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Exchange students talk about experience

Exchange students Dasha and Nikolozi at Tulip Time festival in Holland.

Traveling to a different country can be scary, but it’s always a learning experience. For three exchange students placed in Cedar Springs this year by resident Deborah Farver, a World Heritage representative, the year has been crazy and wonderful at the same time. Darya (Dasha) Bulatnikova, of Russia, was hosted by the Wortz family and attended Creative Technologies Academy. Nikolozi Khachidze, of Georgia, and Emma Balsby, of Denmark, were both hosted by the Farver family, and attended Cedar Springs High School. They will be leaving early next week, and wanted to share their experience with all of you.


Hello, my name is Darya Bulatnikova but everybody probably knows me as Dasha. I’m an exchange student from Russia and have been living in Cedar Springs for almost 10 months. I came here as a winner of a FLEX scholarship program (Future Leaders Exchange). This program supports students from countries of former USSR to share their culture and experience American lifestyle. To be honest, (the) States surprised me a lot! Like any other foreigner, I had some expectations, but what I actually saw went far above and beyond of anything I could think of. It felt so comfortable and amazing when I came to Michigan and realized it’s similar to a place where I live in Russia—quite the same weather and nature. I traveled around the state and noticed how beautiful landscapes of that area were and completely fell in love with hills! In my opinion, the most difficult was to adjust to a new language and lifestyle. Back in Russia, I live in a city about the same size with Grand-Rapids, but the difference is that we use public transportation most of the time and easily can go to malls, movie theaters, walk through the downtown or hang out with friends in ice-skating parks. Here everything depends on the car, and I think it works the best for people who live in suburbs and countryside, however, for me it took a time to get used to. Another awesome fact about the USA is how you all are extremely positive and willing to help out! I liked when you come to the store and people smiled and waved at you even if you see them for the first time, that is what I will miss in Russia. I also loved the variety of unique classes in the school such as creative writing, economics, communication arts, yoga—it was very interesting to see how hard learning can combine with fun classes. I had a chance to visit amazing places that told me something about America, its values, culture and history. I can talk about my exchange year forever; many memorable things have happened that I’m going to remember for my entire life! I’m greatly thankful to the Wortz family whose house became my second home and whom I love very much! I appreciate the work of Deborah Farver who has helped me a lot through the past year and also I would like to thank Dan George and CTA school, where I had a pleasure to follow the CTA way!
I will terribly miss America, because it’s the place where all dreams can come true!


Hello, My name is Nikolozi Khachidze. I am an exchange student who has been staying in Cedar Springs, for nine months. Originally I’m from Gardabani, small town in Georgia. I’m a FLEX student (future Leaders Exchange), which means that I went through a lot of super hard and exhausting exams to come here. When I got the call and the lady on the other side of the wire told me that I was going to be an exchange student I felt like one of the happiest people in the world. But at the same time I was kind of scared. I didn’t know where I was going and hadn’t met my new and future host family. Finally I arrived and thank God everything went all right. My first days weren’t so easy. At the beginning, everybody needed to adjust to the situation and so did I. But after a couple of weeks, I realized that I liked being here. I faced some difficulties but those are so small compared to great times I have experienced in the United States. Before I got here I thought I knew many things about the United States, but now I realize that I knew nothing. Life and culture is not just the words that you learn from book. These are thing you need to experience by yourself.

My favorite experience was being on a baseball team. I had never played baseball before but I always wanted to. I made a lot of friends and enjoyed my time there. I think that the most important thing about being an exchange student is to have another family. Now my family is twice as big as it was before I got here. I’m proud that I have a big family which consists of Georgian and American people. Coming to the United States was one of the best decisions I have ever made.


My name is Emma Marie Balsby and I am a World Heritage exchange student from Denmark. I have lived with my amazing host family in a small city called Cedar Springs in Michigan for 10 months and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I went to Cedar Springs High School, where I met new challenges, made a lot of new American friends, and I got to meet other exchange students. I am an only child and have always wanted siblings. Now I have three host brothers and one host sister and they have impacted my life. I am going to miss my American life a lot. I got the opportunity to go to four school dances, and they were all amazing. I have always dreamed of going to Prom and I am so happy that I got to go to two Proms.
Thank you Brandon Caudill for asking me to prom!

I also want to thank my incredible host family (The Farvers) who showed me the American lifestyle and helped me through my year. Also, I want to thank my three favorite teachers (Mrs. Holmes, Mr. Hazel and Mr. McDonald). They have helped and taught me new things that I would never have learned in Denmark.
Also, thank you to all my wonderful friends I met this year—there are far too many to mention! This year has been fantastic—filled with extraordinary experiences. I will never forget my time here. I will definitely come back to visit. My American dream came true.

To host an exchange student, call Deborah Farver at 616-633-5670.

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