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“Education is action” – an interview with Piotrek Dobrosz from FLEX, the new Polish program of the US government

In the 2016-2017 school year, 800 students from 16 countries travel to the US with the program FLEX. Each student will be hosted for a year by American family and will study in an American high school. Recruitment begins on page, where you must complete an online application giving basic information about yourself and writing three short essays. Candidates have time till 16th of October 2015! Selection of semi-finalists will be made by an independent team of experts after analyzing all the proposals. The next step is a language test and an interview with a representative of the American Councils.


In UNESCO Initiatives Centre, mobility and creating opportunities for the personal development, was always implemented with genuine passion. Always we support any initiative that aims to move on the map in order to gain knowledge, experience and inspiration. American FLEX is just such an opportunity. We are even more pleased that FLEX in Poland is leaded by Piotr Dobrosz, co-founder of our Centre, a longtime coach and now, though no longer remotely associate.


Read our interview with Piotrek and you will understand why you should apply. Study the Q & A, and you will learn about the requirements for candidates, funding and application procedure.


Many young people in Poland dreams of studies in the United States. What are the specific advantage for a young person to stay with Flex in the United States?

What for me in this program is extraordinary thing it is above all an opportunity to learn American culture. On the one hand, we all live in a world which is dominated by this culture, but I know from my own experience that once you are in the US, especially not in a big city like New York, Los Angeles or Houston, suddenly United States appear to be something completely different.
We live in a small town where everyone knows each other. Everyone has their favorite stores where they do shopping, go for joint events organized by local authorities, involving virtually all residents. Suddenly we become part of the community for which it is very important being responsible not only for your garden, but a garden of the neighbor and the road in front of the gardens. It’s a great feeling when you see how the organized civil society operates. We can not forget that after spending a year in the US the student will simply speak perfect English – and that’s a huge advantage in the labor market. I think that for people aged 15-16, a one year trip like this is a real school of life, of responsibility, maturity, perseverance and entrepreneurship.


Why Flex is dedicated just to the young people of Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Eurasia? Why the formation of the young elite in these areas is part of the American cultural policy and foreign policy?

In 1992 the US Congress passed the Freedom Support Act – a document that allowed support of the development of democracy in the countries of the former Soviet Union. Thanks to it, it was possible to start not only economic cooperation between the countries and the US, but also educational exchange. Already in 1993, the first FLEX Program participants arrived to the United States. It is worth noting the huge role of senator Bill Bradley in the process of creating objectives of the Program FLEX.


What goals in fact has this program? American families which host student does not receive any material benefits, on the contrary, they must fulfill fairly strict requirements. Why do they actually do this?

For many Americans hosting students in the program it is the opportunity to learn another culture, broaden their horizons, meet people from other countries. Often, it is an opportunity to start friendships that will be continued for many years. There is another aspect that can often be incomprehensible in Poland. Participation in the program is often a reason for them to be proud and an opportunity to realize the American patriotic mission.


Also you, as a student had an opportunity to visit the United States of America. It was not the Flex, but other scholarship. What did this trip give to you personally ? How has your life changed after returning?

First of all, my trip had a different character than the FLEX program. I went on a scholarship to the US, because there I was able to do proper research for my master’s thesis. However, this trip changed my life. I met lots of new people from all over the world. I studied with the French, Americans, Australians and Japanese. Each of these people had a little different lifestyle, a sense of humor. Being in such an environment has taught me respect for diversity and respect for different points of view. This is important in today’s world, not to close ourselves in the own four walls, but to be open and willing to experience new cultures.
We can not forget also about the argument associated with learning a language. Once I started thinking in English I realized that probably it has already reached a certain proficiency. Frankly speaking I admit that in the beginning it was not easy. I lived in the South and they have a peculiar accent. I think that after returning to Poland I experienced reverse culture shock. Suddenly, everything in Wroclaw seemed strange and hopeless.


What things particularly surprised you during the first weeks in the US. Did you experience the culture shock there? For what should be ready a person leaving with the Flex, which is, however, a little younger than you in time-out?

This may sound a little strange, but in the US everything is bigger. Buildings, shops, drinks, everything. And all the people smile and ask you how you feel. You have to get used to it. The concept of public transport, urban transport is also completely different than ours. In the US you have to count on help from friends who have a car. Thus, nothing in the US is close.
And of course the food: not only burgers, but lots of great cuisine, which is a result of influences from many cultures.


Recently you became the head of the FLEX program in Poland. What had convinced you to participate in this initiative? Pretty fast you had also to change job and move to Warsaw.

Yes, I am director of the American Councils for International Education in Poland. I had 24 hours to decide whether to accept this job or not. Then two weeks to pack, say goodbye to the corporation and move to Warsaw. It was not easy to leave family, friends and many reminiscences associated with Wroclaw.
Education is action. You have to take risks if you want to develop and expand your horizons. American Councils is undoubtedly a challenge for me – it is a large organization with a great experience and I hope that I will be able to learn from the this experience. I wish that more young people in Poland, decide to apply. In today’s world you need to be mobile. Besides Warsaw is only 3.5 hours’ drive from Wroclaw. I will be in Lower Silesia for the weekends.


