💼 Exchange Student
⏳ Sep 2012 — Sep 2013
✅ Student Visa
... March 2012. I am standing on the street and freezing from the cold, waiting for when it'll be possible to see my tutor who prepared me for the Olympiad and IELTS in the best canons of strict British English. By the way, the pronunciation was not easy for me, but she never lost hope in making me a pure British, paying special attention to how I sit and with what tone I answer. There are still 15 minutes before start of the lesson, I am walking around the yard, clenching my hands in my pockets trying to get warm, when I suddenly feel a vibration in my hand - a call from an unknown number.
— Is this Anastasia?
— Yes, who is this?
— This is a representative of the FLEX program. Congratulations, you have become a finalist!
— What? Am I going to America??? Are you serious???
— Yes, Congratulations again!
I no longer remember the end of the dialogue, but after the word “Yes”, I already vaguely understood what was happening. In a state of shock, with trembling legs and a pulse of 100 beats per minute, I went up to the third floor. The tutor opens the door and looks at me with suspicion: "How do you do?". I, almost crying with happiness (which is not typical for true imperturbable British women) reply that I just got a call from FLEX and I will go to America for a year, and that this is “just a dream come true and the best moment of my life!” (as well as other high-level expressions of excitement that my English allowed). To which she replies: “Oh, what a disappointment, you will spoil your British accent, which I am trying so hard to instill in you. I hope you think well and cancel the trip!”
Of course, I did not cancel the trip. I hope that you also will not miss an opportunity if you get such a chance! And that your teachers, parents, and friends will support you❤️
And now, I would like to talk about what, in my experience, was important to become a successful finalist of the FLEX Program.
Before the program:
If you still have time before applying, I would like to share some useful tips that can increase your chances during the application process.
Don't panic - you are not required to win language competitions or be fluent. What they really want to see is A2/B1 level (pre-intermediate), which will help you introduce yourself, voice your desires and needs, know basic phrases if you get lost somewhere – place, time, how to get somewhere, etc.
I can't say with certainty that school classes are enough - because schools and teachers are different. Or perhaps you just realized you want to participate in the program and need to learn English, but previously had no desire to study. In any case, even without financial resources, you can reach the required level: the Internet is our everything! Well, also books/movies/series/streams/online games in English - you can find something which makes it enjoyable to learn.
My advice is to take an online test to find out your level and use that as a starting point. Even if your English is already sufficient enough - keep improving it and your adaptation period in the US will be easier and faster.
Extracurricular activities, in other words, hobbies, are what you do in your free time. What's most important is your dedication and motivation, no matter what it is that you do: crochet, photography or collecting stamps. If you can convince those who review the applications that you love what you do, spend a lot of time on it, and have impressive results (impressive is not necessary, but it will be an advantage) - then you are good to go.
FLEX is looking for passionate people who are able to inspire others with their interests. Who do not sit still, but consistently develop themselves and their skills. Therefore, as they say, get your butts up, and find something to your liking! If you don't already have a hobby, sign up for all kinds of contests, competitions, olympiads and exhibitions. Organize a master-class, or an interest group, attend events on the topic. Your overall goal is to show that you really love what you do.
Americans are known to be very impressed with the idea of volunteering, and they like it when someone has the desire or experience (or both) to do it. You are not required to help everyone in need, instead it is important that you enjoy what you are doing and feel that you have done something useful.
I would highly recommend dedicating at least a couple of hours a month for volunteering. It is not necessary to look for specific organizations (although there are also such organizations in almost every city), since you can do everything yourself. If you like nature: clean any area of debris, plant flowers or trees. You like animals? Help out in the shelter or organize one yourself. If you like working with people, spend a couple of hours with children from the boarding school, or arrange a fundraiser (we once sold cookies and lemonade to raise money for surgery). There are a lot of possibilities, you just need to look!
Getting used to American culture
Familiarize yourself with American culture and values. Read about the concept of tolerance, and remove all stereotypes from your head, especially the ones concerning gender and racial issues.
You will need to make it clear to interviewers and the admission committee that you are flexible enough to "accept" a different culture for a whole year and fit into the life of your host family and your future school. They want to make sure that you won't cry after a month of a completely different life. That you won't always call friends and parents to complain but will be ready to accept a foreign culture, fit into it, and ideally share your culture with your new American family and friends.
During the application process
Your application will consist of the following:
English proficiency test
Interviews with program staff
Activities with other participants
Filling out the final questionnaire
Here it is important to show yourself as an active participant, demonstrate leadership qualities as well as flexibility and ability to negotiate with others. No need to invent non-existent extracurricular activities or assign yourself personal qualities you don't actually possess. Your self-description will be taken into account during your placement in the school and host family. For example, if you wrote that you are a good swimmer, you can be placed with a family of swimmers or on your school's swimming team, and it would be very awkward if you actually can not swim.
FLEX team also wants to see that you have the skills to adequately resolve conflicts and maintain a good argument. It is important for them that you are ready for an independent life away from your parents. It is also important to convey your motivation for the trip: why exactly you want to go there. And of course, you need to show yourself as a great candidate through qualities described above, such as language skills, volunteering, etc.
While living in the USA
When you have already received the long-awaited call about becoming a finalist, then I have some tips on how to improve your trip to the States.
Culture exchange and adaptation
Before you travel, I suggest bringing items from home to share your culture with your host family and future friends. It will also remind you of home. The most important thing, of course, is to be yourself. Starting from day one show your genuine interest and try to get to know your new family, actively practice your English without hesitation or dwelling about mistakes. There will definitely be a period of adjustment to new people, rules and routines, but it's completely normal and everyone goes through it!
Respect and relationship with the host family
No matter how strange you might find the rules and traditions in your host family, never make fun of them (at least not openly...). It's a good practice if upon arrival you immediately ask about the rules and routines, such as frequency of cleaning and the distribution of responsibilities around the house - so that later there are no unjustified expectations on both sides. FLEX is not where you come to visit people for a year and they serve you as a guest. On the contrary, you will be a full member of the family and participate in all its activities. It's best if you come across a great family with whom you quickly reach mutual understanding. However, if anything goes wrong, feel free to call your coordinator and discuss the situation. I know many cases when FLEX students have changed one or even several families. It happens, and it's normal. Sometimes people are just not right for each other.
Very important! Don't break the rules of the program, as I know several participants who have been deported from the US due to pregnancy, alcohol and other banned substances. Keep in mind that these rules are real. I hope program rules don't strike you as strange or concerning, and if so, then consider whether you are ready to live independently away from your family for a whole year.
Wrapping up this article, I want to say that in some ways my tutor was right. After participating in the program, my English really began to include a lot of “R” and my pronunciation hurts the ears of many British people (but they are unlikely to tell me because of their politeness). But what's more important, this trip to the US fundamentally changed my life and outlook. It showed me what a different culture is and how important volunteering is. I learned the difference between tolerance and acceptance, and the importance of both of these concepts. I realised that much of what is shown in American movies about teenagers is indeed true. And of course, with a new accent, my English finally appeared. I became fluent in expressing myself, freely watching movies without subtitles, and I felt a great desire to go to a university abroad. And the very fact that I managed to become a finalist of this program showed me the most important thing:
Nothing is impossible for the one who sets his mind to it.
and it doesn't matter what a person's background is, whether the school is elite and whether the parents are rich. This quote remains my main motivator to this day. And I wish you good luck with your admission!