For the first time ever, ten Czech students were admitted to the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program this year, giving them the chance to spend an academic year in the United States living with a volunteer host family and attending a U.S. high school. As they embarked on their adventure on Monday, the US ambassador to Prague, Stephen King, came to Prague airport to wish them a great year.
It was a big day for the first ten Czech Flexers as they prepared to board a flight en route to their host communities. The ten students selected from different parts of the Czech Republic passed multiple rounds of testing to earn a scholarship in the States, opening up new horizons, the chance to learn about American culture, society and values and acquire leadership skills that will stand them in good stead on their return home.
Šimon Mareček from Nové Město in Moravia is heading to meet his host family in Sarasota, Florida. Even at Prague airport he can barely believe that he is on his way to study in the States.
“I always planned to try to study abroad on the Erasmus program once I got to university, but then my teacher emailed me and said there was this opportunity to spend a year in the States within the FLEX program. So I filed for that, filled in about a million forms and by some miracle it clicked.”
Eliška Hermánková says that she’s excited about living and studying abroad. Although she may be in for culture shock, she will find a bit of the Czech Republic in her new home. Her host family lives in Toledo, Iowa and has Czech roots. So paradoxically, her preparations for the trip included trying and testing some typical Czech dishes with the help of her mom.
“My host family has some old Czech recipes handed down from their grandmothers or great-grandmothers and my host mom was excited that she would welcome someone from the old country. She said she would make their Czech specialties for me and I would make some for them. So I have been practicing some traditional recipes like potato pancakes and potato salad so that I can give them a treat in return.”
The Future Leaders Exchange program was established in 1993 by the US State Department. This is the first time that it has been made accessible to students from the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. Ambassador King says he’s happy to see that come about.
“There’s always and opportunity and always a need for us to improve upon the multilateral and bilateral relationship with countries especially in this part of the world. And secondly there has been a focus – and that’s why I am here – to increase cooperation with the Visegrad Four countries.”
Interest in the FLEX program is huge. Already in its first year here, 760 students applied for the chance to live and study in the US. Ten of the very best are now living out their dream. Ambassador King says he hopes to see their numbers grow.
“That’s my hope and I intend to use whatever influence I have back at the US State Department to double the amount of students from the Czech Republic from ten to twenty in the year 2020.”
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