FLEX Spotlight: Andrea S.

FLEX student Andrea from Montenegro reflects on the past 8 months of her exchange year. 

17759851_850261338445516_6208320219764051161_n.jpg

“Way back in 2015 the process of applying for the FLEX program started. My lovely family and friends were the biggest support while I was waiting for the results of this amazing program which literally has changed my life. Finally, in the spring of 2016 I was informed that I was selected as one of the 16 students who were offered scholarship for the craziest (in a positive way) journey of my life!

In late June 2016, information about my placement (host family) came in and I found out that I will be spending my exchange year in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I still remember the excitement during those sleepless nights. Finally, I arrived to the U.S. on August 9th around 6pm. You would think that I went straight into exploring, well no. Jet leg was a real thing, I slept for 13 hours.

Adjusting to new school and friends was, honestly, very hard. ‘Thinking in English’ seemed impossible! But still, I was never homesick or depressed. Of course, there were sad days just because it was hard to overcome personal fears and different views about the World. I am not a superhero, and I am not saying that I completely did everything I wanted or thought to do but at least I TRIED! Sometimes I asked people for help, sometimes I asked myself bunch of questions about things deep inside of me. I am still exploring, about the world, about my world. With the right people who support me and believe in me it is a lot easier. My American and Montenegrin friends, my parents and host parents never let me down. Although I wouldn’t achieve all of this without faith in myself, faith they all have in me, and support they give pushes me forward!

For 8 months being here I can tell that I changed. I am not a better or worse person, just different – PDO thank you 🙂 Thanks to this program and the experience it provided me with I am really looking forward to meeting even more people and visiting more places. Simply I am looking forward to expanding my horizons!”

17799109_850261408445509_2607191309632237322_n.jpg

Originally posted by FLEX Montenegro, here.

 

Advertisements

An Update on On-Program FLEX and YES Students

Every year upon arrival, FLEX and YES students with disabilities attend a four-day workshop with Mobility International USA to prepare for their upcoming exchange year. During this orientation, students have the opportunity to learn about U.S. disability rights and laws, and get acquainted with the day-to-day norms of attending a U.S. high school. Read more about this year’s workshop: http://www.miusa.org/event/2016/orientation

 

What FLEX means to me, by Victoria B., ‘15, Moldova

What do you think of when you hear the word FLEX? To me, this program is a life-changing experience and it makes you grow so much spiritually. You become a totally different person and you develop such skills that you never thought you could be capable of.

As a handicapped person, the FLEX experience and the U.S. itself proved and showed me that I’m stronger than I thought. I can do a lot of great things for me and my society. This program also taught me that dreams DO come true! I have seen so many beautiful and breath-taking things and have experienced a whole different lifestyle.

My advice to the next year’s students is that if they get homesick, they shouldn’t stay locked in their rooms and call back home. Instead, they should make new friends, join clubs, do different activities and try to spend as much time with their host family as possible, because at the end of your experience, you will cherish every single moment spent together and you will miss America a lot. As they say, “You cherish the moment only when you lose it.” Take the best out of everything you’ve been gifted with until it’s too late.

International Education Week

FLEX alumnus Rodion from Kazakhstan shares some ‘FLEX tips’ and his excitement about International Education Week.

I am very glad to write this essay for young FLEXers and FLEX participants of all years and generations. It is fun to remember such a great experience in the USA – my first days in the high school, presentations, holidays, sport events, traveling and everything else. It was such a wonderful time and I will always keep it in my heart.  I want to give some tips for new participants of the FLEX Program.

rodion-ivashchenko-kz-5The first tip is “don’t be afraid to make mistakes.” When you go somewhere, start a new job, or even choose a different hobby, you will have a hard time at first. I think it is ok for everyone. It happens because you are not a professional. That is something everybody overcomes. More than that, it has a name, “culture shock.” For example, on my first day of school I thought that the building was so big and I would never be on time to my classes. It took some time before I could feel confident and comfortable there. So, don’t hesitate to do something wrong at the beginning – it will teach you and form your personality.

The second tip is my favorite, “take advantage of all opportunities.” I had lots of chances to try something new, change my daily life, and gain new knowledge during my exchange year. I was really happy to do all these things and be a part of something big. If I could live an exchange year again, I would not change anything. I have valued every day of my American life and now looking back, I don’t regret that I missed something there. I was open to the world. I was ready for new experience and enjoyed it.

The third tip is “be open-minded.” It is very important to be positive and open-minded when you go abroad. Every trip changes you and it is the key aspect of being a global citizen.

