FLEX Virtual Student Spotlight (February 2021)
Exchange student from Poland

Star of recent Polish cooking video honored

PAX is pleased to nominate Polish exchange student Aleksandra ("Ola") for the U.S. Department of State (USDOS) FLEX Virtual Student Spotlight for February 2021 (UPDATE: Ola was chosen by the USDOS as the overall FLEX "Spotlight" student among all organizations!)

Ola and her virtual host family established a great relationship with one another from the very beginning of the Virtual Program. Ola is always ready and enthusiastic to learn new things about American culture and her host family’s life. “My host family is trying the best to show me America as if I was there with them,” says Ola. “We had  Thanksgiving together; I was part of cutting down the Christmas tree for Christmas; I also shared with them about Polish Christmas traditions.”

“Ola wanted us to experience her Polish Christmas,” said host mom Rebecca. She sent us a wafer that, following Polish tradition, is shared with the family at Christmas. We did enjoy it a lot. She also made a birthday card for my husband John and sent him a CD with songs as a birthday gift.”

Since beginning the Virtual Program, Ola has also introduced her natural parents and younger sister to her host family. After that initial introduction, Ola says that her little sister has joined all of the video calls with her host family. “She is only four,” says Ola, “and doesn’t know English, but she loves watching my host family and me speaking a different language. Sometimes, I see her trying to repeat some of the words she hears in our conversations. She already can say “Hello,” “I’m Gabrysia and I’m four,” and “How are you?” She is very happy to be a part of the program too.”

My sister is only four and doesn’t know English, but she loves watching my host family and me speaking a different language. Sometimes, I see her trying to repeat some of the words.

Ola also enjoys communicating with her virtual pals Natalie and Andrew. Yes, she ended up having two virtual pals. With Natalie, she likes to talk about the movies they watch, school activities, and their families. “We learn something new about ourselves and our homes every time we talk,” says Ola. “We also shared our New Year resolutions and what we want our 2021 to look like.”

“I am also very thankful to Andrew for encouraging me to learn guitar,” says Ola. “I bought a guitar eight years ago but never played it. In one of the video calls, Andrew played guitar and showed me his guitar collection. He encouraged me to bring mine and started to teach me how to play it. Since then, I have practiced a lot and feel that I am becoming a better player. I would never have started to learn guitar if it wasn’t for Andrew.”

Ola has participated in all the enhancement activities organized by her Community Coordinator. She reports that she enjoys meeting with her cluster and participating in all the activities together. Ola says, “for Halloween, we dressed up as our favorite movie characters or celebrities. We talked about Halloween traditions in the U.S. and in our countries. It was so much fun. Thanks to the Virtual Program, I have made friends from Lebanon, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Ukraine, the USA, and the Netherlands. We have created a group on Snapchat where we play games with each other and communicate.”

Ola is always eager to learn and contribute. As part of her cluster enhancement activities, she was introduced to the structure and make-up of municipalities in the state of Wisconsin, the differences between towns, villages, and cities, and the different services provided by each. She also enjoyed and learned from the presentation on Local Government and Entrepreneurship given by Nick Moroz, Mayor Pro-Tempore and City Commissioner of Plymouth, Michigan. Additionally, Ola joined two guided virtual tours of the Henry Ford Museum of Innovation and learned about the life of industrialist Henry Ford. These virtual tours also provided insight into other episodes in U.S. history (1860-1963)—from the election of President Abraham Lincoln in 1860 to the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. Other activities she has participated in include a leadership style assessment exercise, a discussion about the lifestyle of the Old Order Amish communities located throughout Wisconsin, the U.S. elections, and the Electoral College (and the history behind this method).

Ola also enjoyed attending the Presidential Inaugural Webinar organized by the Civic Education team at American Councils and the Youth Future Conference organized by FLEX Poland.

Ola also participated in the “peer-to-peer” program with International Baccalaureate (IB) students at Plymouth High School in Canton, Michigan. Together with some other FLEX and YES students hosted by PAX and American students, she created the “School Community” group and is working on connecting students around the world, so they can share their cultures and not feel lonely.

Ola has been a great contributor to PAX Press and PAX's social media. She participated in both the “Culture Sharing” and “Quaranteen” contests organized by PAX. Her submission to the culture-sharing contest in honor of International Education Week (November 16-20) was selected as one of three top projects (see her project video below).

In November, Ola also shared a presentation with students of Alexandria Area High School in Minnesota. “We talked about Poland and America,” says Ola. “Students had a lot of questions about the education system in Poland, Polish families and traditions, the economy, politics, etc. I made so many connections from that meeting. It was a great experience.”

Although Ola very much wanted to participate in person, she is grateful for the opportunity offered by the Virtual Program to meet her host family, coordinator, American peers, other FLEX/YES exchange students, PAX and FLEX community members, and many others. “Because of this program, I’m more confident, and it is now easier for me to make friends,” says Ola.

Ola’s positive attitude and enthusiasm for learning have impressed those of us who have had the opportunity to interact with her as part of the Virtual Program. She is a fantastic ambassador of Poland, the FLEX Program, PAX, and international student exchange. Therefore, it is with great pleasure that we nominate Aleksandra for the USDOS FLEX Virtual Student Spotlight for February 2021.

—The PAX Sponsored Programs team