POV of an Exchange Student from Philippines

Hanafia Arsad

Staff Writer

“Oh, you weren’t lucky being placed here at  AC. “ Hearing those words on the first day of being a new student was terrifying!  My name is Hanafia Arsad and I am a Theogony staff writer as well as an exchange student from the Philippines under the American Field Service-Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program.

Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange Study is a U.S Department of States program for high school students from countries of significant Muslim populations that allows students to study for an academic year in the United States, attain leadership skills, learn the American life, share what our country and cultures are to build bridges of compassion.

Filipiniana; Traditional dress of the Philippines .

I did not imagine myself studying here in the US. My journey started when I was 14 years old. Mrs. Almie Anoos introduced me to the scholarship program and told me I have the potential to join, so I went to the Alumni Orientation and got inspired by the stories shared by the Alumni that participated in the  program. I was too lazy to do the paperwork but my Grandfather pushed me hard to finish it and told me to never be afraid to try, so I submitted it just for fun. Later, I received an email that I passed the first selection process and as the days passed I stayed  motivated to pursue what I started. Eventually I entered the last stage of the selection process, the National Camp. I took the ELTIS, an English language test for exchange students and did some interviews and group activities. After a month of waiting I received the awaited email, I was confirmed to be part of the KL-YES Scholarship Program. I was so excited that my goal to get into America was getting closer, but then, a nightmare happened. Coronavirus was spreading all over the world; news about canceled flights, borders closing, and a lot of chaos occurred . Subsequently,  AFS- Philippines chose our safety before anything else. 2020 was supposed to be our exchange year, but we were advanced to the next cycle.

August 9, 2022, it still feels like yesterday when I hopped out of the plane and got excited to explore American life.

Going to a new country at the age of 16 is scary but at the same time overwhelming. A new environment, new people to socialize with, new weather and food to adjust to. But my host family, liaison- Mrs. Sharon Bliss, exchange sister and friends made it so much easier.

I felt what “HOME” really is. With my amazing host family. Maria Filios and Paul Filios, both retired military personnel who have five children and have been host parents for 13 years, from 2009-2022,  students from all around the world: Germany, India, Bangladesh, Albania, Israel, Thailand, Philippines and many others. I am in a double placement with Kasmee Lohsa from Thailand. The House of the Filios’ or it is called the “Hillside Station” because they are like a train station where people show up, stay, and become part of the growing family.

My host family took me to a lot of places and gave me the chance to see different states.  I’ve been all around Virginia, Washington, District of Columbia, Universal Studios and Disney World in Florida, Boston,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, New York City, Puerto Rico and many others. I got the chance to do things I never tried before like surfing, scuba diving, horseback riding, and skiing. 

 I experienced my first snow. When school got canceled because of a strong winter storm I got the chance to play in the snow, take photos, go sledding, build a snowman and answer the curiosity in my mind of what does the snow taste like.

It is a big adjustment to be part of the 4000+ students of Alexandria City High School from a small high school -Naga National High School, Philippines. Everyone is different, there is so much diversity. I have never encountered so many unique people in my life that go to one school. During the first day of school I still didn’t know where my classes were, I got lost because the school is very huge, I didn’t know anyone so I didn’t know what to do. I was always thinking if I should make a first move but later on I gained a lot of friends. The school system is way too different from my home country. It’s enjoyable that I am taking Journalism and Drama classes. I am part of the Distinguished Honor Rolls. I got involved to sports. I did the tryouts and I am now part of the  AC JV-Girls Lacrosse team. Being part of a school sports team is a nice way to meet new people. We don’t have lacrosse in the Philippines so I had no idea what it was. But I went to the pre-season practice and the coaches and all the girls there were welcoming. I never really got homesick because the people that I met here are so great that they made me feel what it’s like to be loved and they are making sure that I am okay, my friends took me out to a concert, movie nights, shows, sports games, restaurants, wandering around DC, road trips, shopping and we are still making memories that I am pretty sure that I will forever cherished.

A pose outside the ACHS building on the first day of school.

I also met a lot of exchange students that are hosted here in the states. We have Sponsored- Program events where we have the chance to talk, socialize and also learn about their culture. I learned so many things from different people from different worlds that have different perspectives. 

International Education Week (I.E.W) is the week where I had the chance to do a presentation while wearing a Filipiniana ( Philippine National Costume). It’s an honor and privilege to present in front of a diverse audience. I let them try some Filipino snacks and I had the chance to cook Adobo for my host family and Lumpia- Filipino version of springrolls for my Girl Scout Troop.

Cultural Bazaar organized by the student leadership class.

“ Do you have buildings in the Philippines?”  “Is the Philippines part of Europe?” “ How has American Colonization impacted the Philippines?” I received a lot of questions when they found out that I am an exchange student and I am from the Philippines, yet I received more compliments because of my English skills from my classmates, friends, and teachers.

Giving presentations during International Education Week.

Being away from what I used to be is not a bad idea, it was a risk but it turned into the greatest decision I made in my life. I became more confident, gained so much knowledge as it changed my point of view in all ways. I definitely found myself.

 Do you want to be an exchange student and be hosted in whichever part of the world? Do you wanna be a host sister/ brother that has a sibling from another country? Do you want to be a Host mom/dad or be a host family?  Open the link to learn more as we can’t wait for you to be part of the American Field Service (AFS) community! https://afs.org/

Hi! I am an exchange student from the Philippines, I am also a Journalist/Photographer in my home country and now I wanna continue my passion here in AC.