Wednesday, August 29, 2012

NSLI-Y Applications 2013-2014

(This is for everyone out there who is waiting for the NSLI-Y app for this year, and getting ready to apply for their grand adventure. I figured you guys are already scouring the internet for NSLI-Y posts, anxiously awaiting the release of the application).

Dear New Applicants,
Welcome to the family! And that's really what NSLI-Y is - regardless of what year, program, duration, or language you went on, or want to go on, it's a big family, united by this one goal of wanting to study a weird language.

I'm assuming you guys are all anxious about applying for NSLI-Y, and all that you've heard about it being competitive and all, but don't let that scare you. It's an amazing program - just remember that, instead of the statistics. If you're truly excited about the learning opportunity that NSLI-Y is, and let that come through on the application, you have a good chance of actually getting that opportunity.

First of all, we have a Facebook group for applicants - ignore the name it's for people from any year, not just 2012-2013. It's not even all applicants anymore, as we made it last year, so a lot of the members are now alumni. But there are still a lot of new applicants, and alumni applying for a second (or third) time around. It's a pretty great resource to find out about the specific programs from alumni, and get help with the application from people who have been through it successfully. I know that there's always NSLI-Y on ExchangesConnect, and, which has a NSLI-Y thread, but I honestly think that our  Facebook group has more active members, and more alumni from the different programs than anywhere else. Have a question? Someone will probably answer it within ten minutes. Plus, we're fun people to talk to about your excitement for NSLI-Y when people at school and home are sick of hearing about it! :)

Second of all, good luck. I'm not applying for NSLI-Y this year, but I wish I could again. Going to Jordan for the summer was literally life-changing, and I really wish that everyone could have such an amazing experience as that. My one piece of advice? Be confident in yourself, and if you do get the chance to go, never say no to anything - you don't want to miss out on something amazing just because you were tired, or didn't feel like it. Say yes to things, smile, keep an open mind and an open heart, and I promise, you'll fall in love with wherever you get the chance to go.

Good luck! Join the Facebook group, and get ready for when the application comes out!

PS. Even if you don't wind up getting accepted, you're still part of the family. It's a family of being interested in foreign languages and cultures, and we don't have rejection letters. That's a state department thing, and if we could get rid of those, believe me, in this family? We would :)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

To Do Before Leaving

I have roughly four months left in the States... I needed a to-do "one last time" list.
  1. Wrap up paperwork and such at the high school
  2. Get a veggie burger at Frank’s
  3. Pack, donate, or toss all my stuff
  4. Learn to sew properly
  5. Go on a road trip, including camping.
  6. Be able to name all the countries (with capitals) in Africa
  7. Go to the Veteran’s Day Ceremony one last time and say goodbye to my old teachers
  8. Figure out how to pack in a carry-on sized suitcase so my tuba can be my checked bag
  9. Work, and save money.
  10. Go skiing on a terrible, Midwestern “mountain” just for old time’s sake
  11. Write letters to everyone I know before I go out of range of the USPS
  12. Learn at least a little siSwati
  13. Register as an independent Girl Scout
  14. Go downtown and get falafel from the Oasis Cafe on Wabash
  15. Load up my iPod with enough music to last through the apocalypse
  16. Do something really awesome.

Monday, August 20, 2012

UWC Admissions in a Nutshell

On this blog, I assume that people somehow understand exactly what everything I'm talking about is, because there's this weird group of people that somehow just know everything about these sorts of things. But, that's a very limited group of people, and I've found that more people are confused when I try to explain to them my plans than anything else.

So, this is an explanation from square one - everything about what has lead me to Swaziland, and what exactly the school is. If you want to apply to a UWC, this is pretty much how applying and being accepted goes. I wish you the best if you're applying - don't let the application process deter you. However complicated it seems, it's not that bad :)

In the summer of 2011, I went to Jordan on a full NSLI-Y scholarship to study Arabic. I was only there for the summer, but that's what started me on really wanting to go abroad for a longer amount of time. The instant I got home, I started bugging my parents about doing a year abroad. The problem was, most programs were really expensive, and/or didn't guarantee a decent education over there, therefore most likely meaning I'd wind up a grade behind because of the exchange. Instead of taking a year off from high school, my mom said to try for a gap year, so that I could graduate with my class.

Funny how things never work out like planned...

A few months later, I received an envelope in the mail containing a single flyer. I was never sure how they got my name, but I'm very, very glad it ended up in my hands. I skimmed over this strange brochure, looking for the tuition. It wasn't unlike the other fliers I received daily - most for short term programs, or university enrichment for high schoolers. Anyways, all the other ones cost thousands of dollars. But this? According to this flier, this one was totally free.

