People do always change, people never stay the same. This is not the matter of time, but the influence of various events on their lives, their development, and their growth. People can become more mature in an hour, in a week, in a year or more according to what happens with them.

Some time ago I was surfing the internet and bumped into the photo-shoot of several American soldiers. The left-side pictures had been taken before they went to the war, the right-side pictures were taken when they came back. The differences in their faces were obvious! The radical change of their looks, smiles impressed me. They spent several months fighting with evil, and when they returned home – I bet – their parents, wives, and children could notice that their sons, husbands, fathers had changed a lot and would never be those people they used to be before the leaving.

Before During and After the War
Soldier Before During and After the War

These pictures stuck in my head and now a week ago after my arrival from the USA they appear in my mind again. I remember one of the last sms my host-mom texted me when I was in Washington DC: “I miss you so much! I’m looking through your photos now. You’ve become such a lady. You’ve become so mature! Continue to take care of yourself! Have a safe flight, love you!” I think that if each of FLEX students has a look at her/his photos before the exchange year and after it – s/he will easily see the changes that has happened to her/him. That’s impossible to compare soldiers and exchange students, our fates, but the idea of photos is incredible! That’s something that can help us to see how our looks have become wiser, how our smiles have become wider, how our faces are beaming with wit and friendliness now.

This year in the USA was given to us to try ourselves as young ambassadors, to establish life-long relationships between America and the countries of the former USSR, to share our culture and get the better knowledge of American culture. And we worked a lot! And I’m sure we’ve achieved these goals! Thousands hours of volunteering are completed, thousands presentations are presented, thousands friends are found. It’s so wonderful to understand that you are the part of this great job!

Alena Gerashchenko - Before and After FLEX Program
Alena Gerashchenko – Before and After FLEX Program

As a conclusion of our program we – FLEX-family – had a reception on Capitol Hill in Washington DC this year and that was unforgettable! We were able to talk to alumni of previous years, to representatives of different states, to people who work at the US Department of State and who provide us the opportunity of getting this priceless experience of exchange student. All the warm words were said, all the warm hugs and smiles were shared. All the photos were taken, and when I looked on them on Facebook I was fascinated how mature we look like now, how our FLEX – students and already alumni are close to each other…

The phone call I got last summer from FLEX rapidly changed my life! I’m grateful for it! This will be probably the first line I write down in my scrap-book about the USA. Will I have enough pages to tell about my exchange year? I’m sure I’ll have to add more. 2012-2013 exchange year has passed, “nothing is left unsaid; nothing is left undone” (this phrase is written on my year book).  And now it’s time to let other exchange students to compare their photos.

Written by Gerashchenko Alena ’13 (Volgograd, Russia)