FLEX exchange student from Kyrgyzstan in her Alabama home with host family and dog
Janai's (center) presence is already very missed in her Alabama household.

Amazing Journey

My wife had always wanted to host a foreign exchange student, but the idea always seemed so…foreign. We had discussed the idea of hosting but had reservations. What did we know about hosting a student from a faraway land, from a culture of which we didn’t have a clue? We took the plunge. Our talented young lady arrived with a big smile. Zhanaiym (Janai) was her name, and she was funny, soft-spoken, thoughtful, cultured, and smart.

At first, we worried she might not feel at home. We remember the first time she went to grab something from the refrigerator on her own, and how it put our hearts at ease. From then on, we were front and center at choir and theatre performances, cultural events, and volunteer projects. Time flies. Goodbye day arrived. At the airport, tears were shed and in the days that followed, we realized that hosting Janai had enriched our hearts, minds, and our spirits, leaving us with hope in a mad world. We think of her often, and when guests visit, they will stay in a room now called the “Janai Room.”

—Carl Sharp (AL), host dad of Zhanaiym (FLEX, Kyrgyzstan)