Hello! My name is Ludmila Popova and I am from Russia. I spent 2000-01 in the USA in the state of Maine as an FSA/FLEX student.
First of all I would like to say a huge thank you to the people who work in ACIE in Volgograd. They were the first ones who started this experience for me. Still can remember how good the competition was held. Staff is just so good cooperating. They are always ready to help, to answer questions. But certainly the greatest contribution was the pre-departure orientation. Native speakers, alumni of the program and qualified staff introduced me to such terms as cultural shock, volunteerism, compromise, and communication. The knowledge I got I used a lot when I was in the US. And it was a big help for me to adjust in a new environment. Experience I've got is just remarkable and I want to tell you a little bit about it.
What did I expect from that year? It was a great opportunity to travel and to see new places, learn new culture and language, try and taste new things. But the thing I never thought about before was getting to know myself. Only now I understand how important it is to stop sometimes on our lifetime and think about who I am? What I want? Where is my place in this big crazy world?
I was a totally different person. I got to develop the feelings, the ideas I kept inside. Nobody expected me to behave in a certain way, I could just be myself. And I found out many interesting facts about myself: I love sport, I can be an actress, I love to work with people, to volunteer and to go sledding at 3 a.m.!
My placement organization was AFS. I want to say a special thank you to Nancy and Charlie Grant who put so much in it. AFS hold lots of orientations for 30 exchange students from all over the world in the state of Maine. I have never traveled out of Russia, never really talked with people from other countries, other nationalities. So try to imagine what a great feeling I had sitting in a circle with students from Europe, Africa, Asia, S. America, playing games with them, listening to so many foreign languages. Even though some of us didn't speak English very well, we still understood each other great. Through games and talking we learned important lessons of life, we learned to UNDERSTAND others. This was an experience I couldn't even think of before. You need to GO THROUGH it in order to understand.
AFS provided me with support I needed. There was always someone for me to listen about my problems, to give me a piece of advice or just to say that I am doing great as an exchange student.
I don't know how they picked up the families for the exchange students but my host family matched me great! And I think I really fit into my family. I lived with a typical American family, with Mr. and Ms. Houtman. I went to a small school, which is about 400 people. To say the truth the whole community was so small that I was a little bit scared at the beginning. I used to live in a big city in Russia and suddenly to change it to a small town... hmm... you know, that there is that stereotype, that America is NY, Disneyland, Hollywood... And here I was: in a small town in the middle of woods. But I loved my experience and glad I got to know living in a small community. It was an unusual thing.
So what have I got? Let me be brief. I tried new things: sports (tennis, cheering, and basketball), making pottery. I learned English , took many very interesting classes at school such as Spanish, Contemporary issues, Expositing writing, Psychology, US history, AP Biology, Dances, Computer Literacy. I made lots of friends. I broke my stereotypes about other nations and countries. I learned to listen, help (kitchen for the poor) and find compromises. I became more independent, open-minded, sociable, brave, self-confident, improved my leaders and organization skills.
I also took part in a workshop in Washington D.C. and learned so much about the US government and democracy. Let me notice that workshop change my whole point of view. It made me believe that EVERY person can make a difference in his (her) community. I got so many ideas, which I want to embody in future. Now I am a person who knows what she wants and how she can get it. And one more thing I understood: I am a citizen of the world.
But the other thing is I wasn't the only person who got so much out of that year. American people who were around me got quite a lot from me. I can say now that I broke some stereotypes about Russia for many of them, taught them Russian culture, traditions, and language. I was a good friend for them. I was part of their community life. I was a volunteer.
Being an FSA FLEX student, spending the year in the USA was the biggest impact on my life so far. I am going to connect my future career with international relationships. I know I got an experience that not everyone has a chance to have. I know I am responsible for it now. I can't waste it. I have to take the most out of it. I am really thankful for all people who made it possible. FSA FLEX is a great program. It changes lives once and forever. Give us some time and you will see the results.
Such programs tie the world to the one whole.
Placement Organization - AUSA
FSA FLEX program made a great impact on my whole life. It gave me opportunity to live in the United States of America, in American family. I felt myself the happiest person in the world when I was chosen as a finalist of the program. I dreamt of this for a long time, because my older sister had been a finalist of the same program in 1999. During the year she spent in Green Bay, WI she wrote us long letters and e-mails about American style of life, people, her friends and school classes. I got a great desire to do the same thing and I set myself on wining. I tried my best and I made it. All my family and friends were very happy for me, because everyone considered that I won't be chosen because of my sister being a finalist last year, but it happened so that I showed the best of my abilities and I guess I made a good impression on the interviewers.
