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Exchange student experiences a year of growth

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By Roksolana Turkovska

People make choices every day, and a decision I made completely changed my life. With God’s will, I became a foreign exchange student from Ukraine with the program FLEX. 

FLEX gives students a chance to live with a host family and attend a U.S. high school for a year. The program is very competitive. Nearly 7,000 students submitted applications and only 200 from Ukraine became finalists. Fortunately, I was one of them.

As a foreign exchange student, I was very excited to see a foreign country, meet new people, and experience another culture and traditions. I feel very blessed to live with my American family — three brothers, a little sister, mom and dad. They showed me all the greatest things about this country. I will never forget my first Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations different from my own. My friendship with American students, and with other students from all over the world, have made me more open, thoughtful and tolerant. With pleasure, I remember my trip with the John Hardin softball team to Florida, where I enjoyed the girls’ company and felt accepted by the players as if one of the team.

Another thing I learned is that community service is very common in this country, and I volunteered every week, helping my host mom work with severe special needs kids at her elementary school. It was important for me get to know those kids and try to help them to progress. Volunteering is very important because there are so many people who need help, love and care. Back home, I also will try to do as much community service as possible. Volunteering made me feel like a better person, and I was proud to receive from President Barack Obama a letter, a medal and a pin for 100-plus hours of service.

One of my greatest American experiences was a trip to San Diego. In March, I submitted an essay for a competition and won an all-expense-paid trip with Better Understanding for a Better World. This program provided an opportunity for me to communicate with students from 32 countries. The goal of this organization is for students to gain a better understanding of other’s cultures, religions, and lives, as well as to learn how to be a good global citizens and make positive changes in the world. Students made presentations about their countries and shared cultures and traditions. I was very proud to represent my country because that was one of the reasons I came to America.

Religion sometimes causes misunderstandings between countries and individuals, so, we visited several different places of worship: St. Paul’s Cathedral, Islamic Center of San Diego and Congregation Beth Israel. After visiting these sites, we had a conference with representatives of each religion. Students asked them questions and tried to obtain as many answers as possible. This conference helped me to better understand this world and to become more tolerant. I set a goal to make changes in my country and help Ukraine to progress in the world.

My exchange year is almost over. Although I will be happy to see my family in Ukraine, I feel sadness in leaving my American family, friends and this country. But I know this is not the end of my progress; this is just a beginning. America helped me to grow as an individual. Here I developed my leadership skills and became a goal-seeker. I will always be a dreamer but not one who does nothing but dream of better days. I will be a leader, who makes better days.

Roksolana Turkovska is a sophomore and foreign exchange student at John Hardin High School.