Meet Tania & Judy - Bangladesh Exchange Students
April 19th 2012
We are two
of the thirty American students who traveled to Bangladesh during the first
year of the American-Bangladeshi Youth Leadership Exchange Program (ABYLEP). This
month-long program, sponsored by World Savvy and the U.S. State Department,
connects the students of Bangladesh and America in a mutual exchange of
culture, while studying the issues of climate change. Upon the end of the
program, all students initiated social action projects (SAPs) within their
communities to share what they learned about climate change. These local
actions are the first step towards a global consciousness and environmental
Our trip to
Bangladesh will forever be a monumental time in our lives. This trip has
changed our perspectives, awareness, and actions. Here are a few of our
-Tania Ahmed and Judy Yang
JY: What was the most difficult experience for you in Bangladesh?
TA: There were a lot
of difficult experiences, like illness, emotionally challenging situations, and
cultural differences. However, the situations that I remember most are the
moments when I acted upon American standards in front of my host family and
other Bangladeshis. There was a time when I gave a guy friend a congratulations
hug. While it was simply a friendly gesture on my behalf, my host family
interpreted the action differently. However, this incident led to a
conversation between my host family and me, where we discussed the differences
in cultures and the connotations of behavior. Although the incident was
extremely awkward, it led to a mutual understanding and a closer relationship
between my host family and I.
JY: Has the trip had any effect on your lifestyle? Did you fall back into your old routine upon returning home?
TA: I still follow
the same routine, but I think more about how my actions impact the world and
connect them to my experiences in Bangladesh. I knew even before the trip that
shorter showers are better because they conserve water. Now, I link my prior
knowledge to my experiences from the trip. During my service learning project,
I went to a refugee camp where I saw entire families without much water. They
had to work for their water while I lived knowing my water supply was
perpetual. I now connect what I know factually about water conservation to the
actual people that I have met.
JY: How has this trip changed your
perspective of the international community?
TA: I feel more
connected to the international community now than before this trip. I think
that human connections are really the way to change the world. If we have
mutual understanding, it is easier to work together. In this day and age,
people need to be globally conscious because of how connected we are:
information is shared at an instant through the Internet, people at opposite
ends of the world can have a real-time conversation over the phone, and a person
can take a flight and be on a different continent within the same day. Because
we are so interconnected, it is important to be globally conscious and
TA: What has been the most difficult thing for you since being back home?
JY: The hardest part
by far has been the difference between my daily life in Bangladesh and my daily
life at home. In Bangladesh, our time was filled with experiencing an unknown
culture, interacting with people so different from myself, studying things I’m
actually interested in, and meeting such passionate people. Returning home was
truly very sad. In comparison to my past month, my “real” life seemed so
repetitive and dull and no offense, high school never seemed more superficial.
On top of being thrown back into my boring life, I had a mountain (think
Everest) of homework. Returning home was definitely an emotionally draining
time. (TANIA AGREES 100%)
The initial shock of returning home has worn off. I have come to realize that there are still many great opportunities in my town. I’ve learned to not focus on the negative, as I did upon my return, but to appreciate the positive more.
TA: What is your
SAP? What have you learned from it?
JY: My week spent at
Jaago, an organization that provides education to impoverished children,
inspired my SAP. It was incredible the joy that Korvi, Jaago’s founder, felt
from nurturing the future generation of Bangladesh. The young children
responded with such curiosity and eagerness. They wanted to learn. I realized
then that I wanted to teach.
With some of my friends, I planned and presented a green workshop at my local library. We wanted to teach younger children to appreciate what they have and how to use things more efficiently. The workshop consisted of a presentation on reducing, reusing, and recycling and a craft where we reused a carton and turned it into a flower pot. We were also able to get sponsored by our local hardware and grocery stores (very cool). Through my SAP, I’ve learned that that all it takes is a little perseverance. With our first workshop not being the biggest success, we learned to work around our problems, such as time and transportation (I ALMOST have my license). We already have plans to present at more libraries, daycares, and schools. Hopefully, our workshops become better each time!