The secret of the project, “Financing Our Future with Village bank”

written by Morxay Vongnakhone from Laos

I am having the chance to do my fellowship at Operation HOPE which is a non-profit organization that provides services to help the working poor, the under-served and struggling middle class.  Operation HOPE has become a best- in-class provider of financial literacy empowerment for youth, financial capability for communities, and ultimately, financial dignity for all.  Because of Operation HOPE’s work, my supervisor has shared such a surprising thing I have never even thought about. She shared that there are over 1,500,000 non-profit organization in the U.S and in Atlanta itself where I am based has more than 37,000 organization (2013), the figures made me shocked for awhile because I haven’t though or imagine that in the U.S there would be so many nonprofit organizations available. I immediately felt that I could do something more for the society.

During my fellowship time, I have participated the program called Banking on Our Future which is actually the first and oldest program of Operation HOPE provides financial literacy class for their target groups including high school students. This was very exciting for me because it caused me to think about what my home organization is doing, it is almost the same thing what we are doing at home but the difference is that in my organization in Laos doesn’t offer financial literacy for high school students. My supervisor explained me the benefits of providing financial literacy for high school students, she has included some important points like they could prepare early for their life after high school, they could start saving for their universities, startup their own small businesses, settle down, create generational wealth and so on. After that, I got the idea what I want to take back home, what I want to do for my outbound project, I want to do a project called Financing Our Future with Village Bank or FOFVB. This program will teach high school students about financial literacy and how they can manage their money to start saving with village bank for their own futures, it is truly significant idea that must be implemented.

Morxay Vongnakhone at Operation Hope

Morxay at Operation Hope.jpg

Understanding Hawaiian Ohana and the American Culture: Looking in between

written by Exan Sharief from the Philippines

The Hawaii community is an interesting place to unlearn in order to learn things in another perspective. While my first week exposure on the American culture started in Washington DC where I had the opportunity to talk to the ordinary people I met on the streets regarding their views and practices as part of the continental US, I could not deny my excitement as I listened to the stories of diversity by the people of this Hawaii island territory. It is a blessing that I was placed for work at EPIC Ohana where family is given a prime importance. In the same fashion, I am lucky to be hosted by Uncle Roger, my parent from a Chinese descent.

Both of these fateful coincidence have taught me new erudition and continue to open my understanding on how the US and its American practices have truly influenced their ways of life. I came to realize then that our Professional Fellowship Program wasn’t just about the concepts, practices and strategies on economic empowerment. Sure it did provide a leverage on my intent to get a good grasp on how to raise the economic capacity of the community through getting involved in the planning and assessment of the existing programs of EPIC Ohana, but more importantly, I got the chance to meet brilliant individuals who have seen themselves how communities are empowered and how their potentials are directed.

During the first Friday of this month of May, our office did a lunch potluck with a mother’s day theme. Right there, everyone prepared a delicacy and shared its relevance with their family bond. I have been sitting to discuss with program managers on youth circle, ohana conference, ohana connections, HI HOPES and youth leadership board, but at that quick one-hour lunch period, I acquired knowledge that are more than what is written on reports and proposals. I had the first-hand experience of behavioral uplift translated into an informal cultural exchange but institutionalized as a working office policy. Birthdays and graduations were announced, exemplary works were complemented and because I was new to the family, I had the privilege to start the informal sharing before the meal. What I brought was a “palapa,” a Meranao homemade spices, put in bread appetizers while others brought “Poke,” Spanish delicacies, French salads and many other mom’s recipes. I saw the assortment of food palate but one was a common favorite to everyone – the American dessert, Ice Cream. More than that, I had chit chats with my officemates on their admiration for the Filipinos in Hawaii who have ventured in making good businesses either in food, service or accessory items. Not far from the Filipino culture, the Hawaiian community, while diverse in composition, truly values family bonds especially with that of a mother to a child. So, I took advantage of the moment to share to them how a typical Filipino family looks like in the Philippines aside from those they came across here in the US.

On a separate occasion, I was able to share the concept of the Filipino “Bayanihan” spirit in one of the program conceptualization for Princess Lili’oukalani Trust for the native Hawaiian children. I was in full admiration on how the Federal government manages to respect the multi-ethnicity composition of its population. I then attended this International Trade Seminar through the invitation of the International Hospitality Center, where I was able to connect the interrelation of the economic activities of the general American Hawaiian population with those from other countries. I understood how income and business unites the different cultures existing in Hawaii into exporting a single brand that represents them all.

