20 Years of Success: Stories from our FLEX Alumni — “Such international friendships gave all of us an opportunity to review our stereotypes about other nations and cultures”

FLEX LogoThis story is part of a series of blog entries to mark the 20th anniversary of the Future Leaders Exchange program (FLEX) in Ukraine. FLEX is the U.S. Government’s premier high school exchange program. For more information about U.S. exchanges please click here.

Posted by: Alina Nikulina, Future Leaders Exchange Program 2010-2011, Gahanna High School, Gahanna, Ohio

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During the year I spent in the U.S. I re-evaluated my values, ​​changed my life views and saw how other people live. I shared traditions and even recipes from my country with my American friends. I spent the 2010-2011 school year on the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) in Gahanna, Ohio.

Alina Nikulina, FLEX Alumni, with her American friends
Alina Nikulina, FLEX Alumni, with her American friends

I was always sociable and it helped me in my U.S. school. I talked with my classmates and teachers a lot and got to know a foreign educational system. I should say, it is very different from the one we have in Ukraine. In American schools, for example, we could choose our classes. Of course, there were also some compulsory ones, but in general teachers allowed us to move in the direction we wanted. For example, I was always interested in international business and languages and I succeeded in International Business Class. Of course, I was unable to learn Spanish in just one year in America, but now I continue to study it. I received prizes in different competitions. Now I have a folder full of certificates that will help me in my future career.

Besides studying in America, I had a wonderful opportunity to communicate with people there. Now I have an American family that became as close to me as my own. I have friends not only among Americans but also among people from other countries. Such international friendships gave all of us an opportunity to review our stereotypes about other nations and cultures. In America we all represented our own culture. We did not only learn from Americans, but Americans also learned from us.

I believe that such exchange programs present their participants with great opportunities. They also help us understand each other and give us the possibility to hear one another in the world without aggression and wars.

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20 Years of Success: Stories from our FLEX Alumni — “In the U.S., I saw how people want to help their own country, how citizens strive to work and sacrifice for their motherland”

FLEX LogoThis story is part of a series of blog entries to mark the 20th anniversary of the Future Leaders Exchange program (FLEX) in Ukraine. FLEX is the U.S. Government’s premier high school exchange program. For more information about U.S. exchanges please click here.

Posted by: Andriy Bryn, Future Leaders Exchange Program 2004-2005, Eldorado High School, Eldorado, Oklahoma

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Why do people from my country want to benefit from Ukraine, but don’t want to do anything for its development? Why do people not want to volunteer? I was asking myself these questions again and again when I lived in the United States. I got a chance to study in the U.S. with the FLEX Program. I had my life changed after coming back home, because I already had a goal. I wanted to change the situation in my native country.

Andriy Bryn, FLEX alumni
Andriy Bryn, FLEX alumni

In the U.S., I saw how people want to help their own country, how citizens strive to work and sacrifice for their motherland. I was surprised that Ukrainians don’t do the same.  I was deeply absorbed with an idea to change this situation, to come back home, to become an active community leader and to work on the development of a democratic society in my homeland. After coming back from the States I became a student of the Ivan Franko National University in Lviv. I also started working at the non-profit organization “Young Power”. In three months, I became a Vice-President and in a year I became the President of this organization. At the same time I started to work at the Youth Department of the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Ukraine. Working at an NGO and a political party I got great experience both in NGO management and the party-building processes.

These professional activities were valued by the International Visegrad Fund, which granted me a scholarship to study at one of the best European schools – Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, where I got a Master’s degree in International Economic and Political Studies. Later, I was offered a position of Vice-Chairman of the Lviv regional organization of the political party “Ridna Vitchyzna” (“Native Homeland”) and the Chairman of its Youth Department. I worked on projects not only in Ukraine, but also in Prague, Czech Republic. I initiated a series of presentations about Ukraine at Charles University. At the same time I ran for Lviv regional council of Ukraine (Lvivska oblasna rada). I gained fourth place out of 13 candidates. More than a thousand people voted for me and I think it is a great result for a 23 year-old young leader.

After successfully completing a Master’s Degree in International Economic and Political Studies I was accepted into a PhD program in Management, Finance, Environment, Institutions in the Global Economy at the La Sapienza University of Rome, Italy. I became the only foreigner in this PhD program, who received a full fellowship offer from the University. My research topic is “Geoeconomic Priorities of Ukraine in the Global Integration Context:  Ways of Realizing a Geo-economic Model of Ukraine.” I hope that the topic of my thesis will help me to combine my research work in Italy with political and community activities in Ukraine.

20 Years of Success: Stories from our FLEX Alumni — “It was very different than what I was used to in Ukraine. In America, I could choose classes I wanted to take”

FLEX LogoThis story is part of a series of blog entries to mark the 20th anniversary of the Future Leaders Exchange program (FLEX) in Ukraine. FLEX is the U.S. Government’s premier high school exchange program. For more information about U.S. exchanges please click here.

