Each Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, Academic Year in America sends their KLYES and FLEX scholarship students to a MidYear Orientation. This past January, I had the good fortune of traveling with 5 students to Camp Campbell in Boulder Creek, California, to serve as a chaperone for MidYear. You can catch a glimpse of our trip on Youtube.
The goals of MidYear include providing students a chance to process and reflect on the challenges and experiences of the first half of their exchange year, help them remember what it means to be a young ambassador of their country, and get them ready to embrace all that awaits them in the second half of their academic year in America. It’s an important time of reflection and empowerment when the honeymoon of exchange is over, but the end is not clearly in sight.
As a chaperone, I had the unique opportunity to build relationships with students I don’t normally supervise. I listened to their stories of life in Oregon, Virginia, New York, South Carolina… and watched them bond with new friends who share similar stories of struggle and triumph.
But the goals of MidYear meet more than that of a teenage exchange student support group. Each game and activity played, each thoughtful question and challenge discussed is designed to help these kids develop the critical thinking and action of a global leader. These students are not average. They have sustained a rigorous screening process, built fluency in the English language so that they can excel academically in typical American high school classes, and promise to complete a minimum of 50 hours of community service during the 10 months they stay in their host communities. Their energy and enthusiasm is boundless, typical of a 15-18 year old kid, but their leadership qualities must demonstrate maturity beyond their years.
MidYear is an intense weekend of retreat, but at the end of it all the tears shed and the conversations I overhear are filled with promise and hope. These global change makers are refueled. They are ready to spring into action once again in the midst of a long year of personal growth, service, and cultural challenge.
As I made the video to highlight MidYear Orientation of this past January, I couldn’t help but think of how innocent we were as we flew home with exhausted enthusiasm. We had no idea the largest global challenge was waiting around the corner for us. Two months later, we would be forced into a “new normal”, face “unprecedented times”, learn to grocery shop wearing a face mask, go to school online, and find ways to connect socially in the midst of physical distancing.
When COIV-19 met me head on in the middle of March, I was overwhelmed with grief and shock. I found encouragement first from the young people in my life. My local group of AYA students easily cheered each other on through Instagram memes and WhatsApp calls. They jumped on my scheduled WebEx meetings to say, “See you later” to exchange friends forced to leave sooner than expected. They kept me laughing and remembering the best is yet to come.