FLEX Virtual Student Spotlight (March 2021)
Exchange student from the country of Georgia

PAX's nominee a "quaranteen" like no other

It is with great enthusiasm that we nominate Natalie, an exchange student from Georgia for the U.S. Department of State FLEX Virtual Student Spotlight for March 2021.

Natalie was looking forward to her in-person exchange experience. She was particularly excited about her placement in the Seattle area, a place she had always dreamed of visiting. When she learned the program was cancelled due to the pandemic, Natalie was very disappointed, but reports that her host family “has been very supportive of me and has done their best to cheer me up. They organized so many activities to introduce me to their area and their life. They wanted me to have a positive experience even though I could not be there in person, and they did it through their love and care. I have learned so many things from them and feel like part of this family.”

Natalie and her host family keep in touch every week. They talk about different things such as American and Georgian cultures, holiday traditions, and sports. Natalie “didn’t have a clue of baseball rules,” but now feels quite confident in her understanding of the ins and outs of baseball. They also love sharing different things unique to the United States and Georgia. Host mom Kathy reports that Natalie was very excited to hear the Groundhog Day story, and she was sad when Phil saw his shadow, thus signaling six more weeks of winter. Kathy also reports that Natalie has begun teaching her the Georgian alphabet and some Georgian phrases, which she has enjoyed learning. Natalie also shared the recipes of some Georgian national dishes like Khachapuri with her host family. “We have really enjoyed getting to know Natalie, and it is a pleasure to be her virtual host mom,” says Kathy.

Natalie and her virtual pal Anna have a lot in common and enjoy one another’s company, despite the physical distance between them. The girls chat about their favorite TV shows, books, music, and movies. “Anna keeps me informed about what is happening in the U.S. I want to know everything like I am living there,” says Natalie. “For instance, I learned that actor Chris Pratt graduated from Lake Stevens High School, the same school I would have attended. Isn’t this cool?"

In addition to Anna, Natalie has also had the opportunity to establish great relationships with Kira and Faith, two senior students from the International Baccalaureate school in Plymouth, Michigan whom she met through the “peer-to-peer” program organized by PAX. “They are so supportive and cheerful,” says Natalie. "Who knew that I was going to discover how much in common I have with these two American students as well as with other peers in my group from Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Kosovo, and Kenya? We all worked together with our “Elder Isolation” project. As part of this project, we are going to start a “pen pal” system and send postcards to nursing homes in the U.S. I am very proud of our work,” reports Natalie. She reports that they had lots of fun working as a team, communicating with each other, and, of course, sharing cultures. Natalie says “working on something meaningful together with international friends and sharing about our lives is the best experience I could have had.”

From childhood, I had a dream about visiting and studying in the United States. Even though I am not physically there, my virtual host family, pal, and other friends have made me feel that I am part of this country.

Natalie never missed an activity organized by her Community Coordinator, the PAX national office, or American Councils. Of the many activities organized with her cluster, Natalie’s favorite was their trip to Mount Rainier, of which she reports, “I learned about the history of conservation, as well as how to protect and preserve the national treasures.”

Of the numerous webinars Natalie has attended through PAX, she found the “Disability Inclusion” session particularly thought-provoking. She says she gained “a different perspective” and reflected a lot about things that people with disabilities can do compared to those they can’t do. She also shares with a lot of excitement that she is participating in the “Preparing Global Leaders Forum” with Dr. Sam Potolicchio and American Councils. “I eagerly wait for the Saturday to come to attend this leadership training,” says Natalie.

In December, the PAX team selected Natalie’s video as the winner of PAX’s "Quaranteens 2.0" contest. In her video, Natalie demonstrates all the ways she’s been keeping busy and staying productive, even in lockdown.

When reflecting on her virtual program experience so far Natalie says, “From childhood, I had a dream about visiting and studying in the United States. Even though I am not physically there, my virtual host family, pal, and other friends have made me feel that I am part of this country. Not only has my English improved because of the program but I feel more confident speaking up and voicing my opinions. This program has a great impact on me, and it will be one of my favorite memories in my life.”

Natalie’s career goal is to study diplomacy. She truly believes that in the future she will be able to look back on this experience from a personal and professional enrichment perspective, and she will always feel proud of being part of the FLEX program.

Natalie has proven to be a wonderful ambassador for Georgia, the PAX organization, and the FLEX program, so we proudly nominate her.

—The PAX Sponsored Programs team