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Dilrabo Sultanmuratova spent a year in Detroit Lakes through the FLEX program. She stayed with host family, left, Hondo and Angie Lehmann. Submitted Photo

Kazakstan student says year in Detroit Lakes was indescribable

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Three years ago I could just dream about coming to America and studying here.

But now I’m at the stage of my life where I’m almost done with my exchange year. Dreams come true. No matter how big it is.

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I had a dream to win scholarship and get the opportunity to live and study in USA for free.  I’m from a small town in Kazakhstan. No one got that scholarship from my town before and that’s why no one believed I can do it. But I made it!

Now I can proudly say that I’m the first high school student from my town that got to win scholarship of FLEX program.

I got a cool blue FLEX T-shirt and came to Minnesota. I came with no expectations simply because I didn’t know what to expect and I knew my experience will be a little bit different, unique.

I was so excited to see my host family and get to know them. I’m sure they did too. I call my host parents “mom” and “dad,” and you know, it does make us feel as a family. My host parents are Angie and Hondo Lehmann. They are so nice and they welcomed me into their home.

They knew that everything was new to me so they tried to help me get used to a new environment, new culture. They were concerned about my day, how I am doing at school and even helped with my school assignments. They helped me to adjust to American lifestyle; they were patient with me.

I’m very lucky to have such an awesome host family. They consider me like their real daughter; we have a very good relationship with each other. We have so many good memories together.

I loved exploring nature with them. Our first family trip was going to Duluth. I also went biking to Itasca and went hunting with my host dad. They brought me to so many different restaurants, exploring new cuisine each time. We had Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas and Easter together.

I got to go to a Maroon 5 concert, my first big concert ever. That was amazing. And in April we went on a trip to the Southwest. We did a lot together. They gave me way too much than I expected.

It’s so nice of them, taking someone you don’t even know into your home and giving them everything they need and even more is just amazing. They are the best family any exchange student could ever ask for. I’m absolutely grateful for them for everything they have done for me.

Living away from home, on the other side of the world, has impacted me in ways that will stick with me for life.

Since being in Minnesota, I have come out of my shell. I’m much less shy. I’ve become more independent and confident in myself and the choices I make. My experience made me a more flexible person but it also developed strength in me and showed me the circumstance when I just have to be brave.

Being here and experiencing a different culture, a different lifestyle and a different language has changed my perception of life. I am so aware of the world now, and when I get back, I can’t wait to pass on all of my new knowledge.

Being put outside of your comfort zone is a scary thing, but I’ve realized now that really it is just an opportunity to try new things. I got through many things and I don’t think I would handle it without people who’ve been helping me all the way through.

I feel such a great feeling of appreciation to everybody who was helping through the whole year. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to DL High School and all the nice teachers for your kind help and assistance during my time at this school. I’m leaving here with fond memories.

This year has been an excellent year academically, socially and on the sports field for me. It’s been a pleasure to be at DLHS. I made so many friends and had a lot of fun.

America is a wonderful country. Its diversity is just incredible, and all people are tolerant. Almost everybody is very polite. I don’t know how many times they say “excuse me,” “I’m sorry,” “thank you” and etc. every day? This is so common for Americans, but for foreigners like me, it’s awkward.

I’m not saying we don’t do that in my country. We do, but Americans do that way too much, which is unbelievably nice.

FLEX gave me an opportunity to see and to experience so many things I have not done in my entire life. My world has been expanded significantly and with it I have expanded as a person. I am grateful for people, who have gone above and beyond their required jobs to make sure that I am happy, healthy, comfortable and learning.

I am grateful for my amazing host family, without whom my exchange experience would not have been complete or nearly as rewarding.

During my experience, I have had my share of laughs and tears, achievements and disappointments. But in looking back on all these months, I can say today that if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

And now the time is going and my trip is coming to an end. My time here has passed ridiculously quickly. But I’m so glad I came. I’ve learned so much and had so many amazing experiences that I’ll be ever grateful. I am excited to see my family, but I’m feeling sad I have to leave everything again.

I think there are many pieces in this puzzle called ”experience,” but I always thought the people are the most important piece and the one I don’t want to leave behind. This is the way my experience is. Thanks everyone who made it possible!

My exchange year was fantastic. There are no words that could ever describe the time I had here. I will truly miss everyone, especially my host family. I shouldn’t cry it is ending, I should be happy it happened.

Dilrabo Sultanmuratova, 17, is an exchange student from Kazakhstan through the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program.

By Dilrabo Sultanmuratova (Special to the Tribune)

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