Criteria one? Checkmark.

I read on, and found that the United World Colleges (UWC) were twelve international boarding schools, spread across the continents. With campuses in the USA, Canada, Costa Rica, Swaziland, China, India, Singapore, Italy, Wales, Norway, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and The Netherlands, it quickly dawned on me that this could be my ticket. Students from over a hundred countries attended each of these schools. It wasn't quite an exchange program, but it was a chance to me to learn about a bunch of different cultures, while living in another country. The UWCs aren't quite a high school, as most students have already finished or almost finished their high schools at home, but they're not university either. The name comes from the British system of education, where students go to high school for a couple years, two years of "college," and then university, or American "college." The diploma offered is an IB (International Baccalaureate) diploma, which is essentially an internationally accepted high school diploma, comparable in difficulty to a normal American diploma with a bunch of AP classes on it. It was a two-year program, which meant that, because I was applying during junior year, I'd be graduating a year late, as if accepted, I'd attend during senior year, and then an extra year.

I showed my parents the pamphlet. They sort of raised their eyebrows at me, and pointed out the acceptance rate. I said that it was free to apply, and asked if I could, undeterred by my chances. After all, NSLI-Y had a crazy-low acceptance rate, and that worked out for me, I figured.

So, I applied. The application process was kind of ridiculous, but here's my summary. In the winter, I sent a few short written responses, one long personal statement, my test scores, my transcript, a teacher recommendation, my 4H leader's recommendation, and my guidance counselor's recommendation to the US admission's office in Montezuma, New Mexico, and filled out a three or four page form online.

And then I waited, and waited, and waited, until I finally received an email from said admissions office, saying that out of 600 applications, I was selected as one of 125 students across the US to be interviewed for one of the US spots.

At that point, I did more research on the actual selection process. To apply to a UWC, you have to apply through a national committee. In sending all those things to New Mexico, I was applying to the US national committee, not the schools themselves. The national committee reserves a certain number of spots at each school across the world. For the US national committee, they had 25 spots at the US campus, 8 at the Wales campus, and either one, two, or three at each of the others.

The grand total of applicants the national committee would finally choose? 50 out of 125 interviewed.

I had my interview, which was splendid. It was a group interview, and I have to say that the fifteen other students at the interview were really quite amazing. I had some really great discussions that day, about current events and ethics and international issues, and it only made me want to be accepted to one of these schools even more.

After the interview, I waited to find out whether I'd be nominated for a spot. My dilemma at that point was whether or not I'd accept a spot for the UWC in New Mexico itself. From the beginning, I'd put Swaziland as my first choice campus, and USA as my last, but there was still the chance I'd be placed in the US, as they select the 50 students, and then place them between the campuses - 25 in the US, 25 abroad.

But thankfully, when my acceptance email arrived, it was for Swaziland. And boy, did I scream with joy! I HAD BEEN ACCEPTED! My mind was literally blown - I kept thinking to myself, "You're actually moving to Swaziland... for two years... for free... you're moving to Swaziland. You're going to finish high school in Africa." I didn't believe it was possible, but hey, anything is possible, right?

I filled out some more papers to confirm that I wanted the nomination, and about a month later, I was done dealing with the US national committee, and I received my first emails from Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa, with my joining papers - essentially enrollment forms, class choices, and immigration papers.

Now, I'll be attending the first semester of my current high school, starting Wednesday, and going until right before Christmas. I'm not required to attend high school for this semester, but figured that it'd be really difficult to take that much time off of school, and then start the IB program. Also, I'm finishing all my graduation requirements at my current school, so if anything were to go wrong in Swaziland, I'd be able to come back and get a diploma here without taking any more classes. Swaziland is on the southern hemisphere school schedule, and so the first day of the term there is January 14th, 2013 for me. The school year is on trimesters, with month long breaks in between the terms, and no summer. Essentially, the school year is from January to November each year, and I'll be attending on that school schedule in 2013 and 2014, graduating November 2014. I will then (hopefully) be starting university in the fall of 2015, assuming I go back to the northern hemisphere for university - NYUAD insha'allah :)

Yup, that's the story. Hope that's comprehensible - I know it's long, but this is the extended explanation!

Swaziland, NSLI-Y Rosetta Stone, and Free Exchange Programs

This turned out to be a really long post, so it's split into three parts. Read what you would like.

I got home from ten weeks away from home yesterday afternoon. Within two hours, I was already bored, and so I decided to open up the joining papers for WK (Waterford Kamhlaba).

