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FLEX Alumnus Spotlight: Yevhenii from Ukraine

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As an alumnus of the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program, Yevhenii Nakonechnyi from Ukraine has powerful advice to share for other students with disabilities who are considering an exchange program:

Don’t let your disability hold you back! Take the leap and apply! You’ll be surprised by the incredible support you’ll find. Americans are known for their friendliness, and you’ll encounter people eager to help you navigate any situation. This program opens doors to a world of possibilities – you might even try new activities you never thought possible! Embrace the challenge, and I guarantee you’ll discover hidden strengths and maybe even ignite a new passion. It’s an experience that will shape you in ways you can’t even imagine.”

Yevhenii, a 2022-2023 FLEX alumnus from Ukraine, certainly made the most of his exchange experience in the U.S. While he had some initial concerns as a student with a disability affecting his speech, he did not let those concerns stop him from pursuing this life-changing experience.

MIUSA had the opportunity to ask Yevhenii a few questions about his exchange year, including why he was interested in applying for FLEX and what he learned about himself during this experience.

High school student holding flag of Ukraine surrounded by peers in a classroom.
FLEX alumnus Yevhenii (center) holds a Ukrainian Flag after a presentation to his U.S. classmates.

How did you hear about FLEX?

My first encounter with the FLEX program happened at a presentation in my high school. While I was a year too young to apply at that time, it sparked a fire in me. Having that extra year turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I used it to delve deeper into the program details online, familiarizing myself with the application process and expectations. This head start definitely helped me prepare for the following year’s recruitment.

Why did you decide to apply for FLEX?

My decision to apply for FLEX stemmed from two main reasons. First, my love affair with the English language began at a young age. I devoured books and actively sought opportunities to practice.

Secondly, I’ve always been captivated by American high school and college life as portrayed in movies and shows. The vibrant atmosphere, diverse student body, and unique experiences seemed worlds apart from our system here in Ukraine. The FLEX program presented the perfect chance to immerse myself in that world and broaden my horizons. It was an opportunity I couldn’t resist!

As a student with a disability, did you have any concerns about the application process or the exchange program?

While I was confident in my abilities, it’s natural to have some concerns as a student with a disability applying for a program abroad. My mom, like most parents, had the biggest worries. She feared for my well-being, being so far away.

Fortunately, the American Councils staff were incredibly helpful. They thoroughly explained the comprehensive medical insurance provided to all FLEX participants. This assurance of proper care, should any medical situation arise, definitely alleviated my mom’s anxiety and gave us both peace of mind as I embarked on this exciting opportunity.

What is something you learned about yourself during your exchange experience?

I discovered the term “Youth Voice,” and that true voice does not reside solely in one’s vocal cords but emanates from within one’s heart. It became clear that I possessed the ability to achieve anything I set my mind to.

I initially started by introducing myself in class, then progressed to presenting my problem-solving solutions to my peers. I even had the privilege of representing my own country and sharing its rich culture with others.

Finally, I wholeheartedly pursued and earned the invaluable opportunity to deliver a powerful speech on stage after winning a competition, captivating an audience of over 300 individuals. Witnessing the thunderous applause was a revelation. I comprehended that people valued knowledge more than superficial appearances and treasured inner virtues over external attributes.

High school student in formal attire holding an award plaque. Backdrop says "Iowa FBLA".
Yevhenii holding an award received at a Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) event in Iowa during his exchange year.

Are you a high school student with a disability interested in applying for an exchange program in the U.S.? Click here to learn more about the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program.

Author: Megan P

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