Kristina Koprivica and Bojan Francuz returned from FLEX program (at the time the program’s name was A-SMYLE) ten years ago and this is a story they wrote for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / ArkansasOnline.com (the oldest continuously published newspaper west of the Mississippi River!) about how this U.S. government-sponsored exchange program impacted their and lives of the people they encountered in the U.S..
In her Facebook post, Kristina wrote this:
“Ten years ago, as Facebook is quick to remind us, my dear friend Bojan Francuz and I were 17 years old and had just returned to our homes in Serbia from an exchange year in the United States.
We are of a generation that does not have happy memories or a good image of the US. We grew up visiting the museum which houses the remains of a downed American fighter jet that dropped bombs over Serbia just as we were enrolled in primary school. We knew of the difficulties of obtaining a visa for travel abroad. Yet, beyond Hollywood screens, we knew very little about life abroad or in the United States.
A year spent living with American host families and becoming an integral part of our American host communities changed this. Our host families took care of us as one of their own.
We didn’t know it then, but taking part in the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program would become an undercurrent of everything we have done in our lives since.
At a time when societies across the world seem to be falling apart and universal values questioned, it is important for us to speak up in defense of cultural exchange.”