Sarawakian Sikh student on life-changing journey in Hawaii

Sarawakian TEJBIR KAUR is currently in the United States on the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program. How has been it? She shares her experience. For those who want to try their luck at landing the opportunity, the application for the next batch closes on 30 April 2019.

By Tejbir Kaur | HAWAII |

“The shortest way to yourself is around the world.” – Richard Hoffman. Growing up in Kuching, Sarawak, I always wanted to travel and explore cultures around the world that I only knew about through movies as well as social media. Well, it is everyone’s million dollar dream to live in another country and see for themselves how true are the things that we see in such platforms about certain places.

I would have never imagined myself being living that dream in this point of life as it may sound unbelievable for an 18-year-old to spend six months living in one of the world’s most diverse country, The United States of America! All these thanks to an amazing exchange program that I came across from my high school seniors.

The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program is an exchange program funded by U.S. Department of States and sponsored by Bureau of Educational and Cultural affairs (ECA) for high school students from countries with significant Muslim population to spend an academic year in the United States.

Established by Congress in 2002, this program is introduced as a response to the events of September 11, 2001. This program aims to bridge gap between the US and Muslim majority countries through the youth in order to create a mutual understanding among the communities around the world. Today, high school students from 38 countries such as Albania, India, Indonesia, Lebanon, Malaysia, Thailand and many others are living with host families, attending high schools, volunteering in local communities, exchanging values and cultures as well as discovering themselves in this journey throughout the US.

I am currently hosted in a small and welcoming town called Kamuela in Hawaii. Well, as exciting as it sounds to be in Hawaii, I am enjoying my time here to the fullest. I live with my wonderful host family of four and I am also attending a local school, Parker School as a senior for 6 months!

Well, I know that I mentioned earlier about the program being a year long, but for Malaysians exchange students, we only join the program in January for six months due to the SPM examination that we have to sit the year before in November. So, we have half of the program than all the other students on the program to adjust in, learn new things and cope up with homework again (It’s still fun).

But looking at the bright side, these six months help us to appreciate the given opportunity and make every single day count. I am on this life-changing journey with exceptionally awesome 39 other students who are currently hosted all around the United States making the best of their times.


My time here has been exciting and full of adventures so far! Thanks to my host family who decided to bring me in the family, teaching new things, being patient with me and encouraging me to try new things! They seriously made my exchange wonderful and easy! Not forgetting my school! Parker is actually a family-based school with only more than 100 students which is actually very different from a lot of the school’s in Malaysia.

Everyone here knows each and I genuinely made friends with the whole school! School is fun here as I get to experience a totally different education system where I get to choose my classes and really different classes which I never heard of at least as well as engage in various different school activities!

Being here for four months now, I have done various things such as taking part in Hawaii Debate and Speech tournament, volunteering at a local library, doing an internship with Hawaii State Senator, learning Japanese dye art, taking part in school musical, performing at a charity event, visiting volcano national park, doing a half marathon, going to the beaches, trying different cuisines, learning the Hawaiian language and many more. I feel so contented with the fact that not only that I had fun, but I was also able to expand my understanding and view about the different cultures around me here.

Tejbir Kaur

Many people asked me, is it worth it? The only answer I can give is yes! I understand that there was, is and always will be a stigma around exchange programs which categorize them to be just a waste of time as students who are a part of them can actually enroll colleges earlier rather than two months later. However, the thing that a lot of people do not comprehend is that such programs open doors for students to discover themselves and shape them to adapt better to this ever-changing world.

I am blessed to be encouraged by my family and friends to take this chance as it is not every day that a 18-year-old is able to live in another country for 6 months, building new relationships, learning new things as well as being the person who makes a small change in a community.

For more information and application details, please click here. Application closes on April 30th 2019!



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