Exchange student shares experiences in Milford

The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

MILFORD — For 16-year-old Alina Bashkirova, Thursday night’s graduation at Milford High School signified the end of a unique journey.

Alina spent the year living in Milford as an exchange student from the Ukraine. In recognition of completing a year of high school, she was awarded a certificate from the Milford School District which she received at this year’s graduation after walking alongside graduating members of the Class of 2018.

“I just wanted to study in the U.S. I wanted to know what American people are like because the only thing I knew was from the movies. I wanted to know what it was truly like,” she said.

Host mom through the PAX program, Donna Evans, said she, her family and Alina enjoyed the exchange student experience.

“It’s a great experience I think for both an exchange student and the family. You get to know the person from another country that you probably haven’t met anyone from,” Alina said of the experience. “I think you get to know the culture, and you get to know the other people. And you have friends. It’s cool to have a friend from another country, right? It’s a chance for Americans to get to know the foreign. Most of these people are in this small town, and they don’t really meet people from other countries. Some people don’t care, but some people are interested in it. They like to ask questions.”

Alina’s path to Milford began in 2016 when she applied for the program. She had to take an English test and write essays before being invited to participate in games, an interview, the official application and finally, filling out medical and other necessary paperwork. Out of more than 11,000 students, she was one of about 250 who were chosen to spend a year in the United States through PAX’s FLEX program, or Future Leaders Exchange.

She not only completed her sophomore year of coursework at Milford High School, but she also did her Ukrainian homework from abroad for her sophomore year so she wouldn’t be behind in her schoolwork when she returned.

Amidst the extra classwork, Alina earned a certificate of appreciation from the U.S. Department of States for offering 100 hours of service to the community — 113 to be exact, according to the ambitious student.

Ms. Evans proudly explained some of Alina’s accomplishments, saying, “She was in fall play and spring musical. She played tennis for high school. She sang in the chorus and had a solo at the spring show last week. She has been on the honor roll entire time with all A pluses.”

Alina also volunteered time with local Girl Scouts, Downtown Milford, Inc. during last year’s “Light up the River” event, Santa’s Workshop at the high school and other ventures.

Reflecting on her time in Mil ford, she expressed gratitude to the community who welcomed her.

“I knew what I’d have to expect because I googled it a lot and saw pictures. But, I didn’t get to choose the state. So, the first time I got Delaware, it was like: What is that? I did not know where it is because I had heard of the big states. I had never heard of any FLEX students going to Delaware,” she said.

“I didn’t really know where I was going. I found information about Delaware and the blue hens. That’s all I found, was about the blue hens. But, I knew what to expect. I knew not all American cities were like New York City. I knew about houses and fields. FLEX told us we’d live in smaller areas or rural areas. Some people live in smaller towns. Some people live on farms; so, I got lucky.”

Milford, she recalled, has a population of about 10,000 people compared to her home city of Mariupol, Ukraine with just under 450,000 residents. During her stay in the United States, her family moved to Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, where she will return in just under two weeks.

“It’s bigger for sure. The city was very polluted. I had an allergy, so when I came here, it cleared up within days. It was so nice. I like the climate. It’s very similar here,” she explained.

Ms. Evans said the decision to host Alina for the year was easier knowing she had health insurance and her own spending money for toiletries, a cell phone and other needs or wants.

“The host family provides three meals a day, a bed and a quiet place to study,” Ms. Evans said. “And she’s a very special girl. She really fit in well with our family. We have loved having her this year.”

For more information, Ms. Evans, a PAX coordinator herself, can be reached at 302-233-2017 or laurenlilysmom@aol.com.

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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