The most exciting part of becoming an exchange student is getting to experience a different culture and meeting new people. Ever since the inception of the FLEX Program, a great number of exchange students have helped promote cross cultural understanding. While it can be a bit difficult to settle in at first, many students end up falling in love with their host communities. Often this is because they form a strong relationship with their host family and friends, or they simply love all that their host community has to offer. While no two FLEX alumni have the same experiences during exchange, most share a common love for their host communities. Looking back to the archived issues of the FLEX Alumni Newsletter, The Bradley Herald, we found stories of alumni who have discovered a home away from home.
For Anya, going to Seattle ended up being exactly what she needed. Coming from the relatively small town of Nalchik in Russia, life in Seattle was a bit overwhelming for her at first, but with time she fell in love with the place. Her host family played a major role in making her experience a memorable one, which is evident from the fact that she refuses to use the word ‘host’ when talking about them; instead she calls them her American family. In a letter that she wrote to the Bradley Herald in 1995, she said,
My American family was wonderful, just like my native one. They did a lot so I could enjoy my stay in America. I can’t say how much I want to see them again, I hope they come to visit me someday.
Her complete letter, which was published in the January – March 1995 issue of Bradley Herald, can be read here on page six.
Natasha’s story is like that of many FLEX students – that reverse culture shock got the best of her when she returned home. She found it difficult to settle back into her home community because of how much she missed her American family and friends. In her letter she wrote, “I’m a lucky one who’s got two families, two homes, two cities, and two countries.” Her letter can be read in its entirety here on page five.
Settling into a new community and making new friends can seem quite daunting at first. However, staying positive opens the door to better experiences. Staying positive helped Anna when she was feeling homesick for her hometown of Perevalsk, Ukraine and helped her fall in love with her host community Alexander, New York and all that America had to offer. By the end of her exchange year, she was not ready to leave her host community and go back to Ukraine. “It was so difficult to think about going back home and leaving all these people who became so dear and close to me. I could not imagine myself without them”, she wrote in her letter to The Bradley Herald in the Winter 1995-1996 issue. Anna’s complete letter can be read here on page seven.
A host family plays a very crucial part in the entire exchange experience. Living and spending time with them results in a deeper understanding of culture. Eileen attributes her love for American culture to her relationship with her host family. She felt comfortable asking them questions that she could not ask her friends. Additionally, they also became a source of emotional support for her, especially in the first few months of her exchange year. Talking about her relationship with her host family, she said,
I remember my homesickness during the holidays and no friend could help me – only a hug from my host mother, cookies from my host father, and warm words from my host sister and brother made me feel happy and at home.
Her entire experience can be read on page eight of the Summer 1997 issue of The Bradley Herald here.
Mountains had always fascinated Andrey because he had never seen them before in his hometown. Luckily for him, he ended up in the beautiful city of Tucson, which is surrounded by four different mountain ranges. Among these, Mt. Wrightson stands out as the tallest at a height of 10,000 feet. All Andrey had to do was grab his friend Allyson and together they set out on a hike to reach the summit of the highest peak in Tucson. On reaching the top, he writes, “I was so high in the sky, I thought I was a bird, soaring high above the ground. My heart beat hard, my knees trembled because of the majesty of the view. I hadn’t seen anything like that in my life.” For him, it was nature that let him fall in love with his host community. Andrey’s complete letter can be read on page six of the Autumn 2000 issue of The Bradley Herald here.
Omina was the recipient of a FLEX Alumni Grant for her “Arts and Craft Class for Disabled Children” project. Her desire to do something for her community in Tajikistan was a result of her experiences during her times as an exchange student. She was inspired by how people in her host community went out of their way to help others in need. She participated in numerous community service events in Onalaska and continued similar work even after she returned from the United States. In her letter she wrote, “During my stay in America, I was impressed by the willingness of people to help others. I was amazed that people actually devote themselves to the service of needy people.” Her complete letter detailing the community service work can be read here on page four of Winter/Spring issue of The Bradley Herald.
Evgeniy was one of approximately 1200 FLEX students who went on the FSA/FLEX program in 1993, the first generation of FLEX. The bond that he formed with his host family continues to be stronger than ever. Fifteen years after the exchange, he took his natural mother to the U.S. to meet his host family. Even though his host family had changed cities during that time, they still welcomed Evgeniy and his mother as they had done when Evgeniy had arrived as an exchange student.
There were hugs, tears, and all the emotions you could expect from humans who are not acting, but truly love each other and are glad to be together,
wrote Evgeniy in his letter to The Bradley Herald Winter/Spring 2009 issue. The complete letter can be ready on page six on the issue here.