The past two weeks in Hawaii gave a learning experience within and outside my work placement. I usually make the most of my stay here, so immediately after work, I visit different areas in downtown Honolulu. Several times, I got the casual talk with both the locals and the visitors who come from continental US. From them, I learned the importance of tourism as part of the State’s economic activities. Very significantly, I learned from them the power of referral between family members and circle of friends. This is nothing new to what I hear almost every single day from Uncle Roger, who happened to be a restaurant owner in Oahu. He shared how he had his education in the mainland before coming here in Hawaii. So, I had a bunch of comparative notes on the economic behavioral pattern from the mainland to the pacific. More than what I hear from him and the theoretical discussion, I was fortunate to be introduced to his American Chinese family as well as made part of the family workforce as each one contributes something to the family business. Luckily, my share was to simply help in the purchasing while I enjoy being treated with a tasty meal which I would take as more than just a compensation. Hearing all these stories on startup capitals that turned into successful businesses and the sacrifices of moving from Southern China to mainland US before going to Hawaii, I have seen the transitional progress into the American standard of living and kindness extended by the American culture in embracing newcomers from a variety of lineage.

Like that of a tree where branches grow in different directions yet united by a single trunk, the different backgrounds and origins of the families or Ohana living in the US, more particularly in Hawaii, are united by the common adherence to the American family values.

Missing it Before Leaving it: American Kindness

written by Adi Pratama from Indonesia

Who doesn’t know the United States. Many prominent figures in the world come from this country. Technology, economics, scientific, almost all sectors become in this country become global gold standard.  No wonder many people dream to at least put their feet in this dreamy land. I am one of them. Going to the United States was one of my biggest dreams. And I was lucky this year I did not just realize my dream but also, what never crossed my mind before, in a country that known to be most competitive one in the world, I found a treasure of genuine kindness.

Last week one memorable thing happened at my worksite, DC Chamber of Commerce. My colleague Valentina was sick and our Supervisor, Margaret Singleton, not only allowed her to go to the doctor but also made sure there is a colleague of us who accompanied her to the doctor. Ms. Nathalie Harris and Ms. Jennie Orange took care of Valentina very well and take her to the doctor. Until the next day they keep checking if she doing fine already. Their concern for us made me and Valentina out of words to express our gratitude. Beside that, our President & CEO, Mr. Vincent Orange also always take time to talk to us to make sure all we need is there. He even sent us to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and give precious lesson from the experience (that I would tell you in another post).

I found another moment when I had the opportunity to visit and study at Destination DC, stakeholders who marketed tourism for Washington DC. At the beginning, I felt that I was coming in a wrong timing because it was a busy week for everyone there, but I was wrong. I was very well received. Ms. Terri Carter Human Resource Manager from Destination DC is happy to give me a brief tour to get around the awesome Destination DC office. Continued by Mr. Bruno Schwartz who is a Senior Manager of membership who kindly explained in detail how Destination DC works. All came and went because they actually have upcoming work, but they really devoted attention and also answered tons of my questions in detail. Ms. Letizia Sirtori and Ms. Lindsey Hill then accompanied me to lunch and was kind enough help me discuss about my outbound project that I will do in Indonesia. The most memorable moment was when after lunch I was invited to join the weekly staff meeting. President of Destination DC Mr. Elliot Fergusson welcomed me warmly and invited me to take a picture with the entire staff of Destination DC. He is very humble and nice. He willing to give a word or two for the activists of tourism in Indonesia through my vlog. I haven’t been there for a day, but already fall in love with this office.

Not only at Worksite, my two weeks with my Host family is also amazing. Lilia Murphy, my ‘Host mom’ treats me very well. I was very surprise when she cooks fried rice for dinner, just because I casually told her that I still need to adjust because I used to eat rice in Indonesia. On the weekend, Lilia kindly drove us to Baltimore and Annapolis on her precious day-off. Last Friday night she held a small dinner and invited some of her acquaintances to give me and host my brother from Brazil culture exposure which is very useful for us. The next day one of Lilia’s neighbors, Barbra kindly drove me and my Host Brother and accompanied us to the shopping center because my Host brother wanted to buy something before returning home to Brazil. All day, she spent his weekend with us and she did it with pleasure.

