The FLEX program is pleased to announce the second place winner of the FLEX 20th Anniversary competition Share Your FLEX Story Essay Contest Jodi Meek.  Jodi submitted the essay below.

It’s Ukraine! Not THE Ukraine!
Jodi Meek, FLEX Host Mother and Local Coordinator

team0-section10255-484692_228369673971773_1211881159_n-1371243645655 (small)A last minute decision can lead to lifetime of love.  You’ve heard it before but have you truly experienced it?  We are a large family of simple means.  The last thing we planned for was the encouraging, motivating email forwarded to us regarding the need for host families.  That was all it took.  After one email, two phone calls and one meeting with the local exchange student organization representative, our family grew by one fabulous Ukrainian girl.  We have been forever changed by the kindness, unstoppable will, dedication and love she brought with her.

It all began 10 short months ago.  With her first statement once we left the airport, “I have never seen so many cars!!”, I realized without a doubt that we had much to learn and she was in for some incredible new experiences. First and foremost, Americans are not just hamburgers and French fries. At least not this family!  I will always recall the joy and interest on her face as she tasted chocolate milk, peanut butter and the all-mighty Hershey’s candy. The simple pleasures of our lives which really we take for granted; Our cars – many homes with several of them, our foods, our home comforts, our health and the beauty of nature all around us. They are all seen for the first time, although with you since birth, when you walk your path next to an exchange student.

What an example she set for our children!  We were fortunate to select a Ukraine power house when it comes to education and program participation.  She accomplished amazing academic milestones; taking some AP courses which made my head spin trying to comprehend, which she handled with interest and ease.  Her commitments to environment supporting clubs and cross country athletics had no limits. As the many cars in our community headed to the local animal shelter, it was thanks to her volunteerism which kept those adoptable pets looking clean, happy and well cared for.  Our children developed a new understanding that, although not yet adults, MUCH can be accomplished if you just have the will and drive to do so.

I can’t pass up an opportunity to say how important it is to step out of the proverbial American Bubble.  If you have forgotten how vast, diverse and impressive this world is, and exchange student will open your eyes for certain.  It is unbelievable how much we are all alike, yet allow petty differences to set prejudices among us. I recall one of our student’s elementary school presentations where the kids asked her, “How do you say pizza in Ukraine?” and “Do you have video games?” Here stands someone from nearly the other side of the earth and these are the questions our fifth grade kids have.  Not only do our children not see how much we are the same but they also are confined to these simple questions.  It shows we have an incredible amount of our world to teach them. The kids of America need to be asking bigger, complicated questions as it is those types of questions that lead to a better understanding in addition to a better relationship between us all.

Pertaining to what I learned from hosting our FLEX student, it is this: we have to get more of these phenomenal children into our country.  We need their experiences and influence to guide the paths for our children’s futures.  We must open the eyes of those among us who are sadly driven down a dark path wearing blinders. These exchange students are you and I, just in a different geological location! Our schools and neighbors need the presence of these exchange students to better work toward communication, comprehension and family extensions.  Honestly, these kids become a part of you.  I decided I’m not going to sit back and hope more people participate in hosting like we did.  I am now a local coordinator for the organization I hosted through.  Only action will bring the outcome you hope for.  There was a time I might have sat back and waited but not anymore.  My Ukrainian daughter changed that for life.