January 14th, 2017. I remember walking into the Austin Library last year, waiting for the 30 minutes that could possibly be my key to a life-changing experience: my NSLI-Y interview. Having arrived half an hour earlier, I was convinced that I would spend the time stressing out about what the interview would entail. In the lobby, I was greeted by Gemma, a NSLI-Y Alumna who had participated in the Hindi program. Her friendly disposition and easygoing attitude helped put me at ease. Before I knew it, the 30 minutes of potential dread were over, and I was ready to take on the interview with a confident smile on my face. This little encounter was so meaningful to me, and after becoming an alumna of the program, I knew I wanted to pay it forward.
January 27th, 2018. Today, I had the opportunity to fulfill that role as volunteer at the Austin NSLI-Y Semifinalist Interview Event, where I met a talented, intelligent group of applicants for the 2018-2019 cycle!
The applicant body at the event was very diverse, and to my delight, the largest number of interviewees were actually applying for Arabic! It was great to answer their questions about what life was like on program, and give them the perspective of a NSLI-Y student. It was interesting to see the difference between questions posed by students as opposed to their (somewhat nervous) parents. While students asked about language acquisition, academics, and my host family experience, parent questions concerned safety and support while abroad.
As I have realized, embarrassing situations, such as the ones at the NSLI-Y Alumni Representative Workshop have become somewhat characteristic of me, so I managed to get into another awkward encounter– again. As I sat at the table and talked to applicants, I kept my eyes peeled for anyone who could look like an interviewee. Every young, professionally-dressed person I had seen so far had been one, so when I saw a student wearing a skirt suit walk into the library, I rushed to ask her if she was there for the interviews. She responded with a confused look and shook her head, causing me to apologize awkwardly.
Later, when I was in conversation with the interviewees, the girl came up to me with an inquiry: “What was that program you said you were with? I heard a lot of y’all talking about Arabic, and I’m actually Jordanian so-”
Imagine my surprise! I ended up speaking to her in Arabic, and I learnt that she was a student at UT Austin, currently studying fashion. She gave me her number and told me that if I ever wanted to practice Arabic, I could reach out to her! I am totally going to take her up on her offer! I seem to just be a magnet for faux-pases, but the past few awkward encounters have resulted in me running into Jordanians, so I’m not complaining! 😀
While at the event, I also got to meet with Shanna, one of my interviewers from last year! It was so nice to talk to her after a year, and learn more about what AFS-USA does in Austin. After talking to all the interviewers, I was happy to find out that there is actually a way for me to volunteer with the Austin chapter of AFS-USA, an organization that helps facilitate foreign exchange! I can’t wait to see where that will take me!
Today was a day well-spent, meeting a group of smart, passionate students, whose diverse interests in various languages were inspiring and relatable. It was exciting to talk to them, and I can’t wait to hear from them when finalist notifications come out! Volunteering at the NSLI-Y interviews was an enriching experience, and I am looking forward to my increased involvement with AFS-USA!