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.

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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.