YES Alumni Social Entrepreneur Leadership workshop was conducted in Washington DC from 20-26 March 2017. The alumna, Dhruv Thakkar (YES’13) from Gandhinagar represented AFS IND in this changemaker workshop. The aim of the workshop was to provide alumni with social entrepreneur project development and leadership skills to support them as changemakers in their local communities and the world. Various activities were conducted such as characteristics of changemaker, community mapping, leadership and team building, fundraising, budgeting to name a few. The alumni also developed an action plan to implement a changemaking initiative in their own community. He is planning to engage alumni from all over India in his project in the coming days. The alumni not only worked on project action plan but also got an opportunity to present it to the panel. It was also a great honor for all the alumni to meet Senator Richard Lugar, President of the Lugar Center.

One interesting session held during the workshop was International Bazaar where different countries made represented their culture by means of their attire, traditional food, handicrafts and so on. It was a great learning experience for the alumni post which he is planning to implement the same for the development of the alumni overall.

The alumni also admitted that this workshop was helpful in learning things like, knowing what things in your community that already exist are useful for your project, how to use what you love doing for your community project and how to give back to community. They also learnt that changing with the times is necessary, how using visual aids and social media platforms are important.

From left: With staffers from India at cultural bazaar, With friends at BUBW, With Senator Richard Lugar


Also each alumni participant were asked to send a reflection on the impact of their US year. Here’s the story from Dhruv:

In my pre-departure orientation, I heard this line over and over again: when you are on an exchange, expect the unexpected. When I got my placement E-mail, it was truly unexpected! I was hosted in Seward, Alaska, my host family was the Barnwells. I had heard about Alaska from TV shows on the Discovery Channel. The first thought in my mind was, “oh! It’s going to be so cold!” I didn’t know how cold it would be, so I didn’t know what to pack until my host family sent me an E-mail saying don’t bother packing any warm clothes, they won’t work here. I knew why they said that when I landed at Anchorage airport.

Seward is 127 miles south of Anchorage, a small town by the ocean with the population of 3000. It felt empty at first, after all, I was used to India, where 3000 would seem a small number. Who knew that this is what I would come to like the most about my host town?

I can still remember clearly, in the first month of my exchange, my host dad, Bob, asked me to make dinner. I looked at him and said, “I don’t know how to cook.” He said, “okay! I’ll teach you how to cook. We’ll start from something simple, let’s make tacos. Nothing fancy, just cutting up veggies, heating up tortillas, rice and beans.” Simple enough, right? But oh boy! He had a good laugh watching me fail at cutting veggies. Either I was using the wrong knife or not holding it right. That simple meal took two hours, and a few burnt tortillas. After that I started to learn how to cook properly. The first night with my host family, we watched ‘House of Cards’ together. Maybe that’s why it’s still one of my favourite TV shows.

My high school had about 180 kids. Imagine a school that small, everyone knows each other. Another best part about my school in Alaska was that I got to do 4 different sports in one year. One of the things that I learned from my exchange year is the importance of volunteering and the idea of giving back to the community. This is something which I still try to do whenever I can.

I have always wanted to have my own business for as long as I can remember. After going to the US, I have learned a lot about businesses, especially how they deal with customers. Watching everything from the consumers’ perspective is also important in every aspect of business.  I also learned that sometimes non-traditional ways to do business may be effective when you are trying to reach a larger consumer base. As I was in Alaska which is made of many small towns, it would be hard to have, let’s say, a store in every town. It would be easier to just do it online, in a non-traditional way.

Before going to the U.S.A., I had this stereotypical “Hollywood” image of the US. I saw past it after living there for a year. I am sure I also helped a lot of people see past the stereotypical ‘Bollywood’ image of India. After having exposure to a new culture I have started respecting different opinions and have become more open minded. I have learnt the concept: it’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just different!”