*              *              *

When I came to my high school on my first day, I brought with me small Kazakhstan flags and gave them to all my teachers. They were glad to have something “foreign” and they put the flags in their classrooms. There were only a few people who had heard of Kazakhstan. So, I decided to make a change and tell people in my host community about my home country.rodion-ivashchenko-kz-2

In November, FLEX students participate in International Education Week. The program requires at least 1 presentation about one’s home country. Guess how many I did? The correct answer is 28 presentations. More than that, I made a poster about Kazakhstan and put it in the main hall of the school. Some exchange students asked me why I was doing so many things about my country instead of just relaxing and enjoying my time in the USA. My response was “because it is the right thing to do.” If I had not come to America, no one would know about such a country as Kazakhstan. I gave a book about Kazakhstan to my school library. I wanted to make a change and difference in the community. I also brought 5 kilograms of Kazakh chocolates with me to the USA specifically for the presentations. I like to share my knowledge with people and gain new experiences because it builds me as a man, a human, and a global citizen.  I was said to be a wonderful ambassador.

I talked with the principal of my high school before International Education Week and asked him to give me the entire auditorium for my presentations. He was surprised by it. He said I was the first exchange student who asked for the auditorium, since everybody else did their presentation only once and in one classroom. I told him that I wanted to create something bigger and go beyond the classrooms to the school stage. He allowed me to do it. I was very excited to perform there. I had an audience of almost 800 students and teachers. I used music, videos, and other interesting things during presentation. People loved it and some of them have decided to visit Kazakhstan, for sure.

I did the presentation 28 times for the high school, the middle school, the elementary school, the rotary club, library visitors, my host parents, and their relatives. I didn’t ask for anything back, it was my volunteering and enjoyment to do that. I put all of my energy and passion into it. The biggest thank you I got was from two 5-year-old boys, my host cousins, when they watched Kazakhstan walk into the Olympic Stadium in Rio and one of them yelled: “That’s Rodi’s flag!” That clearly shows me that my exchange year was not in vain. It shows that I was able to make a change, maybe very minor, but still. I was happy to share my country with people who live so far away across the ocean.

 

A FLEX Journey: From Application to Arrival

FLEX Student Stefan P. from Romania shares his FLEX journey from his initial application to his first days in an American high school.

Everything I have done in my first month of the FLEX Program is so different than my life back home. It is really a dream come true. In October 2015, I learned about the FLEX Program through a presentation by the FLEX Country Representative in Romania. She told us about who can apply, what FLEX means, and what the goals of the program are. Everything seemed so interesting to me, but also impossible. I decided I should at least try. That day, I told my parents about it when I got home. They were really happy to hear about my decision. I worked on the application and the day before the deadline, I started to worry. Spending an entire year without my family sounded like something unrealistic for me. However, my parents were there for me and they helped me get back on the right track and I finished my application.stefan-popa-ro

After a long wait, I received an email in December telling me I was a FLEX semifinalist. I couldn’t believe it! I was so happy! I was one step closer to achieving my dream! The next step was the semifinals in January. I was really nervous and it was a long day. But still, I tried to be myself. After the semifinals, I had days when I thought I had done fine and other days when I thought I hadn’t. I really wanted to get the scholarship, but I knew there were a lot of great and smart students who made it to the semifinals.

Finally at the end of April, I got a call. The call. I was told the best news I could possibly have hoped for: “You won the scholarship.” I couldn’t say anything for the next 30 minutes. Everything seemed like a dream to me. Lots of meetings and work followed, but everything was worth it. I met the other Romanian students that received the same good news that I had. They were all amazing people. After a great Fourth of July celebration at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest and an amazing Pre-Departure Orientation, I got to know all of them and we all became really good friends. After those events, I waited a long month until my departure. I got a chance to say goodbye to my friends and family and get ready for my departure.

In August, I finally left home. I knew I was going to miss everyone but I didn’t want to think about it. I wanted to think about the year ahead of me. It was a long flight, but it was worthwhile. We arrived in Washington D.C. around 3 PM. We had a small orientation and then spent the night there to get some rest in preparation for the flight to our host families the next morning. The next day, I finally met my host father and my local coordinator. It was THE actual beginning of my American experience.

After that, everything was different – the places, the people, everything. I got to spent almost one month at home with my host father. It gave us time to do a lot of neat things together so we could get to know each other. During the second week, I went to my first baseball game. It was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had! Seeing how everybody was cheering and supporting their favorite team was unbelievable. The week after, we went to the beach and I saw the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. I met a lot of my host father’s friends who were all nice and amazing people with whom I have a lot in common – And so many more things, all in one month!