Posted by: Artem Sokolskyi, Future Leaders Exchange Program 2004-2005, Timberland High School, O’Fallon, Missouri

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In 2004-2005, I participated in the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) in O’Fallon, Missouri. There I volunteered at a local YMCA and saw how I could volunteer for my home community.

Participants of the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Program

In the USA, I noticed that the YMCA center organized many clothing and toy drives for overseas children and soldiers. I found out more about these activities from my Volunteer Coordinator. Thus, in 2006, my friends and I founded an NGO called the European Students’ Forum in Kharkiv. Our second biggest project was an annual clothes and toy summer drive for orphans, during which we collected a total of a truck full of donations, including two children’s beds, for five local orphanages. I was really satisfied with the results.

Also, in O’Fallon, Missouri, I went to Timberland High School. It was very different than what I was used to in Ukraine. In America, I could choose classes I wanted to take. I chose Journalism which allowed me to win a Missouri State Supreme Photojournalism Award – the first one in the history of Timberland High School. Later, in 2009, I took part in the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Program and became an intern with a Member of Parliament and a Senator in Canada. I volunteered to be the editor-in-chief of the program newsletter and created three issues, one of which featured a completely new design, for which I used the knowledge of journalism gained in the U.S. This design became the standard for all issues of the program newsletters ever since.

20 Years of Success: Stories from our FLEX Alumni — “The year I spent in the USA was one of the most important years in my life because it gave me the inspiration for the rest of the years to come”

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This story is part of a series of blog entries to mark the 20th anniversary of the Future Leaders Exchange program (FLEX) in Ukraine. FLEX is the U.S. Government’s premier high school exchange program. For more information about U.S. exchanges please click here.

Posted by: Roman Fishchuk, Future Leaders Exchange Program 2003-2004, Penn Manor High School, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

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The year I spent in the USA was one of the most important years in my life because it gave me the inspiration for the rest of the years to come. In 2003-2004, I lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX).

Upon arriving back home, I became a student of the medical university in my home town. At that time the first modern cinema theater opened in Ivano-Frankivsk. So I decided to help with its promotion. I approached the administration of the theater and asked them to sell cheaper tickets for students. They agreed. That project was a great success for everyone. Students got cheap tickets to watch new movies in a brand new cinema and the theater received a huge promotion. I was happy to feel that I had improved the social life of students a bit.

Roman Fishchuk, FLEX alumni 2003-2004
Roman Fishchuk, FLEX alumni 2003-2004

I also started my scientific career. I became a board member of the student’s scientific society at Ivano-Frankivsk National Medical University. I was involved in the Ear, Nose and Throat Disease Department. I participated in many conferences in Ukraine and abroad. I was a member of the organizing team during local conferences at our university. During my fourth year of medical school I was Medical Science Director of the European Medical Students’ Association (EMSA). At that time I initiated the creation of an EMSA branch in Ivano-Frankivsk. EMSA-Ivano-Frankivsk started with five active students, many ideas and enthusiasm in 2007. In three years, this number increased to 50 active members with many volunteers. The biggest event we organized was the World Health Day in 2010. Our team was the core organizer of a five day event. Only our town received an official Certificate of Participation from the World Health Organization.

Being a member of a European association helped me to find funds to support our initiatives and to improve the life of people in need in Ukraine. Examples of our activities include summer camps for handicapped children from an orphanage, social rehabilitation for the elderly living in geriatric centers, providing institutions in need with the goods. I was also lucky to provide my alma mater with fairly new educational materials and medical equipment.

Now I am in my second year of Internship in Ear, Nose and Throat Diseases. I have just returned from a research fellowship in Belgium, awarded and financed by the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. I am also working in the Public Council at the Ministry of Health of Ukraine and am developing an organization of junior doctors within the Ukrainian Medical Association. I should say that the year I spent in the U.S.A. had a tremendous influence on my life. I was lucky to visit my host family later on, in 2006. I am sure we will meet again since we keep in touch regularly.

Diversity and Choice in the U.S. Educational System

Posted by: Alexandra Evans, Consular Officer 

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The University of Wisconsin
The University of Wisconsin

You probably know the difference between a public school and a private school, but do you know what a charter school is?  Do you know the difference between a college and a university?  Do you know what it means to be a “liberal arts school” versus a “research institution?”  These are some of the distinctions I discussed at my lecture at Taras Shevchenko University.  I gave an overview of four schools in the United States – two secondary institutions where I taught before joining the Foreign Service, and two post-secondary institutions where I studied.

First, I introduced two secondary schools.  The Khabele School is an independent private school in Austin, TX.  Opportunities for Learning is a public charter school with locations in Southern California.  While the Khabele School follows a more or less traditional educational model, its small class sizes and independence from the public school system give it more flexibility in meeting students’ unique needs.  As a charter school, Opportunities for Learning is more closely tied to the public school system but is authorized to provide a unique, independent-study learning environment which best suits the needs of the at-risk students it serves.

