Victoria Danutsa, FLEX 2019-2020 participant (Kalush/Candor, NY)
The best thing that happened to me during my exchange year, was becoming a member of the High School Musical. I got the lead role of the Moon in the play “The Addams Family”. 4-hour long practices almost every day brought me so many cool memories. The whole cast became a real family. We were throwing parties together, helping each other with homework, and supporting during hard times. These people were my inspiration and motivation! Thanks to them, I discovered a new hobby of singing and playing musical instruments. Now, I literally can’t spend a day without playing ukulele and making up my own songs.
Only now I have realized how cool is it to have a second real family on the other side of the world. My host-family always cared for and supported me during tough times. They saw me being depressed and being happy, crying and laughing. I always felt at home with them. I had two host-sisters of my age. Therefore, they were my “bestest” friends. They helped to not get lost in complicated halls of my school, to pay in American shops (it was so scary for me), to make new friends, to do my homework, and even to drive me anywhere I asked them to (yes, they had their own cars at 16). I will never forget our sleepless night on holidays, our long shopping trips, relaxing in the hot tub outside on cold February nights, and joking about things that nobody else would understand. I truly love them and miss them a lot.
Besides memories, I brought back a whole packet of new ideas. My perception of this world changed a lot. I’ve become open-minded. It may sound so cliché but for me, that’s a big change. I’ve learned to celebrate the diversity of people and to respect everybody’s opinion. I’ve developed many collaborating and team-working skills. As a result, I exchange my knowledge with other teenagers, and together we come up with super cool ideas. Now, I am a part of an ecological and also an educational project. I have a goal to change this world for better, and I am already taking my first steps. Without FLEX, I wouldn’t have the courage and bravery to do that.
Yurii Shkola, FLEX 2019-2020 participant (Kryvyy Rih/Athens, TN)
How did US experience change you? I will say that U.S. experience changed me in different ways. One of the goals that I had for this year was to become more independent and I think that I did! All the things that you have to do, like money management, are actually building something new in your character and a better foundation for your future. Also, I will agree if someone will say that I’m totally different person than I was before because I changed a lot of views in this life, I made plans for a future, and I changed some of them like I picked a different study major for myself. (I was going to go into medicine, but now I’m thinking of international relationships). I’ve got a lot of changes in me, but I know that all of this happened for the good and only improved me as a person in my community and Ukraine in total.
Someone said that this year is not only about a year in the U.S. but about people. I was so lucky to get in such a supportive community that was ready to help me anytime with anything and even if they were not able to, I had FLEX students from different countries that still were there for me. Civic Education Week brought diversity in my life, I’ve got friends in a lot of Europe and Central Asian countries now and it is amazing. FLEX students can help you with something because at some point in their year they were in a similar situation, so they possibly know what to do. All the people that I met during my time in the U.S. are missed, but all that I can do is to try and stay in touch as much as possible, to show them how much they mean to me.
Living in a host family is a huge part of the year because no matter what happens at school or with friends, you will come back home to your family that is ready to help and support you. It was challenging in the beginning, but as time flies you are getting used to all of the things that your host family does. It is also an interesting experience to see what you will do if you’ll get in a community of people you are meeting for the first time and family that differs from your own. I had a newborn sister that became part of the family the same day as I did, so right now I’m really connected to her because we were growing together and adjusting to family together.
It was interesting to see which things that you’ve heard about U.S. school are true and which are not. The school was difficult in the beginning because you didn’t have that much time to adjust to the language, but teachers are always ready to help you with anything: they can understand that you are going through a difficult process right now, so they could be easy on you.
Zlata Kolesnyk, FLEX 2019-2020 participant (Mykolayiv/Grand Folks, ND)
I learned how to manage my time, set priorities and make the right decisions. Rediscovering personal potential helped me to boost self-confidence and change the way I view this world. I started dreaming big and working hard for what I want because there are always opportunities out there for those who are striving for success. Thanks to the people who surrounded me in the USA, I am a brand new person now.
The American High School was above all of my expectations. Riding a traditional yellow school bus to meet my new American friends and seeing the teachers was something I waited for every morning of my exchange year. At school, I got to take classes I would never have a chance to, if it wasn’t for FLEX. For example, Interior Design, U.S. History, Film Study, Debate and Food for Today. Just like in the movies, I joined a cheerleading team to support school spirit. It was a wonderful experience and gave me the best memories so far!
Marya Zlyden, FLEX 2019-2020 participant (Odesa/Locust Grove, VA)
I was hosted in the lovely state of Virginia, which I proudly consider to be my second home. The breathtaking mountain views alongside with gorgeous countryside hold a special place in my heart. People in my community were very friendly and caring – nearly every neighbor of mine used to frequently check on me and ask if my experience was going well. I absolutely enjoyed how open-minded the people were who surrounded me and how interesting our conversations would get whenever we’d discuss our cultures and personal backgrounds.
My friends I met in high school were also quite inviting and they made me feel like I fit right in. My teachers, too, treated me kindly, were happy with every little thing I achieved and genuinely cared about me. We’d always have a little chat with them about life after classes. On top of that, I was a member of the club called “Pondering Possibilities”. At the meetings we discussed if mermaids, aliens, ghosts and other creatures were real or not. Pretty much every meeting ended up with us cracking jokes about whatever topic we chose to debate, and it was my favorite part!
Another thing I did was babysitting as a part of my volunteering experience. My host parents used to hold a Bible study every Thursday night and people who attended it were couples with kids that went to the same church as us. I volunteered to watch the kids on the very first night and it turned out great! The kids seemed to really enjoy my company and I myself loved what I was doing. Being around kids a lot, hearing them laugh and bringing them joy by simply playing together, made me feel totally blissed out. The other side of my volunteering experience is helping at the nursing home. It was quite special to get a chance to tell elderly people about my country, hang out with them, and do some puzzles or make all sorts of crafts. They all were very sweet and they wouldn’t stop saying “How come you are from Ukraine but sound so American?” All in all, I view volunteering as a great opportunity to change other people’s lives, including your own.
And lastly, I briefly want to talk about my host family. If I were to use one word to describe the experience with my American family, I’d use the word “meaningful.” Immense love, support, joy from living our lives to the fullest together, and the adventures we had are indescribably meaningful. My host parents and siblings shaped my personality in new and amazing ways. I’m forever grateful for everything that happened to me on my exchange year and I’m so ready for more adventures in life!