By Rassi Narika Pang (YES 2003-2004, Indonesia, placed by AFS in Vassalboro, ME)
What are some of your biggest accomplishments since becoming an alumni of the YES program?
I received a scholarship from the Indonesian government to pursue my master's degree in London. I also started a small publishing company for children, and have written as well as illustrated picture books in Indonesia. My books have been presented in international book fairs and translated into English.
I think my biggest accomplishment is being able to learn from children's perspectives, and make stories from and for them.
What are some of your favorite memories from the YES program?
I love how close we were to the nature. I lived in Vassalboro, Maine, a community where the woods were just next door and wild animals passed through our back yard, and there were beautiful views of mountains.
I remember a weekend at Moosehead Lake. My host family and I stayed in a cabin and we went canoeing around the lake. I saw a wild moose for the first time. Coming from a big city like Jakarta, being that close to the nature was something different and it intrigued me. I also remember finding a framed copy of my host sister's poem that was published in the local newspaper and thought to myself that I wanted to do something like that.
What are some of the ways you’ve stayed connected to fellow alumni since your exchange experience? What about your host family or friends?
I've stayed in contact with them on social media. Facebook was not around for the first couple of years after my program ended, so we sent letters to each other. My host family sent me Christmas updates and gifts in the first couple of years. I went back to the U.S. a couple of times to visit my host family and attend my host sister's wedding. We've since stayed in touch through Facebook and Instagram. As to my fellow YES alumni in Indonesia, we have a close knit group and we get in touch fairly easily. Five years after the program, we established Indonesian YES Alumni Association and I was on one of its first boards of leadership.
How did the YES program impact you professionally? What about personally?
My YES year opened my views on the things I'm interested in today and the sort of skills I wanted to grow. My interest in writing as a young child found its early form of creative writing skill in my English classes and theatre club. As a person, I found out that I was braver than I thought. I also appreciate the 'slowness' in living life, how it allows you to find details in your everyday and appreciate the passing time.
What is one piece of advice you would give to current or future YES program participants?
To not overlook the the small things. In the coming year, small details of your year might be the very thing that would help you to find yourself even after the exchange year has ended.
In 10, 20, or even 30 years, what do you hope the legacy of the YES program will be?
I of course hope that the program will keep going in the years to come. But I also hope the community of students, alumni, host families, and volunteers would also be able to reconnect and be acknowledged for their contribution in keeping the program going.