Future Leaders Exchange Program celebrates 20th anniversary

The Future Leaders Exchange program, a U.S. government-sponsored program that provides selected high school students from ten republics of former ...

Nov 9, 2013

The Future Leaders Exchange program, a U.S. government-sponsored program that provides selected high school students from ten republics of former Soviet Union countries with an opportunity for a yearlong academic experience in the United States, celebrated its 20th anniversary the weekend of Nov. 2.
Because of the significant number of FLEX alumni attending NYU Abu Dhabi, the two programs have started to develop a promising relationship. The Associate Director of the Career Development Center April Cash traveled to Moscow to speak at the anniversary event on behalf of the NYUAD community. FLEX Eurasia Alumni Manager Mary Shea expressed an appreciation of this visit and emphasized the value of a relationship between the two programs.
“We greatly appreciate the fact that April Cash traveled to Moscow to represent NYUAD at the FLEX 20th anniversary celebration and consider that to be a sign of NYUAD's respect for the FLEX program,” said Shea. “Of course, the FLEX program and NYUAD share similar goals in the kinds of students we seek. We are proud that so many FLEX alumni [have] chosen NYUAD… and are pursuing academic careers there.”
The anniversary celebration took place in Moscow, Kiev, Tbilisi and Almaty, uniting more than 500 FLEX alumni who represented all 20 years of the program’s existence. The formal reception at Spaso House, the residence of the U.S. Ambassador in Moscow, welcomed leadership from American Councils for International Education headquarters in Washington D.C. along with a special guest, founder of the FLEX program and former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley.
According to a Russia Beyond the Headlines video report with Bradley, FLEX is an exceptionally competitive program, of high demand and importance in Eurasia for the past twenty years.
“It is easier to get into Harvard than it is into [the] FLEX program,” said Bradley.
In a report by Russia Beyond the Headlines, the American Councils for International Education stated that the FLEX program’s acceptance rate is 1.4 percent. Since its inception in 1994, the FLEX program has had over 23,000 student participants.
Mary Shea, who has been leading the FLEX alumni community in the Moscow office for the past 12 years, shared her experience with the program and its vision for the future. She highlighted the value of the program’s cultural exchange, which provides inspiration for initiatives to improve students’ home communities.
“FLEX students are required to volunteer on local community service projects,” said Shea. “Most exchange students are grateful for this experience as it gives them new insights into American culture. It also inspires them to organize similar projects on their return to their countries.”
According to Shea, one of the main keys to the success of FLEX program is a strong alumni program, which began in 1994 upon the return of the first group of exchange students.
“The alumni community has evolved over these twenty years, and continues to offer alumni opportunities to grow and develop,” said Shea. “Alumni love to say that FLEX doesn't end when you get on the plane to go back home and that is really true. Today we are realizing how many professional connections this alumni network offers.”
Anna Safronova, a 2009 FLEX alumna, stayed strongly attached to the program upon her return to Russia. She described the FLEX network as a source of daily inspiration.
“[FLEX Network] combines [some] of the most socially active, open-minded, successful, highly educated people that are so fun to be around with,” said Safronova. “This is the network that doesn't know borders because you can find FLEX alumni in so many places around the world. I have close friends from Moldova and Kazakhstan.”
Ukrainian 2012 FLEX alumnus, Serhii Rokachev, now attends NYUAD as a freshman. He emphasized the significance of the FLEX program in his academic achievements at the university and his understanding the U.S. college system.
“In the U.S. I took AP courses, and it was a pretty good preparation for the college courses here,” said Rokachev. “If I just graduated from Ukrainian school, I would’ve not been as prepared for academics here.”
The FLEX alumni community at NYUAD consists of more than twenty students. Some of them even knew each other prior to coming to NYUAD.
“I actually met some of the FLEX students in U.S. who are NYUAD students now,” said Rokachev.
FLEX alumna 2011 and freshman Anna Serobyan described FLEX as a trampoline that brought her significantly closer to her future goals.
“It’s really great that although NYUAD and FLEX are not directly connected, in [a] way they are because so many students from former Soviet Union countries were participants of the FLEX program,” said Serobyan. “It is really helpful to have this community here because you know that you have a foundation to rely on. FLEX students here will definitely understand me; we’ve been through the same experiences before [NYUAD].”
As a result of the successful twenty years, the FLEX program has established a solid ground and high reputation in Eurasia and identified long-term goals that involve the development of a mutually beneficial relationship with NYUAD.
“We hope that our relationship will continue to expand,” said Shea. “We encourage FLEX alumni to explore ways to make this happen. Career and leadership development are natural directions for cooperation.”
Daria Karaulova is deputy managing editor. Email her at
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