Wellesley College
Wellesley College

We next discussed two excellent, but very different, post-secondary institutions:  The University of Wisconsin and Wellesley College.  The University of Wisconsin is a large, public research university.  It has numerous locations throughout the state of Wisconsin, a plethora of facilities and resources, and being a university, it offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees.  Wellesley is a private, liberal arts college in Massachusetts.  As a small, liberal arts college, its focus is on providing a broad and high-quality undergraduate education with lots of access to professors, research grants, internships and study abroad opportunities.  We discussed the pros and cons of attending larger or smaller schools, as well as why one might choose a women’s school like Wellesley (or a men’s college like Morehouse) over a co-ed school like the University of Wisconsin.  For instance, some young women notice that their intellectual inhibitions drop when in the company of only women.  They feel less shy, are more willing to express their opinions and ask questions, and thus get more out of being in class.

We also discussed the accreditation process in the United States, which varies from state to state and region to region.  In larger states, like Texas, the state’s department of education oversees accreditation of all schools.  In other areas, such as New England, which are comprised of smaller states, states band together and form one accrediting body for numerous states.  International schools may also approach these groups for accreditation, so that their degrees will be accepted by other institutions in the United States.  Did you know that the same group, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, accredits both Wellesley College and Pechersk School International, right here in Kyiv?

20 Years of Success: Stories from our FLEX Alumni — “Studying abroad helped me mature emotionally, spiritually and gain a wide view of the world”

FLEX LogoThis story is part of a series of blog entries to mark the 20th anniversary of the Future Leaders Exchange program (FLEX) in Ukraine. FLEX is the U.S. Government’s premier high school exchange program. For more information about U.S. exchanges please click here.

Posted by: Artem Sukhorukov, Future Leaders Exchange Program 2002-2003, Enka High School, Asheville, North Carolina 

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Artem Sukhorukov with friends
Artem Sukhorukov with friends

You can’t imagine the amazing impressions I received while living in the US and having the opportunity to finish school there. To a kid from a provincial town in Northern Ukraine, this was something I could not let slip out of my hands. As part of the FLEX program, I was enrolled at Enka High School in Albany, NC. Studying abroad helped me mature emotionally, spiritually and gain a wide view of the world. The life there made me completely rethink my understanding of life and the world as I know it. It was a major event that significantly added friendships and partnerships that are on a long way to prospering in the future.

I am an honors student and intellectual show winner.  I have participated in NATO academies and was a state-level delegate to the NATO headquarters.   I was a Global Security conference attendee.  These achievements were possible thanks to the foreign exchange program. I would have been an entirely different person had I not participated in it.

My most sincere gratitude goes to this unmatched exchange for giving me such an opportunity to compete with kids of my age from across the globe and show myself to others. This has been a memorable experience. I thank all the people that helped me out while I was in the US and hope to see other students from Ukraine tackle this unique challenge.

20 Years of Success: Stories from our FLEX Alumni — “My successes of today are all a direct result of my volunteering efforts”

FLEX LogoThis story is part of a series of blog entries to mark the 20th anniversary of the Future Leaders Exchange program (FLEX) in Ukraine. FLEX is the U.S. Government’s premier high school exchange program. For more information about U.S. exchanges please click here.

Posted by: Iryna Lysenko,  Future Leaders Exchange Program 2002-2003,  Fruitland High School (Fruitland, Idaho)

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Volunteering to help people in new, meaningful and sustainable ways – that was the concept I adopted. It all started when I participated in the FLEX Program in 2002-2003. I spent an incredible year in Fruitland, Idaho, where I volunteered at the community library and in a fundraising campaign for the homeless. I decided I would continue after my year in the U.S. ended.

Iryna Lysenko, FLEX alumni
Iryna Lysenko, FLEX alumni

My successes of today are all a direct result of my volunteering efforts. I have been volunteering for various projects in Ukraine since 2004. In 2007-2008 I spent 10 months doing my European Voluntary Service (EVS) in Luxembourg. I promoted interreligious dialogue and researched cases of discrimination of international students on the student job market. I also taught English to Chinese and African students. It was such a fun and fulfilling project!

A year after that, in 2008, I founded the Youth NGO “Iskra” in Mykolaiv. “Iskra” focuses on intercultural and interreligious dialogue and also acts as a Sending Organization within the EVS program, funded by the European Commission. Since 2008 I have helped 29 young Ukrainians to find their passion and join a long-term voluntary service project abroad!

In 2009-2010 I became a volunteer for the Action Reconciliation Service for Peace in Gdansk, Poland. I organized study visits for German youth groups at the former concentration camp Stutthof, translated from Polish to German at archive tours, and visited elderly survivors of concentration camps.

Today I am a Master’s student in Peace and Conflict Resolution at the University of Marburg, Germany. I volunteer for an international network of youth organizations and plan to continue volunteering in the future. I am really grateful for my year in the USA that changed my whole perspective on how I can help and be useful for other people.