How I Pursued my Dream to Experience USA

So you think you can’t go to the US for free? Well that was exactly my thought years ago too. I thought you would need hundred of thousands of pesos just to go there. Not to mention the effort you need to go through to apply to the embassy and the emotional distress you would experience in the process.

We have been denied a US visa last year together with my husband. Since then, the idea of applying a US visa is a far-fetched wish. We don’t want to experience the same rejection again. But going to the US has been a longtime dream of mine but it seems it would take a while.

Suddenly an opportunity to be able to go there presented via the US Embassy in the Philippines. But you will have to apply it first. Without second thoughts, I send in my application to the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).

YSEALI was launched in 2013, the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) is U.S. government’s signature program to strengthen leadership development and networking in Southeast Asia. Through a variety of programs and engagements, including U.S. educational and cultural exchanges, regional exchanges, and seed funding, YSEALI seeks to build the leadership capabilities of youth in the region, strengthen ties between the United States and Southeast Asia, and nurture an ASEAN community. YSEALI focuses on critical topics identified by youth in the region: civic engagement, sustainable development, education and economic growth.

When accepted in this fellowship, one will visit the US for six weeks that includes a month immersion to an organization they have matched for you. Everything will be shouldered by YSEALI and you will be placed in a host family.

Sending in my application was like a shot in the moon. I have been informed by friends that every year thousands of competent individuals all over the country send in their applications. And every year they will only pick four to send to the US under the economic growth cohort.

To be considered in this competitive fellowship and be part of the YSEALI fellow, you need to have an advocacy and a track record of doing it to the community with the desire to strengthen your skills and build meaningful connections in the US. It is also a good avenue to be exposed to many best practices that you can apply back here in the Philippines.

I have been asked by some of my friends how I was able to fill up my application. Trust me when I say they got a long list of questions and two needed recommendations. I just take it one day at a time and be honest and truthful with the application. There were three essays you need to answer and you just have to ground your response with your work and how you can better serve your community should you be given this rare opportunity.

I know my chances would be slim but I think that sending an application would definitely be worth my while. After a few months I got an email for an online interview and it was December 17, the same day Catriona Gray won Miss Universe 2018 and it was also my mother’s birthday. I was told after the short interview that they will email me should I be picked as one of the finalists.

Straightforward to January 2019 I got an email that I was chosen as an alternate to the finalist. Should a finalist not comply with the requirements in two weeks, I might get bumped to finalist status. I know it was a bummer but at least I was considered still. I waited for the email after two weeks and there was none. By then I thought to myself that the opportunity has passed. But to my surprise I got an email after a week that I was selected as one of the finalist. I was so ecstatic when I got that email. And definitely excited.

I put together everything they need especially for my visa application and orientation. In a matter of weeks we had our orientation in the US Embassy and our consul interview the day after. During the interview, the woman consul just confirmed that I am part of the YSEALI and ask what I do back home and in the university. After answering those two questions I was told I can get back my passport in a few days. I was given a visa intended for this program.

The visa is still subject to the consul's scrutiny. Even if accepted in any exchange program, a visa is still not guaranteed and one will need to go through the process of applying and going to the embassy for interview.  

The following weeks, I was given my itinerary, flight tickets, host family information and industry placement. Everything was shouldered by the State Department even my ticket from CDO to Manila.

Little did I know that indeed I can go to the US for free. The entire YSEALI experience is definitely an opportunity I will not forget and forever grateful to the US Embassy of the Philippines, American Council and the State Department.

You too can be able to experience what I experienced. YSEALI accepts applicants twice per year for their Spring and Fall cohorts. As long as you have an advocacy and 35 years old and below, you will have a chance. So always check out YSEALI and the US Embassy of the Philippines website and social media pages for updates.