FLEX students leave their year-long exchange experience with a plethora of knowledge, full of new experiences, bright memories, confidence, and proud of the challenges they have overcome. Each FLEX year in the United States is unique – a reflection of the diversity and variety of American ways of life. This is vividly evident as they converge in Dulles airport to board their international flights home. There are students speaking in soft southern accents, doling out Hawaiian greetings of aloha, and sport a fashionable pair of Western cowboy boots. Each experience differs, but shares the same crucial and overarching elements that make it so special: the generosity of host families, the openness of host communities, the support of placement organizations, and life-changing friendships.
We asked this year’s outgoing FLEX students to share some Words of Wisdom from their year, to be passed on to next year’s incoming students who are currently preparing at pre-departure orientations. Their responses reflect their personal growth, thirst for knowledge and adventure, gratitude to those who made their year possible, and a seize the day attitude towards new experiences. Here’s what they have to say, from one FLEX generation to the next.
Read more Words of Wisdom from FLEX and A-SMYLE students here!
Reaching the end of a year spent abroad is always bitter sweet. As FLEX students collect at Dulles International Airport for their group flights home, they express conflicting emotions: “I just can’t wait to see my family! It was so hard saying goodbye to my family! I was crying the whole plane ride! How will I live without [some U.S. candy]? I can’t wait to eat [traditional dish]!” These mixed emotions are often followed by heart-warming stories of how FLEXers and their host families and friends spent their last few hours – stories about host siblings staying up all night with them to seize every moment, stories of goodbye parties with extended family, stories of large groups of friends coming to the airport and kind words from host schools. It is moving to watch FLEX students get off the plane clutching meaningful gifts of scrapbooks, photos, and trinkets, holding dearly onto a great year of memories. This duality of the meaning of home, exchange, and family is one of the things that makes the FLEX Program, as well as other exchange programs, so special and so life-changing.
After many long flights and multiple layovers, all this year’s FLEX students have arrived home. Their families awaited them outside of baggage claim with balloons, flowers, stuffed animals, and posters – eagerly awaiting to see their loved ones! Welcome home to all 2015-2016 FLEX Students! You will surely be missed! 🙂
See more photos from return travel here!
Nino Zurabishvili is a 1996 FLEX Alumna from Georgia and now works as the Deputy Chief of Gori City Council. Today, she celebrates the FLEX year of her daughter, Salome!
“I participated in FLEX in 1996. It was the first time that FLEX went out to regions and I was the first participant from Gori. It was in the States that I first felt the importance of personal freedom. I was even surprised to see how much Americans respect the personal space of others and I wanted to raise my child with these values. 19 years have passed and now my daughter, Salome Kechkhuashvili, is a FLEX program participant. Today she is living near Houston, Texas and every time I talk to her, I realize how she sees and values the same things that had a profound impact on my personal development years ago. I am happy that today, just like me, she has to independently deal with daily issues and take responsibility. It is one thing to be proud of your own achievements, but for every mother, her child’s success brings twice as much happiness.” – Nino Zurabishvili