Wakulla 4-H welcomed two international high school students via the Future Leaders Exchange Program at the beginning of September. The students have become active 4-H members during their stay and are living with volunteer host families in Wakulla County for the school year. Both students attend 11th grade at Wakulla High School. Sali Polotov is from Tajikistan and is interested in studying geological science. Gregor Johanson is from Estonia and is interested in the performing arts.
4-H – Where Dreams Are Realized
Since their arrival, the students have been part of the 4-H District III Council and have attended Leadership Adventure Week, where Gregor led a workshop on trust and communication.
During a recent interview with the 4-H Academic Year Program (AYP) FLEX students, the young men reflected on their experience with the program at the midpoint of their year in Florida:
Gregor shared that it had always been a dream to study overseas. He saw an Instagram advertisement and decided to apply. He did not know about 4-H and learned about it after being accepted to the Academic Year Program.
Since coming to the United States, he said has experienced some surprises. Gregor stated, “There have been a lot of things that have surprised me, good things and bad things. Some of the good things include much friendlier and welcoming customer service, as well as a wider range of options for everything everywhere.”
Gregor reflected that he was surprised by the American “addiction to fast and unhealthy food that he has observed and that it seems to be more prevalent in rural areas.”
4-H Youth Leadership Program Motivates
Sali shared that he was motivated to come to the United States because he wanted to see the reality, versus what was depicted in movies he had seen in Tajikistan. While Sali said that he knew nothing about 4-H before coming to Florida, he has enjoyed the opportunities to participate in 4-H clubs, special events, and volunteer work.
One thing that surprised Sali about American life was how “American people love holidays, they do all of their best to spend an unforgettable moment.”
Sali shared that he has especially enjoyed his experiences volunteering in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, snorkeling with manatees, and celebrating Christmas with his host family.
Trip to Disney World – An American Staple
Both young men are looking forward to an upcoming trip to Disney World and having more adventures with 4-H before their year in the United States concludes.
The Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program has provided scholarships for high school students from Europe and Eurasia to spend an academic year in the United States, to live with a family and attend an American high school since 1993. Florida 4-H is a partner with the FLEX program through the States’ 4-H International Exchange Programs. Through 4-H, students have opportunities to engage in both short-term summer programs and academic year exchange experiences. Since 1971, nearly 60,000 youth and families have been positively impacted by international exchange through States’ 4-H programs. Wakulla is hosting two of four FLEX students living in Florida for the 2018-19 school year.
The Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program Is Competitive
The Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program is a competitive, merit-based scholarship program funded by the U.S. Department of State. FLEX students gain leadership skills, learn about American society and values, and teach Americans about FLEX countries and cultures. The primary goal of the FLEX program is to improve mutual understanding and develop and strengthen long-term relationships between citizens of the United States and other peoples and countries.
There are currently 17 countries that participate in the FLEX program. These countries include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine.
How to Get Involved with the 4-H AYP Program:
Families in the Panhandle can become qualified to host an international student for the 10 months Academic Year Program by applying at https://states4hexchange.org. For more information, please contact Georgene Bender, Extension 4-H Agent, Emeritus, who serves as the Florida AYP Coordinator. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about this program or other 4-H programs in your county, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.
Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Exchange Program
International Youth Exchange program creates cross-cultural experience
States 4-H Exchange Programs
Ten Tips for Organizing a 4-H Youth Exchange
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