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American Dream

Harini smiling in a group photo

By Harini Alagesan (YES 2023-2024, Malaysia, placed by Greenheart in Huntley, IL)

Dreams are perceived as something so far away, out of reach. I choose to believe otherwise because here I am living my wildest dreams. Words by themselves are not adequate to fully describe my experience here but through my words I hope to share a bit about life 15, 061 km away from home. Ever since I was selected for the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study program (YES) I’ve been feeling so many emotions, namely excitement, fear, gratitude and curiosity.

Home to me is not a place or a few bricks stacked on one another. It’s the people that make a house a home. It’s safe to say that from the first time I stepped into this new household, I found a new home. A small but lively household, everyone here seemed to accept me with the warmest open arms.

Since day one, my host family has done everything in their power to help me navigate my experience and make it one to remember. As days pass, I feel more like a part of the family, whether it’s grocery shopping with my host mom, listening to the stories of my Argentinian host dad, my host sister doing my hair or watching her as she does hers, or even as I play with the younger sister I never had.

Another thing that I feel so fortunate about is having a double placement with another exchange student. Brazil and Malaysia have their similarities but so do she and I. She is another reason why I don’t feel lost as I create a life for myself here. I couldn’t have asked for a better family. There isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not thankful for them.

Huntley, Illinois is your small town from the movies; where you meet someone you know in every store. Growing up in Kajang, Selangor, Huntley feels perfect. The community, the town, everything just makes sense.

Harini smiling and posing in the school gym

However, my favourite part about Huntley is its high school. I thought that making friends would be hard, but everyone was so welcoming and willing to help me. Compared to my all-girl, 700 student home school, 3000 students is a lot! But I never felt intimidated. From trying new classes (dancing and cooking) to getting interviewed by my headmaster on my first day, HHS is now something I look forward to every day. I’m definitely going to miss the basketball games, the busy hallways and locker rooms, the love-hate relationship with cafeteria food, and most importantly, the people.

Friends make up a big part of a person’s life. My first group of friends was a group of other exchange students. There’s just something so fun about exploring the city when it’s something foreign to all of you. My network of friends now includes Brazilians, Koreans, Italians, Argentinians, Polish, and of course Americans. Besides learning and sharing about the different cultures, just having someone to laugh with in class or make plans with on the weekends is enough to give me more wonderful memories to take home.

Harini smiling in a selfie with friends

From prom dress shopping and trying new foods, to cycling in the hustle and bustle of Chicago or volunteering at a food pantry, my exchange has been nothing but amazing so far. I never knew just sharing something I’m so passionate about (my country) could take me this far, literally. Plenty of people I’ve met have gone from not knowing where Malaysia is on the map to wanting to visit it one day, which makes me believe I’m doing something right as a youth ambassador for my country.

With less than 3 months remaining, I think of ways to live two lives at once though I know it’s impossible. This exchange has already altered my life, making me more independent, responsible and in a way patriotic. I can’t wait to see what these last few weeks have in store for me.


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