Exchange Program Brings High Schoolers to US

Several exchange programs are geared for high school students to study in the U.S., and applicants are encouraged to get their documents together for this year's competition.

High school students in Europe or Eurasia might check out the FLEX program that brings students from those regions to the U.S. on a yearlong cultural exchange.

The Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) is a student exchange program sponsored by the U.S. State Department that brings international students from 21 countries to the U.S. for one academic year.

FLEX offers international students an opportunity to learn about the U.S. and its culture. Participants become young cultural ambassadors of their homeland to share with Americans. The program tries to create strong ties among the student, the host families and the local community to build lifetime relationships.

Students from 21 countries

My story starts and ends with my amazing host family, that was the highlight of my year. From the first day, I felt like a part of the family. The same happened with my school; I didn't really have a hard time making friends and getting along to other people Mariam, a former student from Georgia who was hosted in California, wrote on the FLEX website.

The FLEX program partners with schools from 170 cities in 21 countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine.

Each year, about 950 high school students are selected and given a scholarship to attend high school in the U.S. for a year while they stay with a host family. Applicants must be in high school and between 15 and 17 years old to participate. Students who are blind, deaf, have mobility issues or need special accommodations are also encouraged to apply, Frank said.

Families throughout the U.S. volunteer to host FLEX scholars. They do not receive payment.

My host mom, Monica, always says: Whatever you start, once you are into it, you need to finish it and go for it,' and that's a really good thought said Vadym, a former student from Ukraine who was hosted in Iowa. This year was awesome. I can see strong changes in my character and that's a really great feeling.

Able to speak English

Participants need to be able to communicate and be amiable with their host family, their classmates and at school, said Valerie Frank, senior program manager at American Councils.

Participants must have a functional level of spoken English to survive 6,000 miles away from home for 12 months she said. Candidates also need to have a good or better standing in order to win a scholarship.

Also, candidates need to do well on the ELTiS Test to be taken into consideration by schools in the U.S. The ELTiS test is a rigorous academic English test developed to measure the listening and reading comprehension skills of high school age students whose first language is not English, according to the ELTiS website.

To apply for the FLEX scholarship, candidates contact the American Councils office in their country. The application cycle is rolling, but typically ends in the fall. Applicants should check with the American Councils in their country or region for specific dates.

FLEX gives students a $125 stipend per month for social activities, program orientation and activities, as well as medical insurance. Students who are interested in FLEX should check to see if they are eligible for a J 1 visa before applying.

The exchange program does not cover the costs for documentation. The program includes an orientation before leaving for the U.S. and another a few days before school starts in their American hometown. Parents or other relatives are not allowed to stay with the student during the orientation program.

Applicants are ineligible if they have stayed 90 days or more in the U.S. in the past five years, or have received a green card or won the visa lottery.

Host families

If a participant has difficulty keeping up with classwork, their host family and the scholar's placement organization will help get tutoring. Homesickness is remedied by the host family and a local program coordinator who help the students deal with difficulties they might encounter in the U.S.

Some of the countries located in Central Asia tend to have a little more difficulty when trying to master the English language and break the barrier during their stay Frank said. FLEX works with students in countries where English is not widely spoken. It does not matter whether a participant attends a public or private school.

This year changed my life and me personally. I learned not only how to speak better English, but also American history, geography, values, way of life and all other aspects of culture former FLEX participant Zhanar from Kazakhstan said on the program's website.

FLEX was established in 1992 and serves as a model for other exchange programs such as the YES (Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study) and A SMYLE (American Serbia and Montenegro Youth Leadership Exchange) programs, and has since expanded to other countries, according to the FLEX website. Funding is provided through the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Source: Voice of America