Alumni Spotlight: Yasmeen Haider


Yasmeen is a current sophomore at the University of Chicago studying statistics. She took a gap year prior to matriculating in 2016, and she attributes many of her current successes to the experiences and growth she had during that time.

Why did you choose this program?

I went into my gap year with 3 goals: study a subject I had never studied before, gain work experience, and challenge myself intensely. That last goal is what led me to Dragons, and the mystery behind the Indonesian islands really peaked my interest.

I wanted an opportunity to physically and mentally stretch myself. I realized once I landed that I had no clear idea of what we were doing past home stays, but that was part of the fun of it. The instructors let us create our own experience, which is what I wanted.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

WTBD called me for a pre-acceptance interview and they were available to me for any questions I may have over email, phone and the Yak Board. They sent me tons of information about what to expect and what to bring. I did have to figure out anything extra I might have wanted to bring, like a camera or gifts for home-stay families. WTBD was extremely helpful though, and anything I was concerned about, I could ask.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

It is hard being away from everything and everyone you have ever known, but the 3 months passes quickly and it is your only opportunity to bond and meet some of these incredible people. Take the time to learn Bahasa and make it a goal to master it while you are there. Knowing how to speak conversationally in a relatively fluent fashion helped me grow close to those I met and gave me a huge advantage.

Do not be afraid to wear your heart on your sleeve, and take opportunities to be uncomfortable. Don't think you could keep up on an optional hike? Do it. Afraid of trying that fish? Do it. Scared of letting yourself care about others because you know you will leave? Let go. Uneasy about trying to speak in Bahasa? Talk. Unsure of what to journal about? Write. I promise, you will eventually wish you had written more when you read and reread the journal you kept.

"Be open to change"

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

No day is the same on this program. One sure thing was that every morning we had a meeting for 10-15 minutes within the group in order to ensure everyone was doing alright. Sometimes a week was spent closely with my group traveling, while others were more apart with home-stays. I chose my ISP/focus project to be teaching English, so I often sat down either formally or informally and taught kids and adults.

I spent time following my home-stay siblings and helping out around the house. As I grew close with certain people in the villages, I found myself spending more time with them and their friends, and this included everything from playing hide-and-seek with the kids to learning how to play guitar from them to talking about everything late into the night. I rarely slept, and I am glad I didn't; there were too many people to spend time with and too many things to see.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I do not think I was afraid of anything particular. I think it just took some time to adjust to constant change. I was never fond of bugs before, but over time I became less bothered by them and had no issues. I found it challenging to not have running water when showering or using the bathroom initially, but I quickly realized how little time in our day we spent performing these activities, so this change was not extremely hard to adjust to. The heat is something that is hard initially, but once you accept that regardless of what you wear you will be hot, it is fine!

Honestly, I had little trouble adjusting as everything was new and exciting, but coming back home was certainly difficult. It was hard for me to realize everything I had at home and how these things are not necessary like I used to think they were. A feeling of guilt was present for a few weeks after returning home from the trip, but eventually I realized that it was okay, and that I could use my experience in Indonesia to teach others who did not have that experience.

Write and answer your own question.

How has this trip helped you now?

I did not anticipate how much others enjoyed hearing about the trip, and how much this trip would help me in the future. It has given me concrete stories to tell in college essays and has helped me stand out in interviews for internships and other opportunities.

It's given me an incredible perspective that has changed me for the better!

Many times I find that I was accepted into a program or internship because I had many interesting stories to tell and that the skills and values I gained during my trip to Indonesia were highly appreciated.