Congratulations to the winners of the 30th Anniversary FLEX Photo/Video Contest! The FLEX Alumni Photo & Video Contest is an annual competition that encourages FLEX alumni to highlight their alumni experiences. This year, to honor the 30th anniversary of the FLEX Program, FLEX alumni – along with recent FLEX participants (’24) and past and present members from FLEX host communities – were invited to submit photos and videos that highlight their experiences as part of the FLEX program according to four categories: Unforgettable Memories, Exchanging Cultures, Friendship & Community, and Leading & Learning.

A team of judges from the U.S Department of State Bureau and Educational and Cultural Affairs reviewed all the submissions and chose four winners for each category, first, second, third, and fourth place.

Thank you to all who submitted, and congratulations once again to our winners!

Unforgettable Memories 

1st Place – High School Musical by Nubar Rafiyeva ’24 (Azerbaijan)

Sharing my unforgettable journey as part of the musical SIX, where I stepped into the role of Anna of Cleves as an understudy. From discovering newfound talents in singing and dancing to being surrounded by the best in the industry, every moment was truly incredible and inspiring. I’m so grateful for the supportive cast who became like family, their encouragement fueled this unforgettable experience. Being part of an American high school musical was a dream come true, feeling like I stepped right into those iconic movies.

 

2nd Place – My First Fishing Success by Dominika Kellova ’22 (Slovakia)

My friends took me fishing, explained everything to me, took care of all the gear that was necessary. It was my first fishing experience. I was hesitant if I wanted to do it, since I’m a vegetarian, but now I have no regrets that I did! It was worth stepping out of my comfort zone!

 

3rd Place – Something New by Katrina Brika-Dravniece ’23 (Latvia)

I have never ever been to an American football game, and it was such a highlight experience for me! The student section was so committed to supporting their team even if they had no chance against the opponents and it was so sweet to see how united all of them were! It made me feel special and it was super cool to dress up for each of the themes during the football games.

 

4th Place – Path of New Beginnings by Ioana Margarit ’23 (Romania)

This is the first picture I took on the way towards my host family’s house. At first it might seem meaningless and quite boring but it will forever represent my unforgettable journey. This road was so new to me at the moment the picture was taken. It brought me overwhelming feelings regarding the new surroundings and the months I was supposed to spend so far from my home country. However, the beautifully colored sky managed to bring up my excitement and joy of getting to be in this new place, surrounded by opportunities. This road, once new and scary, was engraved within my memories as the path for my second home.

 

Exchange Cultures

1st Place – Sharing Christmas Traditions by Zoriana Bakalets ’23 (Ukraine)

This photo captures a pre-Christmas moment when my host sister and I decorated gingerbread cookies. I shared a traditional recipe, and she suggested we decorate them in Ukrainian colors. As part of the Kindness Cookies Project, we donated the cookies to the local fire station to wish them a happy Christmas.

 

2nd Place – Moldova: A Small Country with a Big Heart by Victor Rotaru ’23 (Moldova)

In these pictures I was teaching a few History and Geography classes about Moldova, my home country. They were all excited to hear about a country that was new to them. I even taught them how to dance Hora, and I brought with me some pots and lots of candies from Moldova sent with the help of my mom all the way to my U.S. Host Community.

 

3rd Place – Girl-illa Football by Bianca Timofte ’22 (Romania)

Less than 2 weeks into my FLEX experience I get asked to participate in Girl-illa Football with the seniors. Although skeptical, I wanted to try as many new experiences as possible. Turns out it was the most fun thing I had done in months, and I ended up with an amazing group of friends after the experience.

 

4th Place – Culture Night by Julia Ciepiela ’20 (Poland)

I took this photo during the FLEX-Ability Workshop on Leadership 2024 in Warsaw. The participants had an amazing opportunity to learn and teach each country’s national dances. In the everyday rush, we often forget about the importance of traditions. It was an incredible opportunity to take a moment to not only remind ourselves of our own national dances but exchange our culture and also teach it to people from different countries. 

 

Friendship & Community 

1st Place – 10 Months of Memories by Tímea Osváth ’23 (Hungary)

I am beyond grateful for everything I got to experience and all the great people I connected with and the unforgettable memories we made together. Thank you FLEX.

 

2nd Place – Friendship by Bracelets by Brittany Armbruster (Host Family Member, US)

By hosting 2 FLEX students, it opened up opportunities to host parties and invite many other exchange students from various countries and cultures into our home. What better representation than 9 girls, from 6 different countries, making friendship bracelets, at their first ever “Gal-entines” Party. I learned how much richer one can become by being brave enough to say “yes” to hosting. It was amazing to let girls be girls, no matter where in the world they were from.