The next best thing that really helped was a Pre-departure orientation in a wonderful city Volgograd about a month before I left to go to the United States. Now I realize that the orientation really helped me to adapt to the different culture and way of living. I wouldn't be able to do so good at school and in communicating with my host family without advises and main points which were outlined by the alumni of the previous years. We had long discussions with American PDO teachers and asked them various questions that bothered us at the time. Alumni were really also of a great help, they shared their experience that helped me later when I had just arrived to my new place of living. I understood that I could turn with any questions to the staff members of ACIE concerning not only my departure, traveling but everything else while being in the United States.
It had been the most exciting experience in my whole life. I learned so many things about American culture in general and especially about Mormon traditions, as my host family were of Mormon religion. I enjoyed very much living in their family. They were almost real parents to me and though none of their 9 children replaced me my own sister, they became great friends to me and I miss them greatly right now. My host brother Ray and his friend Matt are coming to visit me this summer. In fact that will be next week when they come. I can't wait to see them! I really want my Russian friends to meet them both and I wish they are able to spent more time in Taganrog. That way I would be able to show them more historical and important places of our town. They showed a great interest in this all. I'd like to say that I met a great number of people of different cultures and nationalities. There were some exchange students in my American town and that gave me a chance to get to know different cultures and traditions of different cultures, and not only American. I became more independent and self-confident while being in the United States. That year made a great impact on the fluency of my English. I have to say that I have always been interested in different languages and cultures and had a good knowledge of English even before the program, but nothing can be better than practice.
I was lucky to have traveled a little around America. I have seen different cities and understood that every state is different. It has its own world and people are different in every state. I would never have known that if not FSA FLEX program that gave me an opportunity to learn all those things. I have also overcome a lot of stereotypes while living among Americans. For example, in Russian it is being thought that Americans have freedom to do everything that they want, but I have learnt that it is not always true. The Civics class that I took in high school showed me that there are many strict rules and laws which every American follows without even questioning it. That is one of the main reasons for prosperity of this country and I think that it is my duty and the duty of the other alumni to show this to Russian people. I am sure that we have to understand other cultures and as America has become a really good partner of Russia in political as well as social issues, we have to concentrate on it right now.
Exchange students are shown a lot of things, but they are never imposed anything. Students are left to decide themselves and make their own conclusions about various problems. I think that the program helped me to cognize the life and culture of American people. I am really thankful that the American government along with all the staff members of Volgograd ACIE office gave me and the rest of the Russian students such a splendid opportunity to gain my own unique experience of getting the American people with their own culture. I made a lot of friends, who are really important to me. We keep in touch all the time and enjoy telling about our successes and achievements to each other. I would like to visit the United States some time again because I have spent a great part of my life thanks to FSA FLEX program.
Irina Matvienko'01, Rostov-on-Don
Placement Organization - WH
Before going to the USA, I was an ordinary child, an ordinary student, who has never been anywhere far from home and have not lived for a long time without parents. I never had a dream to go to the USA, I just decided to participate in the FSA FLEX competition for checking myself. And I became a finalist, it was a great surprise and I decided to go, because I wanted to try myself, I wanted to know how would I feel in the different country, family?
I went to America. You know, if I start describing all my feelings, impressions, this will be a really long letter, but I just want to say that this program, FSA FLEX program helped me greatly, helped me to change, I have become more easygoing, I have become flexible, more sociable and the main thing I got there was that I realized what I needed in life, what was important and what was not.
Before going to the US I was just a shy, usual girl. Now I have the values, the goals in life, and it is so exciting to live. I am enrolled in Rostov State University, I am going to be an international journalist, English helps me greatly, I already work in the newspaper, on the radio, I sing in the university vocal studio. I know what I want in life, though a lot of my friends of the same age have not determined and decided a lot of things yet. The FLEX program helped me to become like that and I am so much thankful. I loved being there, when I think of the year, I have spent in the US, I realize that maybe it was the happiest and most remarkable year in my life. I hope a lot of Russian students will have the same experience I have had, cause IT IS GREAT!
Igor Ubushiev '01, Elista (Republik of Kalmykia)
Placement Organization - YFU
The program turned my world upside down, took me on the whole new level of awareness about the world and about my own abilities. And I am saying that seriously because I have been to some parts of Central and Eastern Europe before my trip to the United States. The major difference was that I was a tourist there and in the United States I was the part of the country. This extraordinary, 'once in a lifetime' opportunity has increased not only my knowledge about the country but also improved my social skills.
