“I am from Kharkiv, Ukraine.”

“Becoming a foreign exchange student was an interesting experience. The journey began in August 2020. My teacher told me about a program called FLEX which gives students from Eastern Europe and Asia the opportunity to study in America on a scholarship. There are more than 10,000 applicants from my country alone, but only 200 win. 

You have to write dozens of essays about yourself, essentially proving why you would be a good foreign exchange student. A month later, my mom got a phone call saying I was a semi-finalist. That was the point I started getting really excited. I had to do interviews and write more essays. I wrote a letter to my host family explaining who I was and why they should choose me as their student. I had to go to doctors for check-ups and get teacher recommendations. 

 After that was completed, I forgot about it for about a year and a half. In May, I got a call saying I was going to the U.S.A. I was so happy that I called all of my friends to tell them the news. I remember my parents being nervous about not seeing me for a whole year, but they were happy for me because I was excited. We had a small party to celebrate.

A class was put together by the scholarship program that taught us about life in America. It was once a week and I learned about American schools, host families, and the main differences between America and Ukraine. I also had an interview to get a visa. Normally, it’s super difficult to get one, but through my program, it was easier. 

My flight was originally supposed to be on August 2nd, but they never sent information to the office in my country about where I was going. They explained that I didn’t have a host family, an assigned school, or anything. So I couldn’t fly to Washington, D.C. yet. They obviously had to change my flight date, but didn’t give me an exact date to when they were changing it to. I spent more time with my family and friends. I wasn’t ready to leave anyway. 

My state and host family information came to me via email. The flight was supposed to be on September 1st, but I had to be at the airport a couple of days before. I stayed at a hotel within the airport with other finalists from Ukraine. It was actually so fun. I had five flights: Ukraine to Germany; Germany to Washington, D.C.; Washington to Chicago; then, Chicago to Michigan. The flight from Germany to the United States was the worst out of the five. It was nine hours and the time difference was difficult to adjust to. I was super tired from the jet lag.

I got off the plane with another girl when we arrived in Grand Rapids. I became really nervous before meeting my host family, but they were so welcoming and are truly my second family. 

Caledonia is way bigger than I thought it would be. In my report about Caledonia, it said there were only about 330 students. I thought it was going to be like a small village. I was shocked on the first day when I walked in and there were so many people. 

I’ve never changed schools. I’ve been at the same place since I was a child, so it was a new experience. I got lost going in between the north and south campus. I was closed off and shy on the first day, but everyone has been super sweet and welcoming.”

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