FLEX international student from Kazakhstan holds a hawk during a field trip in Utah
Aidana holding one of her feathered friends

Like a Hawk

Salem! My name is Aidana, and I am an exchange student from Kazakhstan. I am one of the luckiest students, living in a great state of great mountains—Utah. My school is Salt Lake Center for Science Education, which is very unique from other high schools. It is a place with funny teachers, a friendly community, and a good educational system.

For many years our school has cooperated with an international organization called HawkWatch. Every year, a group of students has a chance to experience their work. This year, I'm fortunate enough to be among those lucky students.

After several hours of the hardest hiking of my life, we reached the top of mountain where the crew had camped. “The best view comes after hardest climb,” it is said, and it was true. I have never seen such breathtaking views before. I felt proud, happy, and a little bit tired, but the best part was still to come.

After our arrival, we started to look for different kind of raptors with the help of binoculars. At first it seems easy, but it is hard to find these birds when they are far away from you. My favorite part of this experience was working in a banding station, where people marked our feathered friends with special leg bracelets used to follow migration. In a blind, we waited in silence to capture one of the sky predators. After marking the bird with a bracelet, my friends and I got to release the raptor. We really enjoyed the crew, who were scientists and have worked with HawkWatch for years. As a curious person, I had a million questions about these incredible creatures. For example, did you know that you can tell the age of some raptors from their eye color or the color of feathers on their back?

The golden eagle is one of the symbols of my country and also pictured on the flag of Kazakhstan. From ancient times, Kazakh culture was known for hunting with eagles. That’s why I thought about my home while on this trip. I shared my culture with the crew and as a gift gave them the flag of Kazakhstan, which they really liked.

It was an amazing time with my classmates and teacher. Sometimes, it is very important to leave the city, relax, and think about the beautiful wild nature that surrounds us. I will always have memories of shining stars, a fascinating sunrise, and lovely birds.

—Aidana (FLEX, Kazakhstan), hosted by the Hack family (UT)