Advancing disability rights and leadership globally®

Exchange Experience Sparks New Opportunities

Gumberidze sits at a table in a coffee shop in Tbilisi, Georgia.
Gumberidze sits at a table in a coffee shop in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Esma Gumberidze, a blind student from Tbilisi, Georgia, lived with a host family and attended a mainstream public high school in Ocala, Florida as part of the U.S. Department of State sponsored FLEX program.

In the modern world, career and social life is like a chain. Each opportunity is connected and often times followed by another, so that by missing one chance you might be losing hundreds of opportunities.

When I completed my Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) year in the United States, I became a member of an active alumni community in Georgia and gained access to a wealth of information about scholarships, exchange programs, competitions, internships, volunteer opportunities and jobs.

If I hadn’t participated in the FLEX program, I wouldn’t have known about a public speaking competition in which I participated and won first place or the opportunity to host two American students studying in Georgia on the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) program.

Nor would I have learned about Girls Leading Our World (GLOW), a camp organized by the Peace Corps, for which I applied to be a counselor. I was selected because I speak English fluently and the organizers knew that if I was capable of living independently in the United States for ten months, I was well qualified for the position.

And I wasn’t the only FLEX alumnus involved in GLOW. A women’s leadership panelist was also a FLEX alumnus and a volunteer for Google. We bonded over our high school experiences in the United States and a mutual interest in blog writing during the camp. That meeting led to an opportunity to learn from her about blog management.

My experience as a GLOW counselor led to yet another opportunity. Through the FLEX alumni network I learned that an NGO needed a Georgian-English translator for a week-long camp. I was interviewed and selected for the position by a Peace Corps volunteer who had heard about my involvement with GLOW.

On another occasion, I met one of the founders of the Youth Atlantic Treaty Association (YATA) in Georgia, who is also a FLEX alumnus. I attended a presentation about YATA at the FLEX alumni resource center and became a member of the organization.

With the support of YATA, I am now organizing debate training for students at the Tbilisi school for the blind, a project aimed at helping my former schoolmates become more involved and socially active.

Participating in the FLEX program has been the biggest step towards success in my life so far. If I hadn’t participated in FLEX, I wouldn’t know all of the successful, active, and interesting people I’ve met over the last year, nor would I have learned of countless leadership opportunities.

I also believe that the FLEX program is even more important for students with disabilities. Participation in FLEX is a kind of a stamp, a guarantee, that whether you have a disability or not, you are skillful, independent, flexible, and reliable enough for any volunteer, internship, or employment opportunity.

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