The FLEX program is pleased to announce the third place winner of the FLEX 20th Anniversary competition Share Your FLEX Story Essay Contest Gulnoza Mansur ’12 (Astana, Kazakhstan). Gulnoza submitted the essay below.

Tears. Pain. Blood. War. Devastation
Gulnoza Mansur ’12 (Astana, Kazakhstan)

Tears. Pain. Blood. War. Devastation. In a harsh time during the Civil War in Tajikistan when I was just five years old my family had to move to Kazakhstan. As a child I remember redundantly asking my dad: “Why are there so many gunmen outside? Why did we leave our granny and my favorite playing ground? Why did we move to the place where nobody understands me?” And my daddy’s answer was always the same: “You will understand when you’ll grow up, Sweetie”.

I have personally experienced from the early ages how does it feel to lose the loved once, what does it mean to be an “immigrant” in totally another society with different values and mentality.

Being outcast, and shy student in the beginning of the school year, gradually I have not only adapted, but also thrived. I became a top student at the primary school, and graduated with a Valedictorian Award.

In the 9th grade I tried to participate in the “FLEX” exchange program. Though I was very confident that I would make it to the status of the finalist, I failed at the last round. May be most of my peers would regard it as a bad luck, but for me it was a terrific failure, and the only person I blamed was myself.
The whole year after that I was fully devoted to my American dream by improving my English and unleashing my leadership skills. Finally, in the 10th grade I made it to the finalist. For me the “FLEX” program was not just invaluable experience, but also a completely new stage in my life.

During my exchange year I participated in two meaningful conferences – the “Better Understanding for a Better World” (BUBW) in Orlando and “Civic Education Workshop” (CEW) in Washington, DC. BUBW was a mind-opening experience and an extremely significant program for me; it was like a tornado that blew through my thoughts and made me look at things in a completely different way. The conference was the zenith in understanding the reasons of the clashes and violence among ethnicities and nations. It simply showed me how different people could be but get along well nevertheless. Moreover, the interfaith workshops taught me and helped me feel a part of the other religions, and come to the fact that we all believe in one God and shall unite with that belief.

During the CEW conference I had a wonderful opportunity to meet face to face with Jim McDermott – Washington State Representative – and discuss diplomatic relations between the United States and the countries of Former Soviet Union. In Kazakhstan I would never be allowed to attend such session without a special position in the society. But here, in the U.S., even the voice of 17-year teenager counts. This amazed me.

At the CEW, we began to see ourselves as people who can change the fate of nations, as the very future leaders that the FLEX program proclaimed us to be. This was a true gateway to the United States and a window to the world. It was the CEW that inspired me to pursue career in Social Research and Public Policy. I was firmly determined to go back to Kazakhstan with ambitions and goals to give as much as possible to the society, and to help my country to come closer to the world standards.

After my exchange year I was appointed to be the FLEX Alumni City Representative to Astana. I and other Alumni of the exchange program enthusiastically involved in many activities and projects, like conducting English tutoring classes, organizing such events as Halloween, Christmas, Charity marathons, and many other activities.

I was also invited to attend the United Nations Youth Forum, which was held in Vienna in February 2013. It was an honor for me to be the only delegate representing Kazakhstan and the only international NGO delegate to represent youth exchange program!

This Fall I will start my studies at New York University in Abu-Dhabi (NYUAD). Despite the fact that getting in to my institution is highly competitive, FLEX alumni have some unofficial privileges. When I first discovered NYUAD I felt that studying in the heart of the Earth surrounded by the students all over the world was an opportunity tailor-made for me.

If the youth of each nation are the hope of its fruitful future, then the future of the world’s civilization is soon to rest on the hands of our youth. I hope the next generations would never experience the nightmare in a reality as I did in my childhood. I am confident that If only we, as Future Leaders of Exchange, work together, and agree on joint actions we will improve relations across cultures and religions and build a lasting peace. As the youngest US President John F. Kennedy said: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”.