The Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) began 20 years ago as a way to introduce high-school students from Eurasia to American society and in turn, expose U.S. citizens to the culture, traditions, and lifestyles of the people of Eurasia. As a sign of its success, FLEX continues to impact a new generation. Olga Pak participated in the very first cohort of students in the FLEX program in 1993-1994 and spent her exchange year in California. Aleksandr Kim, her son, is the first second-generation FLEX Program participant.
Aleksandr says his mother's positive exchange experience inspired him to pursue a FLEX scholarship. "My mother was telling me stories about her exchange year since I was 11 years old. She encouraged me to come to the United States. Every time when she told me about some activity she did, I imagined myself doing it and I wanted to experience it too."
Olga and Aleksandr, from Kyrgyzstan, are two of the more than 21,600 participants who have come to the United States via the FLEX Program. The program provides scholarships for high school students from Eurasia to spend an academic year in the United States, live with a host family, and attend an American high school. Participants gain an understanding of America's culture and diversity, while learning about concepts such as volunteerism and grassroots organizing. The FLEX students promote mutual understanding as they teach Americans about their home countries, culture, and traditions.
Aleksandr is currently spending his academic year in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Speaking of his host town, Aleksandr said, "I actually imagined a big city like New York with skyscrapers, wide streets, traffic, and shopping malls everywhere. But in reality, my town is just a regular town with 20,000 people. People here are really nice, my family and my school are great. I've met a lot of people and learned a lot about American culture and the way Americans live."
Aleksandr heeded his mother's advice about being outgoing, flexible, and open minded. He has adjusted well to American high school life, playing football, joining the swim team, robotics team, and participating in community service events. "I really like to explore new things and this program is one of the best opportunities to learn something new. America is really different from other countries and just the way Americans live their lives is unique. This was the main reason to apply for the FLEX Program, so I could try to understand American culture and how people live here," Aleksandr explained.
Out of more than 45,000 applicants from 10 European and Eurasian countries, approximately 800 are ultimately selected to spend a year in the United States. Students interested in learning more about the FLEX program can visit http://exchanges.state.gov/non-us/program/future-leaders-exchange. American households interested in hosting a U.S. Department of State-sponsored high school student can learn more at http://exchanges.state.gov/us/programs.