FLEX exchange student living the "American dream" while representing her own

Inara's welcome to Helena
Posted at 5:57 PM, Mar 14, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-15 16:08:16-04

HELENA — A Helena High School student left her friends and family behind, traveling over 6,000 miles to see what life is like in the United States.

"Speaking with everyone that has been my exchange student friends, we've all had this dream of America and wanted always to experience how it is to be in American high school," said Inara Guliyeva, an 18-year-old from Azerbaijan.

She made her way to the United States in August, when she met her host family, the Kaminski's.

Guliyeva said, "When the boys came up and hugged me, I was like,' Okay, I'm in the right place.'"

Halloween with host family

The Future Leaders Exchange Program, or Flex, started in the early 1990s after the Cold War ended and includes students from 22 former Soviet Eurasia nations.

"We can get along, but our governments don't, but we're not our governments," said Jennifer Howard, the Local Coordinator for World Link INC, which places FLEX students.

Each year, over 35,000 students from 22 countries submit applications and are tested in the hopes of being a FLEX student, but only 900 students make it.

The Kaminski's started with 50 applications to review, but Inara's had something that made it stick out.

Irana and Scott

Scott Kaminski said, "She was really looking forward to the opportunity. You could just tell she had a great head on her shoulders and knew what she was doing."

Exchange students submit transcripts and teacher recommendations, pass an English proficiency test, and undergo an interview process.

While in the United States, students must maintain a 3.0 grade point average, complete a minimum of 30 hours of volunteer work, and take English and U.S. history or government classes.

They also give presentations about their culture.

Guliyeva said, "We are like little ambassadors of our own countries here. It's a good feeling having a piece of your country somewhere else."

Funding for the FLEX program comes from a grant with the U.S. State Department.

All exchange students are on a merit-based scholarship, which pays for airfare, healthcare, and incidentals - like school supplies and fees.

Students also get a monthly stipend of $200.

"These are kids that are focused and driven. They are not someone that you are going to have to worry about staying up late or breaking the rules."

Inara will be heading back home at the end of May.

"It's gonna be hard, and it's gonna suck," said Scott Kaminski.

Family in Florida

His wife, Charmayne Kaminski, said, "We've gotten used to having her. She's wonderful."

Besides her friends and host family, Inara will miss other things.

She said, "I will miss Dairy Queen because we don't have Dairy Queen. Or Dr. Pepper, it's really good."

Applications for next year's FLEX program are currently open, and they hope to have all submissions by the end of this school year.

To be a host family, everyone over 18 must have a background check. The family must also provide three meals a day, transportation, and a bed for each student.