Poetess living in Germany
Welcome the 8th guest of the Exchange Me podcast FLEX alumna Nadiya Telenchuk! She shares with us her experience being a one-year student of an American school, tells us about her achievements and gives us some useful tips.
Listen to a recording of this conversation
What is FLEX (Future Leaders Exchange Program)? One goes to the United States for an academic year, lives with a host family, attends a local high school, and, basically, gets to know the culture and live the American life. The program is highly competitive—around 2% get in. When you become a finalist, the program covers everything: from the tickets to the US insurance and the monthly allowance. FLEX was created from the belief of the former Senator Bill Bradley that the best way to ensure long-lasting peace and mutual understanding is through exchange programs like this.
Poetess living in Germany
About Nadia's first encounter with the FLEX program and taking testing rounds

We had English at school, our teacher told us about the FLEX, but didn't give us any details and didn't really believe in us that much. But it interested me a lot, so I went there. First and second rounds were actually two days in a row. I remember going to the first and it was really easy, like some kind of quick ABC testing. I couldn't wait until the next morning, to get there into the studio to find out whether I'm in or not in, in the second round. It was raining hard, but my father took me at night with a flashlight, and we went to the school and we went through the window pane and I saw my name in the list.

I think that was the biggest feeling of winning so far!

Then I had the first kind of live interview in my life. It was a very stressful experience, but also exciting. I remember looking at other kids, and they were just as scared as I was. I guess it's not only the tip for the or third round of FLEX, but like in general, in life. It's better to actually look around first, see how the situation is or the atmosphere is how people are interacting with each other.

About the excitement of the getting in FLEX program

I clearly remember the moment when they called us from the organization to say, I'm a finalist. I was getting upset because there will be the last month spent with my school friends, they will be kind of gone out of my life. And the moment I hang up and started crying. My mom asked me what happened, I said they called me and they told me that I won. I had to be laughing and celebrating, but it was a transition; the whole year in the States was, for me, a very long and useful transition.

If I don't go, I'm going to regret it. And I don't want to regret anything in my life. That's why I think it's going to be a cool opportunity.

About the school and first impressions

I did go to Kansas, which is the heart of the States. As I used to describe to people, it was a very little town called Perry and it didn't have one school in town. It was actually one school for two neighboring towns, apparently Compton high school, it was in 2008 and 2009. So after my 10th grade, at the Ukrainian school, I was put officially into the sophomore class. I did have a free will to choose whatever classes I would like to so I chose most of the junior and senior classes and they were awesome. I guess the high school alone was larger than my whole gymnasium in Kherson back then. It has these amazing classrooms in this amazing equipment, and amazing sports.

About host family

I cannot really say whether I was lucky or not. I found it a bit stressful, especially in the beginning to adjust. They had eight children. Well, those were already mostly grown up and out of the house. Some of the children were living with me, two siblings, but most of those children had their own children already. When the whole gang would come together for Thanksgiving, there would be 30 or 35 people in the house. It wasn't weird for me - it was just different.

My host family was very religious, they would go to church every week. In the beginning, I was very skeptical about it. But they said feel free to come if I want to, or do not come if I don't. The church that I knew from Ukraine was so much different from American churches. After church on Sunday they would all go out for food, and I just wanted to go to a restaurant, that was the reason I agreed and felt a bit bad about it. But then I realized that it is more kind of a club where people get together, sit, listen to somebody, talk, which wasn't really openly preached, it was more like talking about life with a few passages from the Bible. And then they had these amazing rock bands coming up onstage and playing every time and then people would stand up and sing with them. I find it fun.

About finding new hobbies in the USA

I've tried different hobbies in my life. Poetry is the only one that has stayed. And I hope that it will stay as long as it can. I have started writing early on my first poem, about school, first love. But the US brought me the feeling of the language. I could speak English, write it, read it and understand it, but I didn't feel it. And that is something that came on in America. As soon as you start feeling the language, only then you can translate these feelings also into poetry in the language. I guess that is also one of the plus things that I got from the States, writing in English.

Then, I actually took some time to devote myself to the arts. Before the US I went to art school for a few years, but I dropped out because I didn't like the way they were teaching there. In the US, I had this amazing arts teacher, Miss Ashlock. She would encourage all of us students to do things in our own way and would never ever touch our painting. She would explain very carefully how it would be better to do things but we always had to do things on our own. And she encouraged us to do them in our own way.

About patriotism

I guess, I have always felt and known that I'm a patriot. In my understanding patriot, it's a person who dearly loves their home country, without all the possible additional meanings that might or might not be there with some other people. But I never felt that much as I did when I was away.

And that's the thing, your home country is your family. You feel that you love them, and you miss them. Especially when you're away.

When I was in the US or shortly after coming back, I realized that there is more to the world, then there is just Ukraine. I just got kind of hungry for these impressions, in a way curious to see how it is someplace else. So for me it was out of question to stay in my hometown. After I came back, I returned to Kherson to finish my last year of high school, but afterwards, I went to Kiev.

About European Youth Parliament and traveling

I got involved in an international organization called European Youth Parliament while studying in Kiev. A friend of mine from my FLEX year, was studying in the same university and he told me about it. That organization is an international youth organization, which resembles the principle of work of the real European Parliament. In EYP we did similar things as FLEX, it's exactly as much fun. They organize different youth conferences all over Europe, I think it was almost 30 countries that were involved there, at least during the time when it was active. I started going to conferences in different countries and later on, I started organizing them.

About the delight from the being in Germany

I remember going to an Economic Forum in Essen, it's Western Germany, next to Dusseldorf, where I had to spend a few days. It was in the beginning of December, which is already kind of pre-Christmas time in Germany and I fell in love with this country. I came to a few events here at the time when I was finishing my bachelor's. And the question came up where I wanna go to get a master's. I was actually applying for a scholarship in Germany, which is called DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst). I found a few programs which were in English, which was very important for me, because I didn't want to write my master's thesis in German. Those were actually almost free. That's how I ended up in Berlin, where I lived for seven long years.

About volunteering experience in USA and in Ukraine

When friends or family would get togethers or Bible study groups or something, and they would have all the small kids, I would just go and hang out with the kids. I was babysitting a lot. And that was already volunteering for me. But I actually had fun.

I remember coming back and saying that volunteering is amazing, it's a great thing. And I kept in touch with the local FLEX community for a few years and also the one in Kiev. And while I was staying there, we were doing some smaller volunteering, like getting togethers, cleaning up or some other auctions. I was actually volunteering during the 2012 Football Championship. That was a big event which opened Ukraine to Europe in a way. And I just remember this feeling when there were so many foreigners coming to Kiev, and there were so many things happening and people were happy and smiling to each other. And it was just a cheerful atmosphere all around.

Life pieces of advice for future participants and not only

  • Be open to everything and whatever comes up, try to work things out.

  • Don't be scared, it's gonna be alright! Whatever challenges you have in life, there are all the ones that you can manage. You would never get a challenge that wasn't up to your strengths.

  • When we come into this world we are alone, when we leave the world we are basically also alone. There is always the way through and whatever happens, only the little memories and experiences remain with us forever.

  • Take the best out of each moment that you can!

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This episode is supported by the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy to Ukraine. The views of the authors and guests do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Government.