Tuesday, November 22, 2011

FLEXing Their Muscles

I haven’t posted in a while. I guess I’ve been lacking inspiration. The dreary weather, the dull calm before the storm of a Caucasus Mountains winter, has eaten away at any energy and excitement that was leftover from the invigorating summer months.
Fret not! Inspiration found!

I am so proud to write that 3, that’s right 3 of our students have passed the second round of the FLEX (Future Leaders Exchange) application process, a program that sends Azerbaijani students to America for a year to study in an American high school. The program reaches students across Eurasia. Approximately 40 students from Azerbaijan will be selected. It is an incredibly difficult application process. The first exam is relatively quick, testing the students’ basic knowledge of English. The second exam is much harder: a 3 hour TOEFL exam. Not many student pass this round. 3 students, Muslim, Samira, and Gulchin, from Balaken passed and are now preparing for the third and final round, on November 28. In this round, their character will truly be tested! They must go trough a private interview, a group interview, write 2 essays, and have a meeting with FLEX staff and their parents. We have been preparing with them all week at my house, discussing basic interview techniques (imagine the interviewers without clothes on to relax) and preparing for the possible questions that might be asked. ‘Why do you want to study in America’ is a much harder question to answer than you would think, especially when you have a free year of studying in America on the line!!! However, quite honestly, there is not much more to say or do to prepare them. They are fantastic students and wonderful kids. When it comes to interviews and interacting with people, I have absolute faith that they will thrive.

I am just so proud of them and so happy that they, and their peers for that matter, are able to see the results of their hard work. It’s no coincidence that these 3 passed. They are always at clubs, always engaged, always trying, always aiming higher and searching for more. I hope this resolve they have always showed begins to wear off on many of their peers, seeing what a little effort and dedication can do.

Please keep Muslim, Samira, and Gulchin in your thoughts and prayers. Being from a small place like Balaken (we only know of one other person from Balaken who ever did FLEX), they are up against it (half of the students will be selected from the capital and its surrounding cities, leaving only 20 spots for the rest of the country), but I can’t think of 3 better students to represent Azerbaijan.
Good luck guys! Uğurlar (good luck)!

In other news, I’ll be heading to Baku on Thursday to celebrate Thanksgiving with other volunteers. The American Embassy is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for us on Saturday night.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone back home! I wish I were spending it with you as well.

Clubs are slowly starting to pick up as people settle into their school and tutor schedules. I had a pretty big breakthrough the other week. I went to meet with the minister of Youth and Sport. As I walked into his office, without calling ahead, he quickly ushered me in, welcoming me and saying that they had been expecting me. Not really sure how that works without so much as a phone call, but whatever, the point is that I was there! So, he sat me down and began picking my brain for ideas. After a while, he explained that he was old and no longer saw the world like a child. He proclaimed that this was a problem given the fact that he is the minister of YOUTH and Sport. Here’s where I come in. He said he recognized my ability to work with kids, that I see the world more from their perspective...I am still not sure whether this was a compliment or a crack at my height. Either way, I come to find out that he is in the process of writing his official 2012 work plan that is to be submited to Baku for review. He wanted my input because he wants us to work together more ths year. This is a huge step for me and I cannot wait for my final year of service to get underway...it’s sure to be a good one!
Other than that, I have been doing a lot of preparation work for the bigger spring and summer projects like Softball and ABLE camp. I am already excited for summer to come. It’s only November...uh oh, that’s not good!

I’d lastly like to mention all of the AZ7s that are currently finishing their service and heading back to Amerikastan. We had a going away party in Balaken for Bailey. We’ve been getting about 5-10 kids at clubs the past few weeks. On this day, a cold rainy Thursday during fall break when schools are not even open, approximately 25 kids showed up for the goodbye party. Such devotion speaks volumes to the impact that Bailey has had on the youth of Balaken.
On that note, I’d like to thank all of the 7s for their service. They’ve completed a wonderful, selfless adventure and I am proud to call them my friends. I am sure they are excited to leave, but they’ll all take a piece of Azerbaijan back with them in their hearts.
I’ll miss you all. Good luck in all your future endeavors, RPCVs!