What are your plans and aspirations when it comes to the development of the program in Poland? What are your goals for the next year?

FLEX program is only the first program that is available for Polish citizens. I hope that every year there will be more. I hope that next year I will be able to send more students to the United States. And not only students, but teachers as well. That is my goal.



Q & A, which is what you need to know to get started:

? What is the FLEX program
The program was approved by the US Congress in 1992. It is a year-round, fully funded by the US State Department exchange program of high school students who go to the US for the entire school year.

In 23 years of the FLEX, program was attended by over 24 000 pupils from secondary schools from Europe, Eurasia and Central Asia.

The aim of the program is to promote mutual respect and understanding between US citizens and residents of certain countries. It is thanks to program participants Americans can learn more about the culture and national heritage of other countries, and students can get to know the American school system.

? What if the candidate is disabled
Disabled high school students also have the opportunity to participate in the program. About 20 disabled students annually travels to the USA under the FLEX program. Selected students with disabilities must meet the same criteria as the other participants.

? What is NOT provided?
The FLEX scholarship does NOT cover the following costs:

  • Any costs associated with receiving an international passport
  • Personal expenses not covered by the monthly stipend
  • Excess baggage costs
  • Telephone calls made from the U.S. to home or internet use, including access to e-mail


?What does the scholarship provide
The FLEX scholarship provides the following:

  • Round-trip domestic and international travel (from home to the United States and back)
  • Monthly allowance to help students participate in social activities and buy necessary personal items
  • Placement with a selected and screened U.S. host family for one year
  • Enrollment in a U.S. secondary school
  • Program orientation activities including pre-program preparation and re-entry preparation
  • Program activities arranged in local U.S. communities
  • Medical insurance, excluding pre-existing conditions and dental care


?Who pays for the program
This scholarship program is fully sponsored by the United States government and administered by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State with funding appropriated by the U.S. Congress. ECA fosters understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries around the world. ECA programs include educational and training programs that promote personal, professional, and institutional ties between private citizens and organizations in the United States and abroad.
The FLEX program is supported at the local level by U.S. citizens and local secondary schools that voluntarily host, educate, and support students with no financial compensation.


?Who is eligible to apply to the program
In keeping with the U.S. Government-sponsored initiatives dedicated to promoting greater international understanding, the competition for the FLEX scholarship is merit-based and open at no cost to applicants who meet the following requirements. Applicants must:

  • Meet the grade/age requirements set for their country , Polish candidates when applying must attend class 3rd class of gymnasium or 1st class of high school, be born between 1.01.1999. and 15.07.2001.
    * NOTE: Students who change the class to ineligible before leaving for the US, be excluded from participation in the program.
  • Be enrolled in a secondary school at the time of application
  • Have an academic standing of good or better
  • Have previously studied English and demonstrate English language ability at the time of registration
  • Meet U.S. visa eligibility requirements
  • Be a citizen of one of the participating countries above and be able to receive an international passport in the country where they apply to the program.


? How are students selected
Independent panels of American professionals in education and international relations in the United States will select program finalists and alternates. Selection will be based on merit as evidenced in a comprehensive application, teacher reference, and demonstrated preparedness for a year-long exchange experience. Students also will be required to provide medical evaluations and be certified as medically fit to participate in the program.
The selection process will be completed in spring 2016, and all applicants will receive notification of their status by mid-May 2016. English-language proficiency is important but it is not the only element in selection.


? Who is not eligible
Students are ineligible to apply if:

  • S/he does not meet the criteria listed in this brochure
  • S/he has stayed in the U.S. for three (3) months or more during the past five (5) years
  • His/her family (or member of family):
  • has applied or is applying to emigrate to the United States
  • has made plans to emigrate or has already emigrated to the United States.


More information:
FLEX network
Instagram: flexprogram
Facebook: / FLEXPoland
Website: discoverflex.org


American Councils for International Education organizes recruitment, selection, orientation, and travel arrangements for the FLEX program. Founded in 1974, American Councils is an international non-profit organization working to improve mutual understanding between countries, exchange ideas among individuals, and enhance collaboration through education. It designs, implements, and supports innovative programs in the United States, Europe, Eurasia, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Over the past 40 years, American Councils has become one of the premier U.S. international education and training organizations. It administers more than 30 exchange and training programs, including several U.S. government programs for secondary school students, university and graduate students, teachers, and professors. Since 1992, American Councils has professionally administered academic, professional, and cultural programs for tens of thousands of participants from Afghanistan, Africa, Eurasia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Southeast Europe. Many other private, non-profit organizations in the United States also support the FLEX program. The U.S. government has asked these organizations to place FLEX participants in supportive U.S. host families and to organize local activities during the year-long program.