Lyudmyla Grygorchuk, FLEX 2010-2011 participant
Others view the FLEX program as an opportunity to study abroad, but for FLEX students and alumni it is something more. It is a chance to grow as a person, to find yourself in society, and finally to change the world for the better. Before becoming a FLEX student, I had so many doubts about what I wanted to do and what would become of me. After spending the year in Iowa, there was only one option for me: international relations. I became more independent, active and flexible. I got the priceless experience of doing volunteer work that makes you realize how the rest of the world needs your help and there are a lot of things that must and can be changed.The biggest difference for me was how everything was so spread out. Since I lived out in the country, we had to drive to get groceries, to go to school, and even to visit somebody. In Ukraine I was used to walking, but in Iowa it was all different. The first day I felt like I would be staying at home all the time not being able to get out of the house, but so many people helped me with getting to places. That was not a problem. Talking about school, I would say that regular internet and computer accessibility in the library helped a lot. I always had full opportunity to get all of my homework done and this left me time to experience life outside of school.
Of course, living in another country where you don’t know anybody is not going to be easy for anyone. It is quite counterintuitive to think that everything will be smooth, but it is really worth giving it a try. Everything that happens, happens for a reason. Living in another country grants you the opportunity to experience as much in one year as some of us may see during our whole life. The places you get to see; the grateful, supportive and positive people you meet; the foods you try; the difference of cultures you experience are most valuable. All parents (mine as well) get really worried. My mom was crying the whole first semester of my being in USA. After that she understood the true value of the program when she saw me growing as a person, expanding my view on life, and realizing my purpose
MIUSA workshop helped us to prepare for the year ahead. They gave us tips and knowledge, educated us on opportunities as well as our rights and responsibilities. The most unique thing I experienced during the workshop was probably the challenge course wherein we had to overcome a number of physical and psychological obstacles. This helped to break some barriers inside of us, to overcome the difficulties and come up with different ways of achieving success.
The first week in US school was a little bit stressful because of my not being used to hearing and studying in English every day, but you get accustomed it after a while. More interesting was the communication with all the new people at school. My school was quite small (about 200 students), so it was very easy for everybody to notice somebody new. I received a warm welcome and teachers and the principle introduced me to the other students during classes and at a school meeting. My peers expressed great interest in my culture and my school in Ukraine. They were asking a huge number of questions all the time. I was invited to the Foreign Friends organization and there a bonfire was organized due to my arrival. I could feel how hard they tried to make my stay the best experience ever, and I am very thankful to them.
Marta Nykolayeva, FLEX 2006-2007 participant
I like to travel, visit new countries, and learn about new cultures. When I was accepted as a FLEX finalist it was exciting, but also spine-tingling as I was never on my own, away from home, for more than 1 week. But I understood that a chance like this could be only once-in-a-life-time, and I didn’t want to miss it. Now I know that I will never regret it.
For me, the program started in Moldova where I attended a Pre-Departure Orientation that lasted for one month. There I met many new friends. In Moldova we had English classes, lunch with American families, did a lot of interesting activities with Peace Corp volunteers and FLEX alumni (played games, watched movies, performed a play). Also I went to Oregon, where the organization MIUSA prepared a great program for us. The most impressive was the Challenge Course where we learned to work as a team and to be self-confident. After Oregon, I went to Florida. The first few weeks away from home weren’t easy, but later things became better. I met new friends and volunteered in the theatre (I helped with lighting).
Studying in American high school was also very interesting. Together with my friends, we visited American football games, marching band competitions, homecoming dances, and Prom. In my drama class, I gave a presentation about Ukraine while wearing our Ukrainian national costume. My classmates listened to Ukrainian music, learned a few Ukrainian words, and listened to Ukrainian literature, all of which they liked a lot. Also, I visited new places like the Bahamas, Miami, Disney World, Sea World, etc. The most important aspects of the year were that I learned to be independent, to be more confident, and to make important decisions on my own.
The year in the USA was amazing! Тhanks to all the people who work for the FLEX program! And I wish all future FLEX finalists to have a successful year in the USA. Always remember that dreams come true and everything is possible if you believe in yourself!
Volodymyr Lemesh, FLEX 2005-2006 participant
It goes without saying that for a sixteen-year-old teenager, going abroad on his own is a unique experience. My stay in the United States of America changed me a lot in many ways. Firstly, it gave me proof that I am able to solve my own problems by myself. Secondly, thanks to FLEX, I became more sociable and made friends with many people of different ages. And finally, in the United States I learned to overcome culture shock and to find my bearings quickly under new circumstances.
As a FLEX student, I know that when we consider cultural differences we must keep in mind that other cultures are not better and not worse than our own – they are just different. In the United States, the way of life is quite different from that in Ukraine. For example, people have different values, discuss different aspects of life and observe different traditions. However, both Ukrainians and Americans look for the same fundamental character traits in other people, such as honesty, kindness, the ability to understand and help others. The educational systems of Ukraine and of the USA are also rather different. In the USA, students receive credits in every academic course, while in Ukraine, more often than not, students must insure that they have no academic debts by the end of the semester. Additionally, high school curriculum in the United States offers many courses that are not taught in Ukrainian schools. Yet I am convinced that all of said differences can be overcome. We must be open to new experience and take great pains to do our best in school.