3rd Place – FLEX is My Favorite Ocean by Nurshat Eshbaeva ’23 (Kyrgyzstan)

The FLEX t-shirt isn’t just any blue, it’s a dazzling ocean blue, like a crashing wave! It brings together FLEX alumni from all over, no matter their background. Whenever I travel, that familiar flash of blue tells me I’ve found a fellow FLEX friend. They might share a meal, a spare room, or even a glimpse into their culture – all thanks to the bond we share. The FLEX shirt is like a secret handshake, a reminder that despite our differences, we’re united by the same values and goals fostered by this amazing program. FLEX is my favorite community, family and, how I love to say, my favorite “ocean”.
And here’s a photo from the background of the FLEX alumni photoshoot, which was a great gathering as always.

 

4th Place – Eight Hearts as One by Crinela Cernelea ’23 (Moldova)

This photo captures the most adorable people I met on my exchange. The seven friends whom I found in the US became the people I trust and love with my hole heart! Two friends from Germany, one from Thailand, another from Spain and three othe from the US, have broadened my respect and appreciation towards the entire world. I will be forever grateful for the kindness I found in their souls, and thankful to the program for this opportunity.

 

Leading & Learning

1st Place – SheCan: Vision Boards for Dreams in Action! by Nurshat Eshbaeva ’23 (Kyrgyzstan)

This photo captures a powerful moment from my project, “SheCan,” launched in March 2024. Here, enthusiastic FLEX alumni are crafting vision boards – a tool for turning dreams into visual goals. Driven by a desire to empower young women, I led a workshop for 30 girls brimming with inspiration. We explored the art of vision boards, translating aspirations into tangible visuals. By the end, the project proved not only successful for me in sharing this valuable skill, but the participants themselves expressed immense satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. They left armed with their personalized vision boards, ready to chart their course towards their dreams.

2nd Place – Missing Puzzle by Aknur Berdigulova ’14 (Kazakhstan)

This was the first time a delegation from Turkmenistan was able to join the Central Asia FLEX-Ability Workshop in person, bringing exceptional enthusiasm and ideas to the table. Senior alumnae in the photo, Guljahan Nepesova ’06 and Maral Jumadurdyyeva ’12, are bridging the gap between their FLEX generations and inspiring participants from other countries with their post-workshop project plan: Missing Puzzle, where they both aimed to share career skills and teambuilding activities learnt at the workshop with their respective home communities.

3rd Place – Community Service by Akmaya Seyidova ’08 (Turkmenistan)

Through volunteerism I shaped my understanding of valuing community service in the community. With my FLEX exchange group we went to Pismo Beach to clean up the beach and enjoy the ocean. We had great time helping the nature and getting enjoyment from it. 

 

4th Place – Leading Yourself by Julia Ciepiela ’20 (Poland)

I took this photo during the FLEX-Ability Workshop on Leadership 2024 in Warsaw. During one of the activities led by trainer Si Norton, participants were given compasses. To me, these are not just ordinary compasses; they are “FLEX-passes” or “comFLEXes.” I believe they symbolize the guidance and support of FLEX Alumni and the impact of the whole program on our lives. No matter which direction we choose, what path we take, the compass will help us find and lead our way. There are FLEXers around the world who are willing to help and support us wherever we go.

 

Videos

1st Place – What does it mean to be a friend of an exchange student? by Polina Zhiryakova ’24 (Kazakhstan)

My video represents incredible friendships and warm community that I found during my exchange year. My American friends answered one question: “What does it mean to be a friend of an exchange student?” And I combined their kind and sincere replies with some of my most vivid videos of our memories made together. The creation of this video really comforted me, and it reminded me of this huge amount of fun and love I received from people I became so close with in just a year, as well as made me understand that I left a positive long-lasting impact on my friends as well.

 

2nd Place – FLEX Lifelong Connections by Aizirek Abdykaimova ’23 (Kyrgyzstan)

FLEX is more than just a family.

 

3rd Place – Grandma’s Kitchen by Maral Jumadurdyyeva ’12 (Turkmenistan)

Step into the heart of my cultural exchange journey as I cook a traditional Turkmen meal in my grandmother’s kitchen. This scene embodies the essence of unforgettable memories, where generations come together to share stories, laughter, and the love of food. The kitchen becomes a melting pot of traditions, blending my Turkmen heritage with the warmth and hospitality of my host family. Through this experience, I not only learn the secrets of our traditional cuisine but also forge a bond with my host family that transcends language and cultural barriers. This moment captures the true spirit of cultural exchange, where everyday tasks become cherished memories that will last a lifetime.

 

4th Place – Better Together by Ofelya Sargsyan ’23 (Armenia)

To use a metaphor from one of my favorite books, my life was divided into two distinct periods: before and after FLEX, which may sound unlikely or ridiculous, but that’s the truth of what I’m unable to escape, and for that, I’m immensely thankful. I’ve made the closest friends from all over the world and found the most encouraging community I could’ve ever imagined thanks to FLEX. These individuals stood by me during the highs and lows of the year and never ceased to encourage, mentor, and support me, giving me a strong support system, a feeling of community, and an abundance of valuable memories. My transformation into a better, more self-assured, and loving person was influenced by the incredible activities spent with my friends, and host family in the US. The alumni community also provided me with opportunities for personal growth and exposed me to a variety of perspectives.

 

 

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