Going on the trip I was thinking if it was worth spending a year into some foreign country far away from home, apart from family and friends, but now I don't regret spending even a second in that incredible place, a Wonderland so to say. A unique opportunity to be on your own, more or less independent was like being on the threshold of my adult life. At the same time the program staff gave me all the support and preparation I needed to accommodate to the new surroundings. All I have seen and all I have felt I may only express in general awestruck terms that you do know so very well. The magnitude and the direction of the push that this exchange program gave me in life is not measured on the earthly vector scale. But what is more important is that along with social growth I also improved my skills in English language and now feel secure to be tested on my final exams in school and entrance exams in university. Participating in FSA FLEX excahnge program changed my entire life adn my attitude toward the world of people, it made me think of future and set different goals for myself.
Anastasia Platonova'02, Volgograd
Phenix City, AL
Dear FSA FLEX program!
My name is Anastasiya Platonova. I have just returned from my exchange year, which I spent in Phenix City, Alabama. I want to express my gratitude to the FSA FLEX program that gave me the possibility to gain this unique experience.
First of all, I was very happy with my placement in the American family. I liked my host family so much. They were very nice people. We traveled so much and talked a whole lot about American life. They were willing to learn more about Russia, and I was about America. I hope we stay friends for the longest time. Learning first-hand about life in America is an experience of a lifetime. Spending a year far from home gave me a unique prospective of myself. Moreover, I made many new friends in my high school. Seeing the people of my age in another country and understanding their way of life is very educating. Sharing the information about my country, made me see how much more I should appreciate it. Although, living in American community made me believe Russia needs a change.
My US experience convinced me that I can make a difference for my country. Democracy makes it possible to any person to make a difference. In the Close Up week in Washington, D.C., provided by Close Up Foundation, we talked a lot about American democracy and Russian democracy.
I am very thankful for this year in the US that gave me insider's view on American community and democracy.
The Lesson Life In the US Taught Me.
There are a lot of lessons that life makes us learn. Not all of them are pleasant, but they all teach us something very important that can help us later on. For example, when I was in the U.S. I had to learn a lot about people and myself, and I think that the most important lesson was the one that probably no student wishes to learn this way. But bad experience is also an experience, and I don't regret anything.
I found out who my host family is going to be very early, and we were writing e-mails to each other quite often ever since. It seemed like we had known each other very well by the time we met and there could be no problems. And when the day came and we saw each other at the airport for the first time everything was as I had expected it to be. They were very glad to see me; they had a wonderful daughter and a beautiful house! The whole first week was great! We found so many things we had in common, we had so much fun doing different things together and just talking and sharing our thoughts on everything! I lived like in a dream: great family, beautiful house, and I was in America!!! Could it all be better?! If somebody told me then that it would all change very soon, I would never believe it!
But in a week school started, I met some new people, made some friends, and everything changed. My host parents who seemed so frank and kind turned out to be reserved and very demanding. They wanted me to be perfect and do everything exactly the way they wanted me to do it, and they didn't want to understand that we may be different and it may be hard for me at least in the beginning simply to know what they want from me.
Communication could help, but they didn't talk to me about their concerns until it came to a big problem. So I couldn't change anything because I didn't even know something was wrong. They started talking about me behind my back and asking people at school to spy on me. They even looked through my stuff when I wasn't home. And you know what the reason for all that was? You wouldn't believe - my friends. Frankly speaking, I didn't have many of them and I didn't go anywhere with them much because my host parents wouldn't let me, but even those few times I got calls or invitations from my friends to go somewhere really made my host family mad and jealous! As I later found out they expected me to spend all my time with them, and friends were supposed to be my privilege that I had to deserve with time. Every time somebody called they thought I was not interested in talking to them anymore and I thought and cared only about my friends. Time passed and it all became a very serious problem, mainly because of the lack of communication. I tried everything and I didn't want to change families, but in two months I had to because without understanding and trust you can't live with people in the same house for a long time! And the biggest thing that I had to learn from this story was that you can never say that you know a somebody well until you meet them in person and know then for a long period of time!
P.S. If any of the future exchange students read this article, I want you to know that I didn't want to scare you or say that it is just horrible there in America. First of all, all families are different, and I really hope that none of you are going to be in a situation like mine. I know a lot of students who were happy with their families, and I personally was very happy with my second one! With my article I just wanted to share my experience with you, so that if you do get in a situation like that you know that you are not alone. Fortunately, you are given the opportunity to change a family if you have some serious problems, so don't wait. You have just 10 months in the U.S.A., and I am sure you want them to be as good as possible! Spend most of your time in America in a good family with people that are going to love you and treat you as a part of their family!
We encourage you to write and submit articles to this section. This will help you share your new ideas and thoughts. Other alumni will be reading what you think and this will make them feel different, make them start thinking deeper into the subjects you are raising. There is always something to talk about and this will be great if you can discuss some things that are on your mind or share your experience with other alumni and all the people that will be reading them one day.
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