My piece of advice in this case is that these people shouldn’t worry. Going to the USA is unforgettable. Should you have problems, everyone in the USA will be willing to help. Don’t miss your opportunity!
My host family gave me a very warm welcome. Everyone was eager to help me with everything. We did a lot of interesting things together and travelled a lot. I am so thankful to my host family for all they have done for me! At school everyone was helpful as well. All of my peers treated me with respect.
Pavlo Radizevskyy, FLEX 2005-2006 participant
From a certain point of view, everything around us influences us, and going on the FLEX program certainly changed me drastically as a person. Spending a year in another country makes you adapt to things that are different, and this significantly widens your view and enriches your cultural experience. Since so much in the US is different from Ukraine, it really makes you get rid of many stereotypes that are always present when you live only in one country.
Some things seemed shocking to me at first (like when doctors told me to drink cold water when I got the flu; and guess what? It worked). Let’s not forget that the United States are across the ocean from Europe, and you will see so many differences in little things when you come there if you haven’t visited it before. However, it takes more than just visiting to look deeper and truly enrich your cultural experience. While I was getting instructions and advice along with other FLEX participants at American Councils before we all left to the US, we were constantly told that where we were going was not better or worse, it was just different. It truly was, and I surely liked it there very much. Anyone will feel homesick at the start when he or she comes to another country for a year since it is our nature, but that feeling eventually fades and passes.
After you get used to living in another country, I am sure you will miss it when you return. To tell the truth, many things seemed really weird here in Ukraine when I came back. I sincerely smiled more than the average Ukrainian.
Only now I understand why living with a host family was so important: not just that it allows you to adapt faster and feel safer, but it is also the best way to understand the culture better and feel more comfortable living in it. The first major thing you will probably notice in the US is that people are generally friendlier and more open, though this is less noticeable in larger cities. I liked to be in small towns a bit more than to stay in major cities of the US.
Students at school were very friendly as well. One of the differences in comparison to post-Soviet countries was that there were less rules prohibiting things, but this didn’t mean that certain things were not expected. For example, not being late or not missing classes was actually more important than in Ukraine, though no one would force you to get up or come on time.
A major piece of advice I can give you is not to be afraid of what you do not understand: it usually turns out to be a good thing rather than just something disturbing. And do not be afraid to not go to another country: the US is mostly a pretty safe place to live in. You can pass the same advice to your parents if they are hesitant.
Anna Girych, FLEX 2003-2004 participant
To be honest, I expected to see something really unusual the moment our airplane landed at Kennedy Airport. I actually thought that even the people and trees are supposed to look somewhat differently here in the US. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I was surprised to discover that Americans share a lot in common with our Ukrainian people. Yes, they have a more individualistic attitude towards life and value their personal space; but they are equally willing to open their hearts to the people they love and become loyal friends. Still, it takes Americans longer to start trusting new people. This is the way it was with my schoolmates back in West Des Moines, Iowa.
At first, our relations were chilly, but then, in a month or so, we embarked on our first trip to Chicago. Then after one year, we just could not imagine when it was time for me to leave and we cried. The moment my English teacher brought me and three others students to write the first round FLEX test seemed so far away. Today, I still talk to my American family and friends via Skype. One of them, Kyle, even visited me in Kyiv several years ago.
In the long run, my MIUSA experience gave me considerably more than language practice, art classes, plenty of trips, and several loyal friends. My host mom Carol told me to never let other people live my life for me, and to never let my disability predetermine my future life. Her words became my motto for the next ten years of my life and, hope, into the future. It was Carol who helped me get faith in myself to reach today’s heights in my personal life and career.
So, do not hesitate to at least try to participate in the FLEX program. This is probably your best chance to learn more about American people and yourself! This will be your personal story, and you are free to rewrite or even totally change it! Good luck, my dear future FLEX colleague!
Ruslan Tykholaz, FLEX 2001-2002 participant
Going on FLEX was definitely one the most exciting experiences in my life. I think participating in this program is both a priceless educational asset and a life lesson. It made me more open-minded, strengthened my self-confidence, tolerance, cultural sensitivity, and enhanced my communication skills.
First of all, I lived with the most wonderful and amazing host family. It was so much fun, and to be honest, I miss my American parents more than anything. I really liked the school and the teachers. Everyone was very friendly and helpful. As I look back now, one of the best things I learned is probably the importance of community service and the impact it can have. I also really enjoyed traveling on the weekends, and especially on the holidays. During my exchange year, I visited more than 20 different states from New York to California. This inspired me to discover different places while motivating me to take part in many other adventures.
FLEX was the starting step to many opportunities ever since. I am proud to be a FLEX alumnus and recommend going on FLEX without any hesitation. I am thankful to American Councils, and the FLEX team in particular, for giving me such a chance, and for all the support in making it a success.