Inola Shokirova is studying as a senior at Mitchell High School this school year.
She’s also more than 6,000 miles from home.
Shokirova, a native of Tajikistan, is in the United States this summer as part of the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX). The program, sponsored by the United States Department of State, provides merit-based scholarships for students to travel to the United States, live with a host family and attend a United States high school for a full academic year.
The FLEX program works with students from many countries, and as someone who had and interest in the United States from a young age, Shokirova applied and was accepted to come to Mitchell for her exchange experience.
“It was a dream to come to the United States,” said Shokirova. “I had a dream for 18 years of my life to come here, and I heard about this program when I was in 8th grade. In 8th grade I started to learn the English language. So, I applied and it was a hard competition.”
Her journey from Tajikistan to Mitchell took 22 hours on a plane and several flight changes, but once she arrived and settled in with her host family in August, she began to take in the experience of living in the United States and attending an American high school.
But she studied up on her new home before her arrival.
“Before you fly, they send you information about your host family and about your state and the school,” she said. “Then I figured out what kind of state (South Dakota) is.”
She said the plains of South Dakota are in stark contrast to the mountainous terrain of Tajikistan, which is located in central Asia and is about two-thirds the size of South Dakota. The climate is also considerably different than what she is used to.
“I actually like it here, because in Tajikistan you have more mountains, and everything here is just flat,” Shokirova said. “And the weather is really changing so fast. But I do like it here, I really do.”
Shokirova said people in Tajikistan and other countries often study American culture through its movies, music and other resources, so she had some guidance on living in America before she arrived. Most of the challenges in adjusting to life in a new country were small ones that she says she enjoys learning more about.
“I knew about the culture before coming here. I only had difficulties with food, just a little bit, but I’m trying to overcome that,” Shokirova said. “You have a lot of experiences, which is good.”
The FLEX program was created as a way to ensure long-lasting peace and understanding between the United States and other countries of Eurasia and to enable young people to learn about the United State firsthand and to teach Americans about their own home countries, according to the program website.
Shokirova will demonstrate that when she gives a presentation at the Mitchell Public Library on Saturday, Oct. 26. The presentation will feature Shokirova talking about the country and culture of Tajikistan, a former part of the Soviet Union that borders Afghanistan to the north, and showing examples of traditional Tajikistan clothing, among other things.
“It will be about Tajikistan and what country it is, because I just know that not that many people know about Tajikistan. It can be hard to even pronounce the name,” Shokirova said. “So I will tell about what we have, what kind of food, the population and relationships. Basically share my culture with them.”
Shokirova is also putting hours in doing community service work during her stay in Mitchell. While the FLEX program requires students to perform some service work, Shokirova is looking to do as much as 200 hours of such work, which would make her the student to have logged more hours in the program than anyone else.
“I want to be on the top,” she laughed.
When she returns home sometime in May or June, she will give similar presentations to students in Tajikistan, only this time on her experience in the United States and American culture. She said most students are eager to hear about life in America, and she hopes those interested will take her experience to heart and seek out their own adventure far from home.
“When I get back home I have to share what I learned with other students, because they love to learn about American culture,” Shokirova said.
She has several months left to take in her time in America, and Shokirova said she will absorb everything she can to enhance her experience and share them with her new friends in the United States and her fellow countrymen when she returns home.
In any case, she said, she will leave with memories that will last a lifetime.
“I will remember a lot of experiences and I hope I will better my English language and culture, which I can share with other students,” Shokirova said. “And unforgettable memories.”
Shokirova will give her presentation, which is open to the public, starting at 10:30 a.m. It will feature a portion to allow those in attendance to ask questions.