The Embassy of the United States of America in Brunei Darussalam recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of its popular exchange programme dubbed ‘Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiatitive’ (YSEALI).
The foreign mission hosted a get-together for some 25 individuals who took part in various US government-funded programmes in the last quarter of 2022.
Among them are YSEALI, the Fulbright Foreign Student Program, Fulbright US-ASEAN Visiting Scholar Program, International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), Community Solutions Program and Global UGRAD Program.
Public Affairs Officer Jeff Barrus in his speech at the press briefing said that the State Department’s flagship youth exchange programme focused on Southeast Asia is key to the United States’ socio-cultural partnership with ASEAN.
“Created in 2013, YSEALI builds bridges between young leaders in the region and the US YSEALI members gain leadership skills and work across borders to find solutions to regional and global challenges,” he said.
To date, there are 266 YSEALI alumni and over 1,200 YSEALI members in Brunei with more than 100,000 members across ASEAN.
Under YSEALI, there are several programmes such as YSEALI Academic Fellowship, YSEALI Professional Fellowship, YSEALI Academy at Fulbright, YSEALI Seeds for the Future and YSEALI regional workshops.
“Last year, the US Embassy in Brunei organised the YSEALI Summit, an annual event hosted by the ASEAN Chair that brought together more than 100 young leaders from across the region to find innovative new solutions to tackling climate change,” said the public affairs officer.
At the event, four YSEALI alumni shared memorable experiences they gained throughout their time with the US government-funded exchange programme.
Research volunteer at GAIA Alliance Siu Tzyy Wei previously took part in two programmes – the YSEALI Academic Fellowship and YSEALI Regional Workshop.
“For the workshop, it was a fast-paced discussion focusing on niche topics which you don’t find in everyday coffee conversations and that is something that I enjoy,” she said.
She added: “We talked about promoting and polishing up policies or framework on how you improve diversity and inclusion in youth, in the workplace, or the society in general.”
She later went to the US for the five-week fellowship programme where she was placed at the University of Nebraska under the civic engagement theme.
“I tried to find solutions and ideas on how to bridge education gaps that are related to my work, on how to empower thoughts and generate change as a research associate. I went into detail about what civic engagement is, and talked about the power structure and identity. It is something you do not see on the surface which is very institutional as to why we see societal gaps in our society today,” said the UBD graduate.
For Izazi Mosli, a participant of YSEALI Seeds for the Future, being selected as the recipient of a grant for her non-profit organisation AYAN Brunei has enabled her team to execute projects at a greater scale.
“When we started in 2021, we had small, single-day events and with the funding, we were able to do several multiday events which I felt gave more impact in the long run,” she said.
Izazi further said that AYAN Brunei is an advocacy-driven organisation where members pitched their project ideas.
“The (YSEALI Seeds for the Future) programme allowed us to conduct projects according to our visions and not others where you need to adapt to. It was just us, AYAN Brunei,” said Izazi.
Moreover, government officer Aainaafaridah Hamdan decided to enrol in YSEALI Academy at Fulbright due to her interest in skills and knowledge upgrades.
“I attended a seminar for one week at the University of Vietnam recently where I had the opportunity to learn from renowned professors from Harvard University and Lee Kuan Yew University, to name a few,” she said.
She added: “It focused on public policy especially on the Southeast Asia economy amid global turbulence. We had panel discussions and networking sessions with ASEAN participants where I had the chance to share about Brunei’s economy.”
For YSEALI Professional Fellow Jason Leong, not only he spent six weeks in Austin, Texas for a work placement, but the programme also allows his US-based supervisor to visit Brunei.
“YSEALI has arranged for a reciprocal programme where we are able to bring my US supervisor to assist in our projects here in Brunei. Usually, we go overseas and come back after our studies but to be able to bring expertise to Brunei, it is an invaluable experience,” he added.
US Ambassador to Brunei Caryn McClelland in her speech at the get-together told alumni that they are now part of an elite worldwide network.
“There are more than one million US Department of State exchange programme alumni around the globe, including more than 50 Nobel Laureates and over 350 current and former heads of state and government,” she said.
McClelland further said that the embassy organised an alumni gala and networking reception in September 2022, celebrating its growing network of 435 Bruneian USG alumni.
“Many of these alumni have gone on to become cabinet ministers, captains of industry and civil society leaders,” said the ambassador.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that YSEALI has shaped a generation of young leaders in Brunei. The US Embassy is proud to play a vital role in that process and to help all of our alumni realise their professional and personal dreams,” she concluded.
THE BRUNEIAN | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN