FLEX & YES Virtual Student Spotlights (May-June 2021)

Four standout teens' standout years

FLEX Virtual Student Spotlight (May 2021): Mikheil from Georgia

FLEX Virtual Spotlight Student May 2021 Mikheil Papava Georgia in Bangor Rams HS t shirt SquareFrom the very beginning of the program, "Misho," his host family, and his coordinator have been in touch almost daily. They talk about everything that happens in their daily lives, supporting each other through triumphs and challenges. They frequently discuss similarities and differences between the USA and Georgia, including culture, food, holidays, politics, and education. They also play online games and organize other fun online activities. Misho especially enjoyed carving pumpkins over a video call with his host family, coordinator, and virtual exchange brother from Kyrgyzstan.

Misho also loved playing Skribbl with his entire host family and the family of his coordinator. Misho has a special relationship with his host mom Michelle. He finds it a pleasant coincidence that they share the same first name since "Michelle" is the female form of "Michael" (or "Mikheil") in French. Misho says that his host mom has become his “second mother, who loves and cares about me like I am her real son.”

Misho also enjoys communicating with his virtual pal Alex about their shared tastes in movies and music. “We both love Marvel movies and Queen songs, but we like different sports, so it is fun to discuss them too,” says Misho.

Since the start of the Virtual Program, Misho has had the opportunity to participate in many enhancement activities. Among them, his favorites were a virtual tour of the city of Bangor, Maine (where he was going to live in person), dressing as Harry Potter for the Halloween virtual party, and sharing and celebrating Christmas with his host family and coordinator.

Misho finds the American education system quite different from the one in his home country and was very excited to attend an American classroom and share with American students about Georgia as well as meet their teacher and principal.

Misho also learned and enjoyed being part of the plastic pollution group of the peer-to-peer program. As part of this project, he and other FLEX/YES and American students created an Instagram account (@pax_plastic_pollution) and posted about the 5 Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse, Remove). He shared that he has a particularly strong relationship with a YES Indonesian student who also worked on the plastic pollution project. Misho says “FLEX is more than an exchange program. We have created a bond with peers all over the world that it is going to last.”

Misho has contributed to the Virtual Program by sharing about his country through presentations he has delivered to different groups but also through participation in PAX contests and webinars. For the “Quaranteens” contest, Misho shared a video of himself baking a cake using his grandma’s recipe. Misho is passionate about food and cooking, and very proud of his grandma’s recipes.

Misho’s Community Coordinator Carrie describes him as "a caring, very creative young man, with a positive energy and a smile on his face.” She hopes to meet him in person one day. Not being able to come to the U.S. was a disappointment for Misho, but he did his best to get the most out of the Virtual Program by representing the FLEX program and Georgia with pride.

—The PAX Sponsored Programs team


YES Virtual Student Spotlight (May 2021): Zafeer from Pakistan

YES Virtual Student Spotlight May 2021 Zafeer Shaikh Pakistan SquareZafeer and his host family have established an astounding relationship since the Virtual Program began. Zafeer loves to communicate with both host parents and reports that, “It is so much fun to talk with them, and we have so much in common.” In addition to talking about family updates, movies, culture, and politics (American and Asian), Zafeer and the Ray family share a mutual love of nature and wildlife. Zafeer is especially interested in birds, which they discuss at almost every meeting. His host mom Catharine reports, “It is his goal to lay eyes on every species of bird during his lifetime.” Both host parents are ardent nature-lovers, with lots of birdhouses, feeders, and birdbaths set up on their property to attract birds. Zafeer happily reports that his host mom’s goal is “to have a bluebird family in her yard, and with her dedication, I am sure she will have one soon.” The Ray family hopes to meet Zafeer in person one day, will take him to the Wolf Park refuge near Lafayette, the wild cat sanctuary on the way to Terre Haute, and (of course) to the Indianapolis Zoo.

Zafeer also enjoys conversing and sharing with his virtual pal Rylee. They discuss with each other about their daily lives. Rylee helped Zafeer understand how the American school system works. They also discuss their common passion for travel. Zafeer says, “Rylee is a superb friend.”

Zafeer has been a very active member of the Virtual Program, participating in enhancement sessions with his coordinator, video calls with his host family, as well as webinars and contests through the PAX national office. Through these activities, Zafeer reports that he has “learned quite a lot about American culture and tradition, geography, and the lifestyle of Americans in different parts of the country. I find America to be diverse, interesting, and impressive.” Zafeer also participated in a school community project with PAX’s peer-to-peer program, designed to address common problems faced by school communities in the U.S. and countries represented by Virtual Program FLEX/YES exchange students. “Not only did I learn new things and make new friends from all over the world,” says Zafeer, “I also gained a wide scale set of skills through these sessions such as teamwork, effectiveness, etc.”

Zafeer has been a great ambassador of Pakistan. He has been proud to share several presentations not only during International Education Week (IEW) but also on other occasions. “I enjoyed sharing my culture, tradition, and the lifestyles practiced in different parts of my country,” says Zafeer.

Zafeer was initially wary of what he could achieve through virtual sessions, but looking back he acknowledges that “within the first few months, I could see the benefits of this program.” He has found the program very helpful.

The academic workload has been one of the main challenges for Zafeer, who prides himself on being a straight-A student in his classes back home. However, he has managed to balance the time and enjoy the Virtual Program activities. “This has been a joyous rollercoaster ride,” says Zafeer. “I have met new people, made new friends, learned more, enhanced my English, worked with my character building, and much more.”