Finally arrived my first day of school. The first few days, I felt so overwhelmed. It is a huge school with a lot of students. The hardest part wasn’t finding my classes or understanding what the teachers were saying. The hardest part was that I didn’t know anyone and felt a little lonely. But then, even without knowing them personally, I started to recognize the people that I had classes with and started to talk to some of them. The school is so different and the student-teacher relationship is really important for them. Also, you can always see the principal walking around the hallways looking for students that need help. I was excited to attend a pep rally during the beginning of the sport season. The excitement was literally off the charts. Everything was exciting – even a lot of small things that I shouldn’t be excited about. But being in a completely different place with completely different people makes even the smallest things seem important.

Right now, I know I’m going to try out for the tennis team, go to auditions for the school musical, and join two volunteering clubs. Also, I chose classes, we don’t have in Romania. Why do I do all of these things? Because I want to try new and different things. I want to meet new people and learn about different cultures. I want to learn about what makes America so great. And I can’t do that without getting outside my comfort zone or without trying new things. I really want to make the most of this year and enjoy it as much as I can because time really flies by. I can’t believe I’ve already been in the United States for over a month now! FLEX gave me an opportunity I couldn’t find anywhere else – the opportunity to expand my knowledge, to improve my skills, and to make an impact in a completely different place. I already have a lot of things planned for the year and I plan to do all of them in order to use the opportunity in the best way. And as for the students who want to apply this year: Don’t be afraid! It’s the best thing you can do! It’s worth it!

 

One Reason #WhyHostingMatters: Volunteerism Makes Communities Stronger

This compelling  article appeared in the Huffington Post in 2015. Written by Evan Ryan, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, it was inspired by her meetings with some of the 170+ FLEX students who had gathered in Washington, DC at the end of their program. The two countries included in the A-SMYLE program, Serbia and Montenegro, became part of FLEX in 2016.

High school exchanges participants make a profound impact not only on their host families, schools, and communities, but ultimately on overall relationships with the citizens and governments of their countries. I recently was reminded of this as I met with students who were visiting Washington, D.C. to mark the end of their academic year exchanges.

The students from our Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX), and the American-Serbia and Montenegro Youth Leadership Exchange (A-SMYLE) programs, for example, contributed over 4,000 hours of community service during their exchange year in the United States, adding to the well over one million community service hours their FLEX and A-SMYLE peers have contributed before them.

Huffington Post Article Photo for Blog

Makhabat from Kyrgyzstan made it her goal to inspire religious tolerance among people of Christian and Muslim faiths, as she completed over 100 hours of community service at a food pantry, a soup kitchen, an elementary school, and other venues. Marija from Montenegro also completed over 100 hours of community service, including starting a fund-raising campaign for the people of Haiti after watching a documentary about living conditions there. Ilya from Russia, in addition to contributing almost 200 hours of community service, conducted 37 presentations about his home country, increasing understanding of its history and culture among his classmates and in his host community.

The students’ energy and enthusiasm demonstrated that the future of our global community will be bright.

As I met with students, I also heard about the importance of host families in creating a brighter future. American volunteer host families are a fundamental element of our exchanges – providing a home and a safe, nurturing environment where ideas, like the concept of volunteerism, can be shared and explored. As one host parent said: “Hosting is more than most people think. It’s adding a person to your family. It’s expanding your knowledge of other countries and cultures. It’s an everyday adventure that expands your horizons.” In short, hosting matters because it gives foreign youth firsthand experience of life in the United States and increases understanding between Americans and people of other countries.

The U.S. Department of State brings nearly 2,000 high school youth to the United States from over 50 countries each year through the FLEX, A-SMYLE, Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES), and Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) programs. I invite American families to host a student from one of these programs in your home or school. Learn more through our #WhyHostingMatters campaign and at hosting.state.gov. You too can be personally inspired by these amazing students while contributing to relations between the United States and countries around the globe. And in the process, you will make your community a better place.

Follow Evan Ryan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ECA_AS

Learn more about #WhyHostingMatters to FLEX students here!

 

 

Pre-Departure Orientations

Get ready to welcome the 2016-2017 FLEX students to the United States! For the first time, students from Romania, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania will be taking part in FLEX! All FLEXers recently prepared for their year abroad at pre-departure orientations across Europe and Eurasia.

Eliza C., FLEX Country Representative in Romania, had this to share after the country’s first-ever pre-departure orientation:

“Dear USA, they are ready for you!

Ready to experience new things, to make new friends, to discover the American culture and to create awesome memories. They come to you with great expectations, big dreams, positive energy, enthusiasm and lots of curiosity. Be great, America! As you have always been. Give our FLEXers the opportunity to be surprised by your diversity, your creativity and values. Offer them wonderful experiences and then send them home eager to positively impact their communities. Romania needs youth leaders to shape her future and get things done properly- may these FLEXers be the leaders we need.

FLEXers, make this the best experience of your life so far!”

ro group

See more photos from FLEX Pre-Departure Orientations here!