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!