According to its website, Academic Year in America remains one of the largest and most respected high school/homestay programs in the United States, the mission of which is to promote worldwide understanding through cultural exchange.
In the instance of Nalisha Men, Mena as she became known during her first visit to the United States as a 16-year-old through AYA for the 2009-2010 school year mission accomplished.
Having shared that she attends a private school in China, where a typical 14-hour school day offers neither sports nor extracurricular activities. Mena not only celebrated numerous firsts during her stay in the United States, but took full advantage of both sports and service organization opportunities, including Key Club and Interact Club, and the connection they provided to Kiwanis and Rotary.
Photo by Kathleen Palumbo, Town Crier correspondent
Nalisha Men continues to carry the message she gained while an exchange student at Boardman High School traveling with the Academic Year in America program, around the world. Her involvement with Operation Smile, an international children's medical charity that heals children's smiles, will provide three surgeries for children and young adults with facial deformities.
She expressed her gratitude and said she returned to China with a sense of social responsibility to one's community and to the world and with what she called a "new international view about the United States," adding, "I decided I wanted to bring this American spirit of caring and community involvement back to Beijing."
Along the way, Mena graduated from attempting to get involved in volunteer activities on weekends to utilizing her Rotary connection, meeting the former president of the Chinese Rotary, and launching her own fundraiser for Operation Smile.
According to its website, Operation Smile is an international children's medical charity that heals children's smiles, forever changing their lives. Utilizing a mobilized force of medical professionals who provide surgery for children born with facial deformities such as cleft lip and cleft palate, Operation Smile repairs deformities that often leave children unable to eat, speak, socialize or smile.
Since 1982, enabled through the help of dedicated medical volunteers, Operation Smile has provided more than 2 million patient evaluations and over 200,000 free surgeries for children and young adults. Having raised approximately $800 through her fundraiser, Mena's efforts will provide three such surgeries.
Having recently visited Operation Smile's headquarters in Virginia, Mena included a second visit to Boardman in her return trip to the United States, spending time with friends, and Jim and Laurie Antunez, with whom she lived while attending her sophomore year at Boardman High School.
"Boardman is really my second home" she said.
Never remiss in expressing her appreciation to those who have made her philanthropic efforts possible, "my parents... I really, really appreciate their acceptance," she said of their openness to her travels, ideas and involvement.
Having said that she returned home knowing that the experiences she had and things she learned while here were never a coincidence, Mena said she realized she wanted to raise the social awareness in her community and provide support to those who are in great need.
Already an accomplished philanthropist, Mena's work is just beginning. Her continued involvement upon her return to China will be followed by a spring trip to India and then by her high school graduation after which she said she plans to return to the United States for college.
To monitor the blog of the student who was forever changed by her visit to Boardman and the culture of the United States, visit Mena at Menalisa.wordpress.com.