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Spending the year abroad

Melano Durmishidze’s New Year’s resolution was to study abroad and give a speech at the graduation ceremony.

It looks like she is on her way to doing just that.

This school year, the 17 year old from Tbilisi, in Georgia (Eurasia), is a senior at Weyauwega-Fremont High School and plans to participate in the commencement program.

“I was told if I satisfy all the requirements, I get a diploma,” she said.

Durmishidze is an exchange student through FLEX (Future Leaders Exchange Program).

This week is International Exchange Week, and she is spending the week teaching her classmates about her home country by visiting all the students.

On Friday, Nov. 22, each homeroom at W-F High School is making a dish from Georgia, and a feast will be held in her honor for International Exchange Week.

FLEX is a scholarship program funded by the U.S. government and administered by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State.

Young people from Eurasia are eligible to participate in the program.

Students must be in ninth through eleventh grades to be in the competition.

Durmishidze first participated in the exams as a ninth grader. She did so again as a tenth grader and also when she was in eleventh grade.

The competition involves a series of exams.

Last year, her first test was in October.

She said the series of tests are about checking the English skills of the prospective exchange students.

“In Georgia, a lot of people study English but not at a good level, so they take private lessons,” Durmishidze said. “I’ve been taking private lessons since about age 6 – two-hour lessons, three times a week.”

From the time she was in ninth grade, she wanted to be a part of the exchange program.

Durmishidze sees studying abroad as being a defining element in her life.

“I will also become more self confident. The diversity of friends will be good. You study to be respectful of other cultures,” she said.

Durmishidze learned last April she would spend her senior year of high school studying in the United States.

As soon as she became a finalist, a coordinator began searching for a host family for her.

“When I got the information about my host family, I had a heart attack. I had never heard about Wisconsin,” she said. “Everyone knows New York, Washington, D.C., and then you have to tell your friends, ‘I’m going to Wisconsin.’”

She arrived here on Aug. 7 and initially, stayed with a local family.

Now, she is living with the family of high school guidance counselor Joann Miller, which include’s Miller’s husband Grant and children Garret, Gavin and Madison. She will live with them until she goes home, which will be around the end of the school year.

For Durmishidze, who is an only child, she now has the “siblings” she always wanted.

“I have brothers and a sister, which I’ve wanted for a long time,” she said.

Durmishidze wants the year to be as great as possible.

Her classes include American History, Algebra II, English 12, Consumer Education, Art and Webpage Design.

She said her favorite class is Modern Social Institutions, which Tom Chase teaches.

“He’s my favorite,” Durmishidze said. “The first lesson he talked about was values in life, family. It’s interesting. I’m learning about the federal budget.”

She said her teachers are wonderful and supportive.

When she began school here, it was a culture schock.

Durmishidze got to choose which classes she wanted to take, which is something that does not happen back at home.

Having the same classes every day is also different for her.

Her biggest challenge was opening her locker. She thinks the whole high school knows the combination to her locker.

She also learned a fire alarm is different than the school bell, after classmates told her to run when there was a fire drill.

Durmishidze is involved in extra-curricular activities, including FFA and Drama Club.

With a nine-hour time difference between her hometown and Weyauwega, she appreciates her friends who leave messages for her online.

“That helps a lot,” she said. “It means a lot when I go home from school, and there is a sweet home here. I’m thankful for Mrs. Miller for that.”

Sometimes, it is difficult for Durmishidze to see pictures of her friends in Tbilisi.

However, they painted a big picture of her, which they carry everywhere.

“I have good friends,” she said.

Durmishidze also decided to remove the word “miss” from her vocabulary and said talking to her parents does not make her homesick.

She believes she will get to know herself better this school year and said, “I just know that I need to be here. When you leave Georgia and come here, it is a big advantage and opportunity to come here and study in the U.S.”

Studying abroad will also help her improve her skills.

After studying here, Durmishidze plans to go to college, studying business management.

She said everything is different and new here.

“Every day for me is a surprise,” Durmishidze said. “I hope I’ll go back with a lot of friends and that our friendships will continue. I hope they also benefit from knowing me.”

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