Hello! My name is Hagan Hototo Barus. I’m a 17-year old student from Sekolah Mutiara Harapan and I’m currently on my exchange year in USA. I availed a fully-funded scholarship from the Department of State through Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (KL-YES) Program. I’m placed in Canby, Oregon and I’m currently attending Canby High School.

My exchange experience has not always been a fun journey. There are lots of ups and downs, both mentally and emotionally. I was excited at first because all I could think of is the free trip that I got to US. But as time goes on, I realized that this year is going to be the toughest year in my life. I remembered those feelings that I had when I first arrived. I could not have believed that I have just signed up to a program where I’m going to live with complete strangers while attending a totally different school. I was just feeling terrified because everything is just so different compared to what I used to; lifestyle, culture, etc. and I just wanted to go back home. However, I felt that I did not have time to be scared of my surroundings. I have come this far, so I might as well just embrace and be open-minded to those differences. By now, my exchange experience has been totally amazing! Living with an amazing host family and surrounded by amazing friends.

One of the major differences that I felt here is the school system here in USA. I found it very intriguing to see how their approach into education differs from what we have back in Indonesia. Canby High School is pretty huge. There are 3 major buildings: Main Building, Applied Technology Center, and Fine Arts Center. The school here starts at 7:40 and ends at 14:40. However, the school starts at 8:40 every Wednesday and still ends at 14:40, which is very unique.

One thing that I found interesting about the system here is how much freedom they gave to the students. Students are allowed to pick their own subjects that they really want to learn up to a maximum of only 5 classes per term, which is not a lot compared to what we have in Indonesia. The classes provided are also interesting! It ranges from academic (astronomy, botany, economics, etc) to non-academic classes (choir, child development and parenting, speech and debate, manufacturing, engineering, etc). In this 2nd term, I took Calculus, Leadership, US History, English, and Chemistry. Students are also not forced to take certain classes if they are not ready. A grade 12 student who is supposed to take Calculus class may take Precalculus class (which is basically for grade 10 or grade 11 students) if they are not ready to take it. They also provided laboratories (math labs, science labs, language arts labs) that open all the time for those who missed classes and want to catch up or for those who need extra help. Basically, students are encouraged to be independent and not dependent on their teachers to take care of their grades.

There’s no such thing as a school without extracurricular activities, and in Canby High School, they provided a wide range of clubs that students could join. There are Key Club (which I joined, a club that does volunteering stuff), FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America, a club that prepare students for competitions in business-related area), Safe Club (Somewhat a liberal club for future activists, supports equal rights without taking races, religions, nor gender orientation into account), Drama Club, and so many other clubs that I could not jot down one by one. If students are not interested in extracurricular activities, they may also apply for other options, such as teacher assistant (help teachers grade stuff and set up labs and reports) or peer tutor (helps other students in classes). These could actually bolster their application for colleges because U.S. colleges are not only looking for grades, they also look for students active involvement in the school community. I once applied to be a peer tutor for an Algebra class, but they rejected my application due to the fear that my language barrier would pose a problem in explaining the materials to other students.

One other thing that attracts my attention is school sports. Opportunities to be a school athlete are widely opened. In one year, a student can join up to 3 sports. They can choose from either fall sports (soccer, cross country, football), winter sports (swimming, basketball, wrestling), or spring sports (tennis, golf, track and field). A student needs to pay $150 to participate in a sport, that payment includes equipment and team jackets. I personally participated in swimming and tennis (probably, I haven’t decided yet) because I have been interested in trying both of those sports. I have to be honest, it has been a huge struggle to cope with all the intense practices because I’m not used to doing competitive sports, I usually do them just for fun. However, my coach and my swim team have been really supportive throughout my athletic career and they encouraged me to push myself beyond my limits, and that’s the point of the entire exchange program. Sometimes you have to be brave enough to go beyond your comfort zone.

I think that sums up my entire journey so far in Oregon, USA. As I’m entering the midyear of my exchange program, I’m currently in a mood-swing right now. One half of mine is excited to go back home so that I could meet my parents and friends and back to my normal life, while my other half just wants to stay.  I just don’t want to leave all of my friends and the memories that I have made here. So, I have to admit, this entire journey hasn’t been a smooth one. Behind the smiles in every picture, there are tears and hard-fought emotions that lead up to it. So, despite of the fears and pain that we may face everyday, always remember to live life to the fullest to get the best out of life! See you all in June 2019!

Best regards,

Hagan Hototo Barus (Canby, OR, USA)