Saranac Lake host family greets Goodwill Ambassador from Kazakhstan

“Do you think he’ll know that we’re his host family?” asked one of our group? “Of course. Look at us!” We looked around and laughed at ourselves, because each member of the group, waiting at the Saranac Lake airport last week, was happily waving a small American flag. A very large balloon was jauntily dancing in the breeze above our heads. Cecilia Dash was holding the balloon that read, “You’re Special,” and I had added, in Russian, the name, “Pavel.”

Celia was joined by her three cousins, Grace Lamica and her husband, Richard of Lake Clear, John Douglas Kains who lives in Plattsburg, and myself, who drove in from Vermont. In addition, Kevin Clark and his 16-year-old son, Aaron, waited with us to welcome, in a good old American way, a 16-year-old foreign exchange student who would be with us for a year.

We saw a young, blonde, good-looking youth step off the small Cape Air plane and knew instantly it was Pavel Khavlyuk, arriving from Kazakhstan.

Of course, Pavel recognized us instantly, too. In all truth, there only were four or five other folks there and none of them looked like the pictures we had sent earlier to Pavel over the internet. Many hugs and handshakes all around followed, and then our Kazahk teenager was wisked away to his new home with his host family.

Celia will be his host mother this year and a large extended family will be supportive of him as he learns about life in America and how we make decisions and interact in the community.

Pavel is one of many foreign students sponsored by the U.S. State Department, through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which administers the program. Pavel’s program is called F.L.E.X. ?- Future Leaders Exchange – and each student goes through a very rigorous selection process. F.L.E.X. students are awarded U.S. government scholarships and are here from Eurasian countries.

These countries formerly were part of the old Soviet Union and now are independent republics. The goal is for these bright students to learn about the United States and the system of government through experiencing life here firsthand. By being in a high school and living with a host family, they are here to gain a real understanding of government, citizen empowerment, volunteerism, and community action.

Each F.L.E.X. student is required to make three public presentations about his country and to do some community service. Pavel is open to invitations to speak to community groups.

Have you ever wondered about all those “-stans” over there in Central Asia? There seem to be quite a few and yet we’ve heard mostly about the “-stan” that belongs to the Afghans! Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

Most of us know very little about these new republic, but my guess is that after this, with Pavel’s help, a lot of Saranac Lakers will know about the largest Central Asian republic, Kazakhstan, and its diversity of people.

He has already told us about the ones who live in the round houses called yurts on the grassland steppes, as he presented gifts to his new family and friends: a round black Kazakh hat, worn by teenage males, for Aaron Clark; fancy, woolen, pointed-toed Kazakh slippers for Kevin Clark; three lovely white china bowls with gold trim for his host mother, Celia; a delicate hand-carved wooden necklace for me.

We are all eager to learn many other interesting things about this large Central Asian republic and the life of this young and adventurous goodwill ambassador from so far away, on the other side of the earth.