Cultural learnings of America for make benefit of self: How can an Asian girl gain some North American experience?
August 3, 2007 12:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm a Malaysian in my mid-twenties looking for non-academic opportunities to live in North America on a short-term basis. How can I do this?

It's a popular phase of a (middle-class) person's life here to 'go overseas' (usually to a Western country) before coming home to settle down, but for reasons I don't want to go into here, it's something I haven't been able to do.

I know that it's primarily a self-esteem issue, but somehow, I feel perpetually discontent due to having never been able to live in a Western country when plenty of other people around me (either due to wealth, number of opportunities, or just plain luck) have done so. So instead of sitting and moping, I've decided to hunt for possible opportunities, and I was wondering if MeFi could help me with this.

I'm looking for things like cultural exchange programmes, volunteer work, internships, or something of that sort -- something that I can dedicate myself to for about a year or more, before returning to Malaysia. I'm doing my homework looking up academic opportunities in the United States and Canada. What I'd like to know more about are possible opportunities to experience North America *outside* of academic life, and info about stuff like that is usually word-of-mouth.

(What I'm not looking for is a green card or blue-collar work; my interests in going to North America aren't economic)

I'm an English major. Currently working on my Masters (also in English), will probably finish it in a year's time. Christian, so religious programmes are fine with me. Female.
posted by Karcy to Education (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
OMG - you have to talk to divabat. She's asked and answered heaps of questions about conferences, non-profits, cultural exchanges, and the like, and she's lived in Malaysia!

Selamat sukses!
posted by mdonley at 12:47 AM on August 3, 2007

Camp counseling? For whatever reason, many camp counselors are in the same situation as you - college-age or a little older and getting an experience in Asia. This at least holds true for a sports-type camp that a friend works at, and my anecdotal exp.
posted by tmcw at 4:40 AM on August 3, 2007

I'm pretty sure that a year is a long time to live in another country without being part of an academic program. Most cultural exchanges and volunteer programs last a couple of months tops. Volunteers are actually in relatively large supply, so there's little incentive for organizations to do things like arrange your visa for you, etc. I don't know how it works to come into the US, but when I was looking for similar opportunities outside the US, most volunteer programs required you to pay to volunteer.

Camp counseling will probably last around 3 months and you'll likely be plopped somewhere in the middle of the countryside, so you probably won't have that many opportunities to explore America, and aside from other counselor (some of whom won't be Americans either) there is no one your age. Most people I've heard of who come to America to work as a camp counselor are in fact doing it for economic reasons -- some camps pay counselors a whole lot of money. That being said, you may have a weekend or two off, and you could certainly get some traveling done before or after camp. But that doesn't sound like what you're looking for. And I don't know of any camps that are year-round.

While your English major makes you no doubt an excellent thinker and writer, it doesn't make you an overwhelmingly appealing candidate for an internship or the like. We currently have a surplus of English majors here in the States.

I think you can do something short term here if you lower "short term" to mean 3 months or less. I'm pretty sure that you can get a visitors visa that permits a stay of 90 days. That would allow you to come to the United States and stay there for around 3 months with nothing more to show the authorities than your passport, visa, and (probably) your return ticket. If you want to stay longer on a non-academic visa, you need to start dealing with immigration authorities.

If missionary work appeals to you and you are a member of a Christian denomination that is recognized in the United States, you might want to contact that religious organization in the states to see if you can get sent to the States as a missionary, which would qualify you for the Temporary Religious Worker visa, which lasts 2 years. Of course, if you did this you would be coming to America exclusively to preach/witness, which will not make you the most popular tourist ever. :-)
posted by Deathalicious at 5:55 AM on August 3, 2007

Oh! I nearly forgot. If you or a member of your family are a member of Rotary International (I'm *pretty* sure they were the ones, it might be a similar organization), they run exchange programs bringing youths from one country to another for a period of about a year (although usually there is an academic component as well). Your expenses are almost completely covered, and in exchange you're expected to attend several meetings during the year where you share your experiences with the other members. A great, great opportunity if you can get it.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:57 AM on August 3, 2007

some good links here. if cultural exchange is your thing you might look into the Q-1 visa. also, in resort towns and around national parks and other outdoorsy, seasonal areas, there are a lot of young international people working in tourism/service-industry jobs, i believe who are in the US on temporary work permits.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 6:06 AM on August 3, 2007

Ditto on the camp counseling. I've worked Girl Scout camp and we had quite a few internationals who came and had a great time. Most of them came through organizations like CCUSA though, which made the process easier than directly contacting the camps.

Also what about nannying? I'm not sure about the specifics of setting a job up overseas, but there are always families looking and the pay (at least in urban areas) tends to be fairly good - plus you can find families who are looking for a live in nanny and get room and board included.
posted by gleea at 6:13 AM on August 3, 2007

This seems like it's aimed for travelers a little younger than yourself, but it might be worth a look: Cultural Homestay International. (They do seem to be doing it under J-1 visas though, which are the "seasonal worker" visas and may tend towards manual labor. But you might be able to contact them and see if they have any resources for volunteers, since you aren't concerned about working in the U.S. in order to pay your way.)

The other thing that came to mind was Teach For America; I've never heard of anyone coming from outside the U.S. to volunteer with them, but it would be worth contacting them to ask; I could imagine that your cultural and language background would make you an asset in a lot of places.

On the non-secular side, I'd imagine that some of the big Christian organizations that maintain schools both in the U.S. and abroad, particularly in Asia, might be able to set something up. I'm thinking particularly of the big Roman Catholic orders, e.g. Holy Cross. They might be able to arrange some sort of exchange program, since I think a lot of American students / young adults do service work abroad with them. They would probably be in a good position to set up the reverse.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:18 AM on August 3, 2007

Just some clarification: the J-1 visa is not a "seasonal worker" visa - it's a visa for cultural and educational exchange programs. I've encountered academic researchers and nannies who were all in the U.S. with a J-1 visa.
posted by needled at 7:06 AM on August 3, 2007

Teach for America only takes citizens, FYI.
posted by k8t at 7:55 AM on August 3, 2007

One of these visas (J-1, professional training, 18 months) was one of my first visas in the US. And yeah, J-1s aren't necessarily manual labour, I had three of them working in construction project management/consulting.
posted by jamesonandwater at 7:59 AM on August 3, 2007

mdonley: bahaha! Karcy and I are friends! Glad you remember me though.

AFS Malaysia has some adult programs - they don't come out very often, but it's worth calling them up and asking about them. Rotary is another good spot though I'm not sure what age ranges they're after.

I've found America to be FULL of workshops/programs/etc for exchange. Crazy plenty. Look at Transitions Abroad or Go Abroad and look up what they have. STA Travel also has plenty of packages for short-term stay in the US.

One thing that's worked with a friend of mine (Japanese) is contacting companies, organizations, and people you're interested in and asking them if they have any internships or volunteer opportunities. My friend loves animals and managed to score a homestay with a lady taking care of bats by approaching her during a trade fair. You may be surprised at what comes up.

TakingITGlobal has plenty of resources on the educational and social action side of things.

Good luck and let me know what happens!
posted by divabat at 11:38 PM on August 3, 2007

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