There is more that I can’t comprehend here. But those already touch my heart deeply. Not just a courtesy to be polite, but something sincere that is hard for us to forget. This country not only has great people indeed, but also people who have a wonderful heart with them. Therefore, I know, even before I go home, I will miss this country and its people very much.


written by Shirley Chin from Brunei

The first two weeks of arriving in the US has been beyond amazing. We had a couple of days in Washington DC for our pre departure (worksite) orientation and had some free time to roam around at night during our first few nights. We also had the chance to tour the US Capitol in Washington and visited the white house. We have been paired with different fellows intentionally so we are obliged to make new friends and get to know other fellows more. The first few days passed by in a blink of an eye. It is amazing how a short two days in this YSEALI program has open up so many opportunities for us to make good friends and develop great network. It is a little sad that we all have to part ways to go to our respective workplace but I believe we will all come back to the Congress at the end of the month sharing more exciting stories!


Each fellow has been placed to a different worksite or different state. I am placed at Sacramento, California in a non-profit organization called Visit California. This organization strive to create desire for the California experience and to promote California as a premier travel destination. It is a tourism marketing organization inspiring travel to California.  I had the opportunity to attend the board meeting held every quarterly of the year. This year it was held at Squaw Valley, Tahoe where they used to host the Winter Olympics Games back in the 60’s.

Lake Tahoe Olympic Stadium

At the board meeting, I had the opportunity to meet the President and CEO of Visit California, Caroline Beteta; the CEO of Ridgemont hospitality, Sima Patel; the Executive Vice President of operations of the Interstate hotels, Russ Cox and also the President and CEO of Orange County Visitor Association, Co-founder of Laguna Strategic advisors, Formal President and Managing Director Marriott International- Edwin Fuller. Most of them serve as commissioners of Visit California’s board meeting and I am so delighted to have taken the initiative to speak to them. Their knowledge on the tourism industry has been astonishing and their vision to make California a premier tourist destination has been really clear and goal orientated.

Shirley at Olympic stadium

Of course, this opportunity will not have happen without the help of my supervisor Kayla Wood who is the Public Affairs Manager. We work well together and she has assist me in so many ways that I’m so grateful for.

Besides work, I also had the chance to assimilate the American culture during the weekends. I joined one of the fellows (Funnur- Indonesian fellow) host parents to Oakland to watch the Oakland Athletics vs. the Baltimore Orioles game. It was fascinating to see how patriotic the Americans were during the national anthem before the start of the game. With my little knowledge on baseball game, Jon and Stephanie (Host parents of Funnur) willingly explain what was going on throughout the match.

Shirley at baseball game

I am looking forward to meeting more new people throughout my journey here in the US. I can’t wait to share more stories and I am so grateful for the opportunity the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural affairs (ECA) has provided and also to American Councils for International Education (ACIE) who assists in administering this.

The Land of Dreams

written by Aqmarina Andira from Indonesia

Reflection One: The Land of Dreams



I have never set a foot before in this country, yet somehow everything feels so familiar. The United States of America is indeed the land of dreams. And as a dreamer myself, to visit and to experience living in this country is indeed feels like coming home. I mean, growing up watching, reading, and listening to songs about the States, I am feeling super nostalgic.

The 24 hours and 16,344 km journey from home is totally worth it.


Indonesian Fellows with Linnea

Reflection Two: The Avenue of Hope

“The essence of intercultural education is the acquisition of empathy, the ability to see the world as others see it, and to allow for the possibility that others may see something we have failed to see, or may see it more accurately. The simple purpose of the exchange program is to erode the culturally rooted mistrust that sets nations against one another. The exchange program is not a panacea but an avenue of hope.” — J. William Fulbright

Reflection Three

“Let me give you a hug,” Mae said to me. “I know how hard it is to start and to keep going”. Ina and SirasarThe thing I love the most from a program like this is seeing genuine passion in people’s eyes.
I saw passion in Mae’s eyes when talking about the preservation of traditional Thailand’s music. I saw lots of passionate eyes from young people in this Professional Fellows Program. I saw courage, persistence, and the most important thing is the willingness to keep going. And it is indeed very beautiful.

First Week of YSEALI PFP

written by Exan Sharief from the Philippines

The YSEALI Professional Fellowship Program on Economic Empowerment opened many wonderful beginnings in both my professional and personal life.

I was more than excited to put my feet and leave an impressive mark on the land of freedom or most of the times called as the land of dreams and opportunities. Starting with the orientation at Washington DC, I was profoundly inspired how the American Councils have started engaging these young leaders from different parts of the world into understanding the American culture and eventually bring home lessons learned. Very significantly, I felt the genuine welcome and the sincere interest to foster connectivity among these young leaders, more especially with the American government in terms of sharing best practices and applying them in the home country. I could not believe my eyes when I finally got inside the US Capitol and got as close as I can to the White House and even jogged around the Washington Monument. More than the sightseeing, I was impressed with the historical significance of bearing the “E Pluribus Unum” at the Capitol. This essential principles that built America is so valuable that I had to ask a taxi driver how does he lives the American dream.

When the work placement to Hawaii finally surfaced my thinking after a long flight, I felt home in that feeling of happiness and sense of belonging in living the American dream. In Hawaii, I’ve met and talked with quite a number of Asian Americans who have consistently told me how they found unity in diversity. It is that one solid purpose of being a nation rather than being a single individual that struck my interest. Immersing myself further, I truly appreciate the kindness shown by the people as manifested on simple greetings of hello from a neighbor to another. On a positive note, I learned how to be independent despite living with a host family. I am just so overwhelmed with the positivity shown within and outside my workplace. There’s that forward mentality to do things best and improve on candid suggestions rather than repel them with a heavy heart. A little far from what I’m used to at my home country but I am hopeful that all this learning will have to be replicated as soon as I get back.

I have always believed in the Aloha spirit that is profusely embodied in the US Declaration of Independence stating, among others, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The First Week of Tourism in National Small Business Week in DC

written by Adi Pratama from Indonesia

The first week of my fellowship working with DC Chamber of Commerce was a great fun. Earlier on Friday I had met my supervisor, Mrs. Margaret Singleton for a briefing and agenda of what I would do during my two weeks of fellowship at DC Chamber of Commerce. I was very impressed when I knew that Margaret had prepared a detailed agenda for what I would doing for all days in two weeks. Every day I am prepared to attend an event as well as meet with some people who, according to Margaret and Team DC Chamber of Commerce can be useful for my need to learn about the development of community-based tourism in Indonesia. They even arrange me meeting with Destination DC who responsible in market the tourism industry here in Washington DC. I also introduced to my co-workers at DC Chamber of Commerce and I am very touched with everyone kindness and warm welcome. Especially President and CEO of DC Chamber of Commerce Vincent Orange, he is a very inspiring and humble leader who can mingle with everyone. In addition, I am also here with Valentina Ilina who is a Eurasia program participant from Russia and we placed in the same room.

My Monday started with interesting activities. Valentina and I are given a valuable opportunity to participate in DC Chamber of Commerce Lobbying day with DC Council Member’s to discuss strategic policy proposals for building a good business environment for business people in the District of Columbia area, especially small and medium business. In lobbying day, I have the opportunity to meet with businessmen who are members of DC Chamber of Commerce. I impress how they spare their precious time share their aspirations for greater good of DC Business environment. We met with 7 Council members including Chairman Mendelson who was the leader for the legislative in Washington DC. I am very excited to see the on-going dialogue process. On this occasion I also learned about business policies applied in US and try to compare them with my country. The goal is certainly not to disfavor the less good but be the spirit to make meaningful improvements from what I learnt. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to take a picture with Council Member Vince gray, who was Mayor of Washington DC for the period of 2011-2015. Another surprise he turned out to be a certified clinical psychologist, which became an inspiration for me.

The next days we are participating in several summit. In Tuesday we were sent to join DC Power Up event organized by DC health link Exchange health insurance company. This event is intended as a forum for networking and learning for small and medium business actors as well as helping them find the resources they need to be able to build a business empire. On Wednesday we helped DC Chamber of Commerce in one of our very own big events, 2018 Small Business & Economic Development Summit. This great event brings together small business actors with big players and also provides workshops that can help small-scale development in DC. For me this is special because I am very happy to be involved as a committee in this event, becoming a part to organize such event in US amaze me with how MICE industry (Meeting, Incentive, Convention, and Exhibition) in this country. At the event there is also an awarding Lucheon for the small businesses and people who contribute to the development of small business in DC and one of them is The Mayor of Washington DC, Mauriel Bowser. Again, I was lucky to be able to take pictures and brief chat with her and had given souvenir Batik from Padang Indonesia. During the event I talked a lot with business people and government agencies who are very passionate towards small business development. The thing that touched me was that although their business background was not tourism, but they very kindly offered to discuss in helping me to realizing a community-based tourism project that I would do in Poso, Indonesia. I learned that business does not always make people selfish as people often stereotype, in my case, these small business actors actually have a big heart and spirit to help each other to achieve success together. Seeing how small businesses contribute greatly to the economy and people’s welfare in Washington DC made me passionately eager to be able share the knowledge and network I made here with my colleagues in Indonesia. Thank you, DC Chamber of Commerce, thank you American Council for this precious experience.

Adi PratamaAdi at DC Chamber