By Maksim Ionin, FLEX student and Greenheart Club member living in the state of Hawaii for the 2012-13 year

I have learned that dreams do come true. I have applied to the FLEX program (Future Leaders Exchange) for three years since I was in 8th grade. I did not give up, although it was pretty disappointing to reach the final during the first application, but to not become a program participant. For my second application, I did not even receive a call back.

This three year story resulted in a final phone call from the Moscow office and it was one of the happiest moments of my life. I was finally accepted as a participant in the FLEX program and my dreams of studying in the US were coming true.

Maksim volunteering at the local library.

After the two longest 36 and 30 hour days of my life and 23.5 hours spent in flights, I finally reached Hawaii and stepped on to the Big Island’s land. This place isn’t just the stereotype of “sun and beach and ocean”—Hawaii is so much better than that! People here are so friendly and they are just awesome! You feel like you are part of a big family everywhere you go and I couldn’t even imagine a host family as great as mine; I’m very lucky. My host high school is also like a big family – it’s pretty small and I have made friends very easily.

I’m staying pretty busy this school year, especially this month with so many projects and things to do. I mostly stay busy with volunteering and I’m quite proud of already accomplishing the required hours for my program. I spend a lot of time helping at the library where the atmosphere is really nice and there is always an activity going on.  I also promoted CCI at the Peace Parade in my town and it was rewarding to let people know about exchange programs and what I am doing here as a student.

The 2012 IRONMAN Competition

The most inspiring volunteer experience so far was helping with the IRONMAN competition. We organized a station for athletes during the bike riding stage of the race. Athletes from all over the world came to Big Island to compete in this test of endurance and strength. The biking stage alone was 112 miles and that’s where we were stationed to hand out water and other refreshments for a long time. The volunteers were pretty tired, but when you hear the athletes saying: “Thank you guys, you’re awesome” or “I love you guys”, you get the energy and motivation to keep on running with water bottles and shout back to the athletes “Keep going! Nice job!” I was also very inspired by the athletes with disabilities who were competing as well. When they were passing, everyone cheered loudly to support them.

The United States has already changed me a lot. Even before my arrival I started to understand how it is important to continue reaching for your goals under any circumstance. Here I started a healthier lifestyle. The sports facilities are just fascinating at my school. I was running cross country in the fall, rowing begins soon and I also have conditioning as a constant activity. I started to look at life in a very different, more mature way. It’s priceless. This is only the beginning of this awesome experience.

Aloha and Mahalo for your attention!