Goodbyes are bittersweet, but it’s not the end I’ll see your face again

Maria Regina Kelen Toby (INA YES to USA YP 16–17)

It’s already been 5 months since the first time I put my foot on this wonderful land called Sitka. I couldn’t ask for a better host family who are helping me make my exchange year incredibly wonderful so far. Time flies so fast and I’m halfway back home already. These 5 months brought a lot of new experiences for me. Some of my dreams have been accomplished as well. Through this I want to share what I have learned in these 5 months.

Last Christmas was pretty different; I celebrated Christmas with new family. My Christmas was so awesome and I could say even though I celebrated it with a new family I felt like I celebrated Christmas in my own home, yes, home! My Christmas was full of surprise and presents of course, because Santa was telling me that I have been a good girl in 2016. My Christmas also was beyond my expectations because I got such a precious gift from my lovely host family. The amazing part of my Christmas is when my host family went to the church just to watch me because I joined the Christmas choir in my church. In the choir I am the youngest one and they really appreciate it even though my voice is not really good but at least I could sing to help everyone happy on the great day. Christmas also helped me to achieve one of my goals. My host family took me all the way to Juneau, the capital city of Alaska, to trying skiing for the first time in my life. It was so much fun, I literally enjoyed it but you know, as a beginner, I was afraid of falling down, crashing or not being able to control my ski equipment. It went pretty well though; I had so much fun during the first 2 hours of my lesson because I am a beginner. They also took me to the Ice Caves at the Mendenhall Glacier and finally I could see what the ice caves look like. As a tropical girl I always want to see snow, snow is like kisses from heaven for every one. I really enjoyed my first snow and it makes me more than happy.

In January, I did a lot of cluster activities such as being master of ceremonies at the International Dance Show in Sitka. We also went to Juneau (again) with the other Southeast Alaska AfSers. Juneau is the state capital of Alaska. We learned how government works there. The last cluster activity was making Chinese dumplings with Chinese exchange students to celebrate Chinese New Year. First of all, this is my first time being a master of ceremonies in a show and I was so nervous but, on the other hand, I am so proud because at this show I also introduced Indonesia to other people. At that show, there was a woman who went to Bali last year for volunteer work and she could talk in Indonesian, it really surprised me and then we became friends. My second trip to Juneau was so much fun because I spent 3 days with the other Southeast Alaska AfSers. We went to the Alaska Capitol building. We had a tour around the building and we got a lot of new information about the past, present and future of Alaska. We were introduced in the House of Representatives and talked to the Lieutenant Governor of Alaska, which was really interesting.

Right now I am a senior at Sitka High School. As a senior I am preparing myself to face the graduation. Every school in Southeast Alaska requires their students to know how to swim for graduation. Although I am a tropical girl I do not know how to swim so I decided to take swim lessons. First of all, I was so afraid because I didn’t know anything related to swimming so for the first lesson I asked my host mom to come to the pool just because I was so afraid. But actually, the swim instructor and my vice principal are really nice, they also told me that I could take many lessons to prepare myself for the swim test. Being a senior isn’t as easy as I thought it would be, but I believe I can get through it. I am not only doing stuff for my graduation I also joined some clubs in school. One club is Mock Trial in which we choose a role to play in a trial. I chose to be a witness. We will be having our trial in a real courtroom and competing against other schools. Right now we are preparing for Mock Trial State Championship in March. The State Championship will be held in Anchorage, the biggest city in Alaska. It’s a good experience for me because I never knew anything about the Supreme Court and what happens inside the courtroom. However, now I get a chance to practice it and also get a chance to go to the State Championship with other students from my school.

My first semester in school ran smoothly even though I took a lot of hard classes so that I could graduate. However, I am really enjoying it because I only get this precious opportunity one time in my life. My high school friends are really awesome; they are really helpful and nice. We like to spend time together during lunch either just joking around or talking about the differences between Indonesia and US. I also joined the Sitka Studio of Dance, I practice once a week and I am doing hip-hop dance. We are preparing for a performance in May.

It’s really hard for me to say that I only have 4 months left to complete my exchange year. This is really sad; actually I am crying while writing this newsletter because I am not ready yet to leave my beloved family and friends in Sitka. Sitka is a beautiful town filled with a lot of nice and humble people. I’ve had a lot of new experiences such as picking berries, learning about Alaska and the United States of America and experiencing a new educational system. I’ve tried a lot of unusual food, which I didn’t like at first but some have become my favorite foods. I’ve learned a lot about the differences between USA and Indonesia and I have introduced Indonesia to a lot of new people. I’ve also had a chance to do volunteer work. I’ve experienced the differences between the weather in Kupang and in Sitka.

I have learned how to be more tolerant of other people, how to respect everyone in all conditions. I’ve become more mature and open minded with everything. My exchange year not only brought a lot of new experiences and helped me accomplish some of my goals but it has also brought a lot of positive impact for myself and helped me to build a multicultural understanding between 2 different cultures.

“If I could fly, I’d be coming right back home to you.” These lyrics from a One Direction song literally represents my feelings right now. I’ll be back soon. I’m going to miss my beloved host family and my pets here Duncan and Lucky. I will miss all of my American friends, the AFS volunteers here in Sitka and all of Southeast Alaska AfSers.

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