First of all, the above image is from the immigration papers for the long-term visa. Just thought I'd include that - it's a first reminder for me that the country where I'll be moving is going to be quite a bit different, especially after my last ten weeks working with truly amazing special needs campers, none of whom I would consider deficient in any way. It's a more-than-subtle reminder that the culture shock reaches beyond food and dress. Acceptance and lack thereof, of many different things, seems to always be the hardest culture difference for me to swallow. This wasn't really surprising for me to see, but still raised my eyebrows for a moment.

Secondly, I realized how excited I am to go to Swaziland. I absolutely loved every moment of this summer, and miss my campers dearly, but now that I'm home, I'm already looking to the next thing. I didn't think about where I'm headed in January much while at camp, but now that the 24/7 work schedule is over with, I have time to be excited! I have to admit, I starting packing last night - there is a pile of things in the corner of my room that have been designated as "bring with." Mostly things I want to decorate my room with, but it still made me laugh when I realized I was packing already.

Anyways, I start back at my high school here on Wednesday - I'll keep attending classes there until the last day before winter break, which isn't the last day of the semester, but will be my last day. The weird thing for me is that I've taken all the French classes my high school has to offer, through AP French V, so I don't have a foreign language class this semester. (I'll be taking English, French and siSwati as language classes at the UWC, I think).

I'm going to work really hard this semester to keep up with Arabic and French this semester using the free Rosetta Stone I get as an alumni of NSLI-Y - I've been getting a lot of questions from other alumni about how to get that software, so here's the step-by-step. They definitely didn't make it easy to find! (This is for alumni only, and isn't available to everyone - sorry about that! If you are eligible to apply, I definitely recommend applying for a state department program - see the next section in this post!)

  1. Create an account on - make sure you register as a NSLI-Y alumni.
  2. Once registered, on the homepage of the website, under where it says "new mail" on the right hand side, under communities, click "NSLI-Y"
  3. In the center column of the next page, under language Library, hit "Login to JLU."
  4. On the next page, the third tab down on the right hand side has a green binder on it, reading "Resources." Click that.
  5. Rosetta Stone will be on that list - you register to be placed on a waiting list, and in maybe a month or two you'll get an email that it's become available for you.
I get lots of questions on how I'm paying to go to places like Jordan and Swaziland - I'm not. I went to Jordan with NSLI-Y, which is a full scholarship. I'm also attending UWC on a full scholarship, excluding flights, which I'll be paying for out of my wages working at camp. Both of these, and several other programs, are full scholarships based on merit - they don't take finances into consideration. Here are a few of the free exchange programs you can apply to when you're high school aged.

(These programs are open to US citizens - if you're not a US citizen, check out if you want programs to come to the US).

  1. NSLI-Y ( Offers summer and year programs (including gap years) in Taiwan, China, South Korea, Turkey, Russia, Tajikistan, Jordan, Oman, Morocco, India, and others. Very focused on language learning.  (Eligibility: 15-18 years old at start of program, minimum 2.5 HS GPA)
  2. YES ( Offers mostly-year long (one semester program) to live in a Muslim society. Countries include B&H, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Mali (semester), Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Thailand, Turkey. Very focused on culture, little language training. (Eligibility: Different by country, check website. Mostly 15-18 years old).
  3. CBYX ( Offers year-long scholarships to study in Germany. Must be 15-18 years old, 3.0 GPA.
  4. UWC ( Two years at one of their campuses. Out of about 600 applicants, 25 are accepted to the US campus, and 25 are accepted to be split up among the other campuses around the world, such as B&H, Italy, Norway, Wales, India,  Singapore, Hong Kong, Swaziland, and Costa Rica. It's a full scholarship for room, board, and tuition for the two school years, but airfare is on you. All schools follow the northern hemisphere school schedule, except for Swaziland, which runs January to November each year. Eligibility is a bit more complex, but the link describes it pretty well. Be warned, this will most likely add a year onto high school for you, as they accept people to attend often for their senior and then an extra year, and only rarely junior and senior year.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Lasts and Firsts

Next week is my tenth and final week of working and living here at camp. When I drive home, it'll be the last time I pull out of the camp parking lot, and the last time I drive the four hours back to my house.

I received my last LHS school schedule yesterday. This is my last semester there, and therefore my last marching band season, my last homecoming, and my last couple months living in the States.

But when I leave, it'll be my first time going to Africa. It'll be my first time going to a boarding school, and my first time in the new subjects - I've never studied siSwati at my American school. It'll be the first time I'll start at an international school nine thousand miles away from home - and probably my last.

As camp winds to a close, and I get ready to move back home for a few months, it's a strange balance of trying to enjoy the lasts, while still looking forward to the firsts.