For whoever might care, but mostly, for me, I’m starting this series of random stories I never have the chance to reflect upon in everyday conversations.
I was a visiting high school student to the USA in 2002-2003. What got me there is what causes a lot of great things in life to happen – chance.
The background is that I had just come back from Israel where my parents had undertaken an ultimately failed attempt to move, and started going to the school I had attended before I left Russia.
So I was mostly focused on fitting back in rather than exploring new education opportunities. In any case, my school was a foreign language school, meaning that languages were taught more extensively and rigorously than in other schools.
So, one day, it was announced that “ASPRYAL” would take place. Some time later I found out ASPRYAL was a Russian acronym standing for an association of Russian teachers and was the organisation in charge of the event.
Everyone in my class decided to go to the event (which I had very little idea about), so I followed lead. It turned out to be the first round of testing for a US Dept of State exchange program called FLEX.
Since I wasn’t aware of how serious everything was, I cleared the first round, which contained a basic multiple-choice test of English, without any trouble. The second round was a more comprehensive pre-TOEFL test.
The waiting period for the results was longer this time, and I had a chance to realize this was all serious. When I found out I had passed the second round, too, I received a rather detailed application package where I had to provide substantial supporting documentation, apart from completing the forms. The time had come to decide if I was in.
Of course, I couldn’t let a change like that to slip away. Pretty much everything was covered in the program: travel, study, accommodation. Participants were even paid a small allowance for personal expenses. The goal was to let kids who demonstrated leadership potential live in a small American community for a year. (Dear Department of State! Are you sure the money was not misallocated in my case? I’d rather hope not…)
I made an incredible, but typical amount of mess-ups on my application, starting from format violations to bad handwriting. I apprehended one of them might make me ineligible. But fool’s luck it was. I made it to the finals.
Then (or was it somewhere in between?) came the interview. I had to show why I wanted to go to the US. I had inevitably been warned by my teacher not to say I wanted to hang out and buy new clothes. So I prepared this coherent speech on how I wanted to learn American culture and so forth.
Was I lying that time? Not exactly. I knew embarrassingly little about the country, so I subsequently came in with a pristine, non-stereotyped mind. What was true was the compulsive desire to talk to whoever was speaking a foreign language as their first… which, I must admit, I’ve never gotten over. (Dear friends, don’t you fret, I don’t talk to you for language practice. This obsession only works for strangers, which makes it all the more interesting).
In any case, as the word came out that I had qualified for the program and teachers at school were starting to congratulate me, I was growing more and more uneasy about going. I had striven and succeeded to establish new friendships and get involved in out-of-class activities, and having to leave all I’d achieved didn’t make me happy at that moment.
Next time, I’ll look at my pre-departure orientation and departure. Stay tuned!