I remember the day I was on an airplane flying to the United States, which now, nearly two years later, seems more like a distant dream. So many things have happened since then, and the more I think of the person I was that day, the more I realize that I have changed. I have grown and transformed into a better version of myself.

During my FLEX year, I had the opportunity to meet new people and explore new places. I made friends I will never forget and hope to see in the future. Being actively involved in school extracurricular activities and the volleyball team, connected me to the community, but the experience that was most important to me, was the volunteer work I did in my host community.  Through volunteering, I gained a better understanding and perspective of the country, helped others, and ultimately made my journey all the more meaningful.

While I was applying to the FLEX Program I was introduced to the phrase “It’s not a year of your life, but a life in a year.” At that moment, I didn’t quite understand what it meant, but now, after becoming an alumna of the program I understand it’s meaning. In the months you spend in the U.S. you live moments you later get to retell to all your friends back home, funny things that happened to you, weird situations you got yourself into, and all the little details of what it’s like living in a foreign country. Not many people have the opportunity to experience something like this, it made me feel like an explorer who just came back from exploring a new world.

Those who have been exchange students know the thrill of what it is like living in a new country. We chose to walk, literally, into a new part of the world, not sure if we will fit in or not. But we took the risk, we boarded a plane, and we made it back. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to do this and experience what American life is like.

If someone asked me if I would start all over again, my response with absolutely no hesitation would be: “yes.”

By Fani Smernou ’20 (Naoussa, Greece/Steelville, MO)