Agnese Silina ’20 (Limbazi, Latvia / Casa Grande, AZ) 

I believe every alumnus would agree that the FLEX program changed a lot about their everyday lives; I know it did for me. 

After returning from my exchange year, I developed a different mindset towards future plans as well as towards life. I’ve heard many alumni, including myself, say that because of FLEX they are more independent, more adventurous, more prone to take risks, and that they just want more from life – more opportunities and chances to get out of their comfort zone. For Darija Barsukova ’20 (Riga, Latvia / Oshkosh, WI), these longings never went away. 

“I have certainly noticed many changes in my life after going on exchange,” Darija said. “For example, I have become more interested in activism and political participation. I started following youth organizations, like the Amplify Foundation and Project Exchange, and later even became a member of them. Apart from my exchange friends, after I returned home I started making connections with international and local alumni, youth activists, and young professionals from all over the world.” 

Her professional goals also changed. Before the exchange, Darija claims she didn’t really know what she wanted to do, and now Darija knows she wants to focus on social responsibility, diversity, and inclusion using successful intercultural communication. 

Darija recently became the Director of Social Media for Project Exchange, a digital exchange program. This youth-led non-profit organization creates a platform for students to share their culture  with middle and high school students from more than 80 countries and provides an opportunity to get to know people from around the world. 

She is also the Director of International Outreach at the Amplify Foundation, which is a youth organization based in Hong Kong that aims to advance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal #4 (SDG4), which is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.  

She also recently participated in a conference on digital governance organized by Young European Professionals JEF Europe and NEXUS Model United Nations, which was her first online Model United Nations conference. 

But how did FLEX exactly help her to deepen her interest in these fields and help her find these opportunities?  

“FLEX is a well-known exchange program, so a lot of people I work with know about it and have met other alumni before, so it’s easier to connect with them,” Darija said. “It also helped me get a position at Project Exchange, since I already had knowledge of informal education focused on learning about other people’s culture and exchanging opinions on different topics.” 

Darija has met some remarkable people not only from Latvia, but also abroad, and some of them share interesting events and opportunities that they organize, which is another great way to find projects to get involved in. She has attended workshops organized by fellow alumni, which she does not think would be possible to find without having those connections. 

“Don’t be afraid to grab any opportunity that comes your way,” Darija said. “You never know who you’re going to meet at an event, what you will learn at a conference, how this one thing will impact your career and personal life. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions. Other alumni are happy to give you some advice on navigating this interesting period of coming back home. Also, never underestimate the power of social media – follow the hashtags of topics you’re interested in and pages that share opportunities for young people. It is the most powerful tool to find projects on any topic you might be interested in. Participate in projects that are organized by other FLEX alumni – those are always fun and educational, and you get to meet a lot of great people. Last but not least, don’t forget to talk to people you’ve met on exchange. Maintaining relationships with friends and family that live thousands of kilometers away might be hard at times, but it is very rewarding.” 

“The statement that FLEX really starts after your exchange year is completely true, at least for me,” Darija said.