November 2018, Vol. XXIV, No. 3

Article Index


Students of the Month

Each month, PAX's Sponsored Programs Department identifies one extraordinary Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) and Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program student respectively. These standout students become PAX's official nominations for the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' "Student of the Month" award.

YES Nominee

Dea Indonesia 550

PAX is pleased to nominate Putu (Dea) Kartini (YES, Indonesia), who is spending her exchange year in St. George, Utah to be the November YES Student of the Month.

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FLEX Nominee

Oleksandr SOM November 550

It is with great pleasure that PAX nominates Oleksandr “Sasha” Serkov (FLEX, Ukraine) in Paris, Illinois to be the November FLEX Student of the Month.

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2) Contest Winners

PAX's Got Talent!

The first contest of the year is in the books! The theme for the contest was simple. We asked PAX students to show us their talents—whatever they may be. Their submissions were judged based on overall talent, presentation, and the quality of the submitted files themselves (videos, photos, etc.).

Overall Winner

When all the votes were counted, Fudhol, a YES Indonesian hosted by the Oestreich family in Wisconsin, was our overall winner with his hilariously professional and well-executed “YMCA” dance video. “The reason I picked this song is because it is an iconic comedic song,” Fudhol explains. “I first heard about it after one of the cross country meets I had in Janesville. My friend Tristan was dancing as the song blasted over the meet’s sound system.”

In the video, “I danced in the proper place as well, specifically in the Neenah-Menasha, Wisconsin YMCA” the Indonesian notes. “I arranged the concept and choreography with my host mom, and then asked for permission to record at the YMCA…My host mom did a great job recording me! I danced like they did in the 80's, using some old school moves and variety of new ones too to match the youngin’s caliber.”

Most-Talented Cluster

There was also an award for the most talented group of PAX exchange students who have the same coordinator. With four very talented cultural dancers, the prize of $300 (to be applied toward a group enhancement activity) will be presented to community coordinator Ann Schneider. Located in the Oregon-Washington borderland near Portland, her group submitted a delightful medley of cultural dances, captured in a single take.

Jamal “Jimmy” (YES, Lebanon hosted by the Sanders family) unpackages the Tunisian, Indonesian, Kenyan, and Lebanese dances for us:

The Fazzani dance is an important part of Tunisian culture and can often be seen at weddings, circumcision parties, concerts, and festivals. It's usually danced to a mizwad which is a Tunisian instrument and music type. The Pendet dance is originally from Bali, an island in Indonesia. This dance is usually performed at the opening of a religious, formal, or almost any kind of ceremony. The Mugithi, a Kenyan dance, is a famous dance performed by the Agikuyu tribe, which is the largest tribe of the 46 in Kenya. It is usually performed during weddings and traditional events. The Lebanese Dabkeh is a traditional line dance often linked to wedding ceremonies or parties. It vibrates with joy and cheerfulness and differs from region to region in Lebanon.

Summing up the overall process of practicing these dances and creating the video, Jimmy adds, “We are four motivated young leaders that loved interacting with each other while creating this video. It was so much fun putting this little dance together, and we really hope you enjoy it and learn more about our cultures!” Aside from Jimmy, the other participating YES students include Hiba (Tunisia, Burt family), Tasya (Indonesia, McGee family), and Joan (Kenya, Minnis family).

In addition to finding the winning videos below, as you scroll through this issue you can find videos of a number of other talented PAXers who created pieces specifically for the “PAX’s Got Talent!” contest.



3) Exchange Living

  • Swamy - India

    "This must be a very stressful time of year for you." Swamy (YES, India) recently visited a farm on a fun little weekend with his family and international sister Riko (Japan).

  • Qamar - Palestine 2

    Qamar from Palestine (front left) poses with her little sister Cera's soccer team. A real family affair, dad Shiloh leads these fearless footballers while big sister Emma is on mascot duty.

  • Sasha - Ukraine

    Sasha (lying) and the other main cast members of Peter and the Starcatcher (including host brother Sean, far left) pause for a pose at Paris High School in Illinois.

  • Roxanne - Coke

    Regional Development Manager Roxanne Lau's bunch spent one epic day in downtown Atlanta: the Georgia Aquarium, Centennial Olympic Park, the CNN Center, and of course World of Coke (including the American Idol couch).

  • Hacer - Turkey

    Now that the baseball season is over, the Olsons (WA) are learning how to tell fortunes in their coffee courtesy of Hacer (YES, Turkey).

  • Ines - Spain

    Ines from Spain and host sister Sadie seem to be getting along well enough in the Green Mountain State.

