This summer, Nevada High School student Josue Tovar – now a junior – was one of 18 students in the United States selected to participate in the American Youth Leadership Program (AYLP) with Singapore and Malaysia.
As he returns to Nevada High School this fall, Tovar intends to use the experiences and knowledge he gained on that trip to help educate and inform fellow students and community members about the cultures he learned about this summer.
One of the key components of the trip, which was organized by Cultural Vistas – a nonprofit organization that uses career exploration to facilitate connections between Americans and international visitors – was for students to explore sustainable development. Tovar speaks a lot about that as he reflects on his travels.
The students first went to Malaysia, which Tovar said is a country that is developing really quickly. But, that rapid development is coming at a price. "They are taking a lot of forests down and building on top of them. The cities aren’t really that clean and they don’t think at all about sustainability," he said.
Singapore is much more cognizant of sustainability. "There are way more green areas, they keep their cities clean and the hire people who clean all day," Tovar said of the second country visited. "They have really strict laws against littering. It’s amazing, because even though they don’t have too much land, they still manage to keep portions of natural area within the city, and they have a really cool forest. "(Malaysia) needs to learn from their neighbor Singapore about sustainability," Tovar said.
Malaysia does, however, have lots of things that are fascinating. Tovar spoke of the many types of people that come together in Malaysia. "They have Malay people, Indian people, many people from Asian countries … so you have this big culture clash," he said. And the great side to all those cultures coming together, in Tovar’s opinion, was the "amazing foods" coming from all those cultures that were available throughout the country.
Tovar brags a little about trying many different and new foods, like grilled sting ray, and being the only one of the students who never got sick from something they ate.
Tovar spoke about the unbelievable buildings in Malaysia, such as the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, which are among the tallest and most amazing buildings in the world. Seeing these types of incredible structures, Tovar said, sparked a possible interest in architecture.
Along with visiting the big city, students on the trip also spent time in a Malaysian village, which Tovar said was "something like Nevada with paved streets and stuff." But unlike Nevada, the village was in the middle of the jungle. "You saw monkeys running around everywhere," he noted.
The village had food markets with all different types of food. "They were (on) four different blocks that you can walk and all you see is food."
Tovar also visited a rubber plantation. Rubber is one of Malaysia’s main exports, he learned, but "they are taking down a lot of rubber plants as they build all their buildings."
Because of his own Spanish roots, Tovar said he resembled most of the people in Malaysia. That resemblance, he said, earned him the opportunity to be involved in the demonstration of a Malaysian wedding. "That was fun."
In Singapore, students stayed at a college, and focused mostly on the many sustainability activities that this country is involved in. "Any trees that fall down, they will recycle," he said. Singapore has a big plant where garbage is taken and burned, and the energy created from burning garbage is used to help provide power to the city, which reminded Tovar a bit of the wind turbines in Nevada.
Singapore residents are very involved in recycling. "They have someone go to houses and deliver a recycling bag, and it’s mandatory (to use it)," he said. "I wish we could do something like that here in Nevada. It would be really amazing."
Tovar plans to speak to students and community groups in Nevada about his experiences this summer. He said that the experience has very much helped him to realize things he could do in the future. He’s thought about studying aerospace engineering, but he’s also interested in computers. Now, after discovering so much about the environment and sustainability, Tovar said he’s interested in possibly working in an environmental or nature-related career. Or, maybe he’d like to work with the government in a position based on creating relationships with people in other countries. And then there’s the possibility of architecture after seeing all those amazing buildings.
The biggest lesson of his trip, Tovar said, is about leadership. "It (leadership) is really important, and going on this trip will help me be a better leader in the school. I was leader of the Spanish Club last year and will be again this year. I also want to start an international club (at Nevada High School) and talk about different cultures that exist around the world."
Tovar expresses his thanks to the people and organizations who helped to make his trip possible – Cultural Vistas, the members of his family and especially, the staff of Nevada High School, for writing letters of recommendation that aided in his selection.
"The most fun (thing about the trip)," he said, "was meeting people and getting to know how they live in a different part of the world."