Carmel Valley teen participates in American Youth Leadership Program abroad

Derek Kiy on the Marina Barrage in Singapore. / Courtesy photo

By Kristina Houck

Although he’s not in college yet, Carmel Valley resident Derek Kiy has already studied abroad. The 17-year old was among 18 high school students selected for the 2013 class of the American Youth Leadership Program with Singapore and Malaysia.

Supported by a grant from the U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the nonprofit organization Cultural Vistas, the program exposed students to the people and cultures of Singapore and Malaysia, with a focus on sustainable development and urban planning.

“The program just seemed like a great fit,” said Kiy, a senior at Canyon Crest Academy in Carmel Valley. “I’ve always had a strong interest in doing things abroad and traveling. I just really wanted to have an experience I would not be able to have otherwise.”

To learn about the cultures of each country and the environmental issues they would encounter, students researched and collaborated online on various pre-program projects prior to the trip. At the end of June, participants gathered in Los Angeles for a pre-departure orientation before they traveled abroad. The three-week immersion experience included a series of educational and cultural workshops, team-building exercises, community service activities, university lectures, sightseeing and homestay experiences.

The group visited about 10 different schools to interact with other students. A highlight of the trip, Kiy said, was when he discussed current events and politics with a girl from an all-girls Islamic school in Malaysia.

“It was a fascinating conversation that I had with a girl from an all-girls Muslim school in Malaysia,” he said. “What other time am I going to be able to have an experience like that? To be able to have a completely open conversation and share personal, political views with someone from a totally different culture and walk of life?”

The homestay experiences, where Kiy and the other students stayed with locals, were his favorite part of the program.

“The ability to stay with a family for an extended period of time, accompany them to the market, and break bread with them, was a much more private and intimate way to get to know people from a completely different culture, background and walk of life,” Kiy said.

Born in Mexico City, Kiy has traveled to other countries before, but it was his first time traveling overseas without family for an extended period of time. And he is thankful for the opportunity.

“You can only learn so much in your environment,” Kiy said. “You wouldn’t expect to be able to learn about Shakespeare or English literature in your math class. Likewise, you shouldn’t expect to be able to have a very good and deep understanding of the world around you simply from your comfortable house or neighborhood. You have to make that leap to go to a place you’ve never gone before.”

Although he is interested in economics and international business, Kiy has not yet decided what and where he wants to study after high school. Whether for the summer or a year, he has already decided he wants to study abroad again. And he encourages other students to do the same.

“If you want to stay within the same realm of thought that you were born into, you don’t need to go abroad,” Kiy said. “But if you have a desire to learn and become a more well-rounded person, it’s an opportunity you should take.”

To learn more about the American Youth Leadership Program with Singapore and Malaysia, visit