—The PAX Sponsored Programs team


FLEX Virtual Student Spotlight (June 2021): Maciej from Poland

Maciej Poland FLEX Spotlight June Poland cooking SquareDuring the Virtual Program, Maciej has made many friends and has established relationships he expects “will last forever.” His host family has played a significant role in his virtual experience. They were very excited to host him in person. When the program was cancelled, “they were disappointed as much as I was,” says Maciej.

Despite the disappointment, the Yolo family did their very best to introduce Maciej to their lives and community of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Maciej reports that they “celebrated together holidays and shared about traditions. Often, we noticed similarities in how we celebrate. Probably because my host grandma is Polish in origin.” He also expressed appreciation that his host parents “are open minded, which makes them great at communicating with young people.”  He has a particularly special bond with his host dad, Jason, saying, “He is the type of father and friend that I would like to become one day.”

Maciej also speaks very highly of his virtual pals. He describes his virtual pal, Caitlyn, as “a girl with a bright mind and huge heart.” They talk to each other often, and Caitlyn has done a great job of answering Maciej’s questions about the American school system. They also love talking about sports, their friends, and what they do in their free time. Maciej also speaks highly of his unofficial virtual pal, his coordinator’s son, Brant. He says, “Brant has told me so much about Oshkosh and showed me its attractions.”  

Maciej has shown his dedication to the Virtual Program by maintaining perfect attendance, never missing a Virtual Program activity. He has attended every local enhancement activity with his coordinator and cluster of students, PAX webinars, peer-to-peer program with American students of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, PGLF program with American Councils, Better Understanding for a Better World conference, and much more. Maciej is also one of the founding members of the “School Community” group that was created during the Virtual Program to connect young people from all around the world, so they could share their languages and cultures and would not feel lonely during the pandemic. You can find more information and a video about the project here.

“I always have had a curiosity for other cultures and languages and thanks to the Virtual Program I learned a lot about America and other countries,” says Maciej, who dreams of traveling the world.

Maciej also never missed a PAX contest. His video submission, cooking pierogis with Maciej, for the culture sharing contest during IEW was a big hit! His friendly nature and positive attitude have made him a lot of friends in the U.S. and FLEX and YES countries. He cherishes these friendships and acknowledges how the Virtual Program has brought young people from different parts of the world together. He also acknowledges his fellow student from Poland, Ola, with whom he has worked in partnership many times during the program, aiming to represent their country as a team. Among the projects they have created together, Maciej is especially proud of the “We Will Rock You” video they created for a PAX virtual exchange contest, bringing the whole PAX Virtual Program community together in the process!

Maciej’s coordinator describes him as an outstanding exchange student with amazing qualities such as creativity, honesty, and compassion. He has impressed all of us with his love for his country and the desire to represent it with honor and dignity.

—The PAX Sponsored Programs team


YES Virtual Student Spotlight (June 2021): Tala from Jordan

Tala Jordan YES Spotlight June SquareFor Tala, the most valuable experience of the Virtual Program has by far been the “amazing relationship” she and her host mom, Heather, have built with one another. Despite busy schedules, they always make time for frequent communication with each other. They like to discuss their common interests, such as the differences between the school systems in America and Jordan, books, movies, cats, food, holidays, and all sorts of interesting things. Tala and her host mom even decided to form a mini "book club" between themselves by reading the same book and discussing it together later on. Tala reports that her host mom “is one of the loveliest people I have met, and she has made my virtual experience enjoyable and full of fun and excitement.”

Meanwhile, host mom Heather is full of admiration for Tala’s positive attitude. Although COVID forced plans to change this year, Heather reports that Tala always joins every call with a smile on her face! She elaborates, “You never want to say ‘no’ when Tala says, ‘Do you want to hear a funny story?’” She describes Tala as “ambitious, kind, somewhat fearless, and a joy to talk to.” She is very grateful to have met Tala and hopes that one day their paths will cross again.

Tala has been one of the most active participants of the Virtual Program, participating in all activities organized by her coordinator and the PAX office. “I have learned so many things about American history, culture, government, holidays, and traditions,” says Tala. “Watching the Henry Ford Museum series was so much fun—I learned so much.” Tala was very enthusiastic about describing her experience at the Better Understanding for a Better World conference, and how much she learned about other religions and religious tolerance by attending.

Tala is also appreciative of the time she spends with her virtual pal, Addison. They share a love of sports, so naturally this is one of their favorite topics of discussion, along with sharing recipes with each other. Tala shares how she and Addison, and four other FLEX and YES students started a language teachers/learners group. Tala and Addison taught the group Arabic and American Sign Language (ASL), respectively, while they learned Polish from Maciej, Armenian from Hayk, Ukrainian from Karyna, and Georgian from Vakhtangi. You can watch the video at Language Teachers/Learners.

Tala is also notably excited about having participated in the peer-to-peer program. She describes the program as “extraordinary, fun, and interesting.” Throughout the program, Tala collaborated with several students from FLEX and YES hosted by PAX as well as with the American students of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program of Plymouth High School in Canton, Michigan. “We started a mental health group called "Design for Change" and worked together to spread mental health awareness among teens. We, as a group, had lots of meaningful discussions regarding how mental health illness is viewed in our respective countries,” says Tala. “To provide some resources, we also created an Instagram account @dfcmentalhealth.”

For Global Youth Service Day, Tala and her friends decided to “spread positivity” in their community during this difficult time. They wrote encouraging messages in both Arabic and English, put them inside little bags with some candy, and attached them to the car doors of people in their community.

Here at PAX, we are all very proud of Tala and thankful to the YES Program for allowing us to meet caring and kind students like her.

—The PAX Sponsored Programs team