That blue FLEX T-shirt was so ready to be washed. After eight hours long flight, we finally landed. Around 40 students from Serbia and Montenegro landed on US ground last August and started their life changing journey. I am Grlica (Americans called me GG) Golusin and I hope that you will enjoy reading about mine.

Ever since I started high school, I always wanted to become an exchange student. I was lucky to meet a an alumna of an amazing exchange program – FLEX. FLEX (Future Leaders Exchange) is a program funded by the US State Department that offers students from different countries a chance to spend one academic year with an American host family, go to an American high school and become world citizens. The selection process is very long with a low acceptance rank (2.63%). 

I found out that I was a finalist for this program and that I would be placed in Porterville, California. I left Serbia in August of the same year. For many of us including myself, this was the first time flying and I was glad that we traveled in groups. We had to wear our blue FLEX shirts all the time, as they allowed airport staff and American Councils staff to recognize and help us. I also liked how blue shirts helped us find FLEX students from other countries. We would look at each other and think “Got ya’ man”. Although we didn’t know each other, we still felt connected because we all had the same dream coming true.

I was also very excited to start my exchange and teach Americans about Serbia. Among exchange students, there was a line from a song that we like to use as a joke that says “If it ain’t foreign it’s boring”, but it turned out as true. I didn’t have any negative experiences because of my accent or origin. Of course, there were hard times, but I got involved in many different school activities (choir, drama class), and activities that World Link organized. Right from the beginning, I started volunteering at a local elementary school. I loved helping kids with homework and having fun with them. I told the kids I taught to check out this blog post. I got questions like “Do you have dogs in Serbia?” or “Do you have Cheetos in Serbia?”. I also volunteered at Porterville Public Library which was fun, but much quieter for sure.

One of my favorite activities was International Education Week. Exchange students celebrate it by using different methods to present their culture. I went to school in my traditional clothes and prepared different presentations for different class periods. For example, I taught my classmates how to sing birthday song in Serbian and how to dance kolo (traditional Serbian dance). My presentation was about the first Serbian vampire and I made Kahoot quiz about Serbia which was very well received. I believe that students liked this way of learning about a different country because it differed from a traditional presenting. I also made cookies with Serbian flag frosting for the winners.

Another project that I’m especially proud of is a fundraiser that I organized for my Global Youth Service Day project. I organized a basketball game between the varsity basketball team from my school and local Fire and Police Departments. It funded prom dresses and raised money for the Porterville Breakfast Rotary Club – a club that organizes a prom for students with special needs. I had great support from the Summit Charter Collegiate Academy, my host family, friends and the local community. Porterville welcomed me so warmly that I just felt obliged to give back in some way.

I wish that there are more opportunities for volunteering in Serbia. However, I feel like times are changing and Serbian youth are slowly making opportunities for themselves. I expected that my American experience would change my impression of Serbia. It’s true, everything in America is bigger (literally, Americans like everything extra large). Some would say it’s better, but I learned to appreciate Serbia’s uniqueness and the way it defines who I am. I like what exchange did to me and I can only recommend you going for one. Apply for scholarships, and book that flight ASAP 🙂

Author: Grlica @iamgrle 

Embarking on an exchange programme soon? Check out some tips on how to fully embrace the culture of your new home for the next six months!

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