Georgian students benefit after Russia’s withdrawal from US exchange program

Overall 240 vacancies in the FLEX program intended for Russia will be offered to Georgia and other post-soviet countries., 09 Oct 2014 - 14:28, Tbilisi,Georgia

Russia's refusal to participate in a student exchange program with the United States (US), which has been operating in the post-soviet region for more than 20 years, has unexpectedly brought new opportunities to pupils in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Armenia.

According to American newspaper The New York Times, 240 vacancies in the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program intended for Russian high school pupils will mostly be offered to students from Ukraine.

American officials yesterday said half of the 240 seats, which in the next academic year should have gone to Russian pupils, will instead be assigned to Ukrainians. The remaining seats would be distributed between Georgia, Moldova and Armenia, the article stated.

The FLEX program offered high school students (15-17 years) the opportunity to learn about the people and culture of the US through international exchange, while attending a US high school and living with a local host family.

While operating for the past 22 years, the FLEX academic year program has provided scholarships to more than 23,000 secondary school students. In 2014-15, 800 students are due to study in the US on the FLEX program, out of which 45 are Georgians.

The information of Russia’s withdrawal from the program was shared by US Ambassador to Russia John Tefft at the end of September and confirmed by Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland.

Russian authorities said the program was shut down due to a scandalous incident involving a Russian teenager who wanted to stay in the US after confirming he was homosexual. The American Court recognised the Russian as an adult so decided he could return home whenever he wished.

Russian Children's Ombudsman Pavel Astakhov confirmed Russia withdrew from the program because of this incident.

In a recent interview, he also reported that at least 15 Russian children who went to the US on various exchange programs did not return to their homeland.