Over the first weekend of November, American Councils led celebrations with over 700 alumni attending events throughout Eurasia to mark the 20th anniversary of the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program, which has provided scholarships for over 23,000 Eurasian high school students (ages 15-17) to attend high school in the U.S. for an academic year and live with a host family. The American Councils’ led program is intensively competitive—only 1 out of about 50 students is accepted—and is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
FLEX 20th anniversary celebrations were held in Moscow, Russia; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Kyiv, Ukraine; and Tbilisi, Georgia. FLEX program founder Senator William Bradley spoke to attendees from Moscow and answered alumni questions from all locations in a real-time broadcast. Senator Bradley said that the achievements of the program “are represented in the lives of the students who participated in the program … They are contributing to the future of Russia or the former [Soviet] republics. They found parts of themselves they didn’t know existed.”
Alumni from the first year of the program (1993-94) to most recent (2012-13) attended a series of events, held over the weekend, which focused on career development, volunteerism, entrepreneurship, and networking.
Alumni who met in Moscow came from throughout Russia, from north of St. Petersburg to Siberia and southern Russia. In Kyiv, over 130 alumni joined to network and share personal and professional updates, including volunteer projects they have engaged in and organized over the past year. In Tbilisi, more than 60 FLEX alumni from Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan gathered with representatives of government and NGOs working in the educational sector and attended panels on careers in banking, government, and international relations; NGOs; law and journalism; and graduate study abroad. And in Almaty, over 100 alumni from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan kicked off their celebration with a gallery walk featuring photos of FLEX activities from 1998 – present.
American Councils Eurasia FLEX Alumni Program Manager, Mary Shea, said: “One of the achievements of our program is that when exchange students go to the United States, they are challenged and encouraged to try new things, to test themselves, to be as open as they can to all the possibilities, and to bring that back when they come home and use that experience.”
An alumnae and presenter at the Moscow celebrations, Yulia Simonova (FLEX 2001–02), now works at Perspektiva, a Russian, non-governmental organization focused on people with disabilities. Yulia said, “FLEX was not just a great and unforgettable experience for me, but also . . . the start of a new stage in my life. I learned that people with disabilities should have the same rights, same opportunities as other people. Now I can say that I am truly independent, confident, active, open-minded, and a very happy person.”
Pictures and other details from the events can be found on the Eurasia FLEX Alumni Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/flexalumni