based.
Suffice it to say, there are a great many opportunities to potentially take advantage of. :)

Here are links to all of the programs and scholarship opportunities I've talked about in this post:
And here's a video from an AFSer who was in Italy last year covering similar topics discussed in this post, as well as an overview of the AFS application process. 

Thanks so much for reading this far, everyone. I sincerely hope that this post and the information in it is helpful to anyone who is applying to any of these programs, considering studying abroad in general, both, and/or anything in between. If I've helped even one person advance their dreams, even just a little, it honestly will mean the world to me. :)

I myself wish that I could be among you right now. It's no secret that I'd be reapplying for AFS, NSLI-Y, and YES gap year programs for sure if I could. Heck, I've got a whole line-up in my travel journal of what programs I'd apply for and in what order that I wrote one day (while feeling particularly nostalgic and salty…xP). Unfortunately, due to the fact that I'm a little old in my grade, I cannot reapply for any of these high school programs. Since I will be over 18 by the time all of these programs start, I'm ineligible to reapply. :(
My feelings about this are two-fold, in many ways. On one hand, I concede it would be a little strange and frustrating to have to continue abiding by some of the rules and regulations set by high school programs as a legal adult, as well as being surrounded by younger fellow exchange students.
On the other, I feel like a whole myriad of amazing and priceless opportunities has been denied to me by my inability to reapply for these wonderful programs, which is, for obvious reasons, quite frustrating.
In any case, regardless of how I feel about the given situation, I've accepted it at this point, as what's impossible is impossible, after all. I've taken it in stride, for I have no doubts that, even in spite of my inability to reapply for these programs, I will make sure to line up plenty of opportunities to venture abroad in my future, and to continue helping and supporting people aspiring to apply to these programs in my position as an AFS and NSLI-Y returnee and volunteer. :)

For now it seems my next major foreign escapade will be a trip to Spain and France on a tour with my school next July. I recently signed up for that trip, which a number of my close friends are going on as well, and will take us to Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, and Paris and Normandy in France as main stops, with a few others along the way in between these main destinations. I'm looking quite forward to it, as it promises to be a very fun and informative way to end my high school experience with some of the people whose friendships have defined it as a positive experience for me.

In the meantime, again, I hope that you all enjoyed and/or benefited from this post somehow! I will be back soon with any relevant experiences or updates in my life.

Goodbye for now, guys! ^_^