FLEX Virtual Student Spotlight (April 2021)
Teenage boy from country of Georgia - FLEX exchange student

Vato's always up for another virtual experience

It is with great enthusiasm that we nominate Vakhtangi (Vato), an exchange student from Georgia, for the U.S. Department of State FLEX Virtual Student Spotlight for April 2021.

When Vato received his virtual placement information he admits to thinking that the communication was going to be monotonous, because it was not in-person and because his host family was a single host mom. “I was so wrong,” says Vato. “My host mom Heather became my mentor and one of my best friends.” Despite his host mom’s busy schedule, their time differences, and Vato’s school workload, they make time for frequent communication with one another. They have Zoom calls once a week and daily chats via WhatsApp. Host mom Heather reports that, “Vato is an amazing young man with so much knowledge to share.” Vato says that his host mother “is exactly the host mom I have imagined having. She is a powerful woman with a successful career, a great sense of humor, and full of curiosity.”

Vato has learned so much about America through his host mom and has shared with her about his homeland of Georgia. They have built a great relationship and a mutual respect for each other. “We communicate not because the program asks us to do so, but because we enjoy sharing about our lives. I am present in her life, and she is too in mine,” says Vato. “For example, my host mom Heather will be traveling to Tennessee in April, and I am going to visit Tennessee ‘live’ through her.”

Vato has been one of the most active participants of the virtual program, never missing an activity organized by his coordinator with his cluster, the PAX office, or American Councils.

“Through the enhancement activities, I have learned about the American culture, traditions, and holidays, as well as American history. I have also learned about Plymouth, Michigan local government, some famous people, and leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and Henry Ford. I have enjoyed a series of presentations of regions of the U.S. that PAX has created," says Vato. He also reports that he has “learned about the climate, nature, industry of different states. I compared them to my homeland and discussed similarities and differences with my coordinator."

Vato is a founding member of the cyberbullying project through the peer-to-peer program and highlights this activity among the many he has attended so far. In collaboration with other FLEX and YES students hosted by PAX and American students of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program of Plymouth high school in Canton, Michigan, Vato created an online platform that raises awareness regarding cyberbullying and provides resources on how to protect youth from online bullying. “We enjoyed working together as a team and shared our different cultural backgrounds,” says Vato. “Not only we learned a lot from each other, but our meetings were full of laughter.”

Vato is also appreciative of the time he spends with his virtual pal, Emma. He considers the close friendship they have developed as one of the best outcomes of participating in the Virtual Program. Vato and Emma share their interests, dreams for the future, and photos of their school routines. Sometimes they even play games like Truth or Dare with each other. Emma has also introduced Vato to her group of friends.

Not only did Vato participate in International Education Week, but he has, so far, delivered seven country presentations to various audiences, including the fifth graders of Bloomingdale Elementary School in Bloomingdale, Michigan. He is so enthusiastic and proud of his country and culture—eager to share a presentation anytime the opportunity is presented.

In addition to enhancement activities, Vato has participated in several contests organized by PAX. He recently collaborated with his virtual YES host sister Tala from Jordan, his coordinator’s daughter Addison, and some other FLEX/YES students to create a virtual project. The focus of the project is teaching each other different languages. “I taught them Georgian, and other students taught me Ukrainian, Armenian, Polish, Arabic, and sign language,” says Vato.

Vato is looking forward to upcoming Virtual Program activities, including the Better Understanding for a Better World conference organized by Civilizations Exchange & Cooperation Foundation. He also shares how much he enjoys being part of the Preparing for Global Leaders Forum.

Although Vato wanted to participate in person in the FLEX Program, he is very grateful for the opportunities to get to know America and make so many meaningful connections through the Virtual Program. As Vato says, “All in all, I can say that this Virtual Program has undoubtedly changed my life for the better. I gained friends from all over the world and made lifelong relationships. I think this experience will play a significant role in my future career, as I am planning to pursue the field of international law."

Vato is a very bright and talented young man. He is always respectful, friendly, and just an overall joy to get to know. He is full of drive and is always looking for ways he can make the best of every situation. He has truly been exemplary in this program. While Vato says that he has enjoyed and learned a lot from the Virtual Program, it is difficult to say whether he or his American contacts have learned more. As Vato’s coordinator says, “I am so grateful for the opportunity this program has allowed by getting to know Vato and the truly excellent young man that he is.”

Here at PAX, we are all very proud of Vato and thankful to the FLEX Program for allowing us to meet high-caliber students like him.

—The PAX Sponsored Programs team