  • Ine - Belgium

    "I collect little things. Maybe a ticket to the movies, a gum wrapper, a cactus in the corner of a Mexican restaurant...I draw it and keep it in my sketch book." —Ine (Belgium), hosted by the Johnson family (AR)

  • Qamar - Palestine

    Both placed in Cottonwood, Arizona, Qamar (YES, Palestine) and Arta (FLEX, Montenegro) recently volunteered at "Kids Against Hunger.”  


4) Piano Prodigies


By way of the "PAX's Got Talent!" contest, we learned that Olena (FLEX, Ukraine, hosted by the Schneider family in North Dakota) and Pablo (Spain, hosted by the Gros family in Texas) are both talented pianists who continue to play as much as they can during their exchange years.

Olena has been playing since she was a child, inspired by her mother’s musical abilities. Some of her earliest memories are of her mother singing and playing the piano. She loves playing both classical and modern music and performed a mash-up of popular songs for her contest entry. Olena says, “Music always improves my mood and gives me positive thoughts. It helps me to relax and to be happy. I think that life without music would be boring and dull. Music is an indispensable part of my life. That's why I love it so much!”

Pablo is self-taught and has been playing for two years. He was inspired by a friend who introduced him to the music room in his high school. While she played the flute, he learned to play the piano and was soon practicing every day. Now he plays as often as possible at the home of his Texas host family (who fortunately have a piano!) and shared two of his favorite songs for his contest entry. Pablo says, “These songs are my favorite ones, because they are easy for me to play and they sound really good. I have spent a lot of time on them, especially “River Flows in You” because it was the first song I learned, and I was learning the piano notes at the same time.”


5) Get Involved!


6) PAX's Got Vocalists!


I have always had a strong passion for singing, but I never had the opportunity to take singing lessons or brush up my talent. However, as soon as I came to the U.S., my host family heard me sing and urged me to join the choir. My choir teacher, in turn, encouraged me to audition for regional honors choir, and I did. Two weeks later, I was chosen to audition at the state level. As an exchange student, I feel honored beyond words to reach this level of competition, and I am looking forward to making the most out of this amazing experience.

For this contest, I am singing “Hallelujah” in English and in my mother tongue: Arabic. The main purpose behind this mash-up is to pay tribute to multiculturalism and shed light on music as a tool to unite people, bring them closer, and transcend misunderstandings. I have always wanted to be an ambassador of peace and harmony. This chance allows me to fulfill a dream that I have nurtured for so long through the magic of music, the charm of my voice, and the power of words.

—Khawla (YES, Morocco) hosted by the VanHouten family (MI)


  • Josu - Spain

    Performing under the name "Gango MC," the only thing more impressive than Josu from Spain's musical stylings are how incredibly well done his YouTube music videos are!

  • Carmen - Romania

    Singing has allowed Carmen (FLEX, Romania) to travel to Sweden, Italy, and Ukraine for contests. "When I am on stage in front of hundreds, I live the most fulfilling moments."


7) Painting a Life in a Year


Dea and Yuliia have at least two things in common—each is embracing her exchange year and each is a talented visual artist. The girls sent time lapse videos set to music sharing their creative process as their contest entries. We are so glad they shared this wonderful piece of themselves with all of us!

Dea (YES, Indonesia, hosted by the Brook family in Utah) has been drawing since the age of three. As she grew and expanded her drawing tools, she also expanded her style choices. She likes realism, cartoons, and even abstract art. She takes time every day to paint or draw, to improve her skills and capture her emotions during the many experiences of her exchange year.

Dea says, “I realized when I paint I can find my own happiness. For me, painting is another way of communicating something. I can express my feelings through visual art. Sometimes my pencil scratches can be firm or soft and sometimes my painting can be colorful or just black and white, depending on my mood at the time. Through painting, I can see many beautiful things that do not necessarily exist in the real world.”

Yuliia (FLEX, Ukraine, hosted by the Sanfilippo family in North Carolina) started painting when she was just six. With encouragement from her family, she drew pictures of people and nature scenes, and by middle school was competing in competitions. Her current ambition is to improve her portrait painting skills.

She says, “While painting, I feel relaxed and happy. I take inspiration from people, photos, and especially cozy atmospheres, which I always try to create around me. Fall is my favorite season of the year with all the sweaters, colorful trees, and falling leaves. These things inspire me to paint most of all! Painting is a small but an integral part of me and I am really happy to share it with PAX.” Yuliia’s inspiration for the picture in her video was the night sky and forests of North Carolina.