Creating cultural connections

Alfiza Urmanova, left, with her host father Mark Lindquist of Lake Elmo. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Morin)
Alfiza Urmanova, left, with her host father Mark Lindquist of Lake Elmo. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Morin)

The second time’s a charm for Alfiza Urmanova, a foreign exchange student from Kazan, Russia, who is attending St. Croix Preparatory Academy this year.

Urmanova is attending SCPA through a program called the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program and CCI Greenheart. This is the second year Urmanova has gone through a rigorous testing experience to participate in the program. It paid off this time and allowed her to come to the U.S. for school this year.

The FLEX program itself is funded through the state department which provides the students involved in the program with academic scholarships to allow them to study in the United States. The students are chosen through a series of tests, essays and listening activities while only about one in 50 students are selected to participate in the
program, and they must do at least 40 hours of community service while they are in the U.S.

Since arriving this summer, Urmanova has gotten involved in a wide variety of events, taken the role of assistant director for the middle school play, assumed a position on the student council, seen a football game and started an international club with four other foreign exchange students to teach their classmates about their respective countries: Germany, France, Brazil and Australia.

“The U.S. is so different from Russia, so I decided to open my own club to share my country with other kids in my school. We’ll have food, dancing and all that kind of stuff, and we’ll do some volunteering as well,” Urmanova said.

She says everyone she talks to is surprised at how big Russia is, spanning 13 time zones. She added that she’ll give some presentations in her classrooms throughout the year.

“I can’t wait to teach people about Russia in general to teach people about the culture and traditions and I will have presentations in my classes like history, geography, and the beautiful nature of Russia.”

“Alfiza is adjusting really well, and students – all students involved in an exchange program actually – have a huge year ahead of them,” Nancy Morin, who helped place Urmanova with her host family said. “FLEX kids in particular have a huge investment in the year, and she’s really gung-ho about the whole experience.”

Urmanova agrees she’s adjusted well to the change between Russia and the U.S. and says the first month was pretty tough. Coming to a new place, with few friends, and dealing with homesickness were difficult at first. But she says she has the best host family, the Lindquists, in Lake Elmo. The’ve really helped her out, she says.

Since she arrived she’s overcome her shyness.

“For the first week I was really quiet, but now it’s not so. The only way to make friends is to go out and talk to people,” Urmanova said. “I’m doing my very best to talk to people and I’ve made a great group of seven best friends and we do lots of things together.”

Urmanova has done a lot of things with these friends, including visiting Aamodt’s Apple Farm, Nelson’s Ice Cream and the Mall of America to go shopping for homecoming dresses together, though she said she couldn’t pick just one favorite thing that she’s done so far.

“I have a lot of favorite things here, but I love that Americans are so friendly and open and kind,” Urmanova said.”It’s been really fun so far, and I’ve spent a lot of time with (my host family), and I’m pretty lucky to have them.”

She’s looking forward to celebrating the holiday season with her host family since holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving aren’t celebrated in Russia.

Though she’s only been here a month-and-a-half, Urmanova says it seems like she’s been here longer.

“Every day something new happens and it seems like I’ve been here for a year, but it’s been lots of fun,” Urmanova said.

Urmanova will be at SCPA through the rest of the school year. She’ll go back to Russia in June.

Contact Avery Cropp at [email protected]