“I got priceless experience and met incredible people”: BFTF alumna shares her U.S. experience

Dziyana Halubitskaya, a 2017 Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Summer Institute program alumna, has returned from the United States, where, together with 54 equally bright and talented young people from 46 countries, she spent a busy month studying American society and culture, while presenting Belarus to Americans and other participants. 

Dziyana talks about her exchange experience:

Four amazing weeks with smart, talented and lively young people with different backgrounds and from various communities from the U.S. and 44 European countries is what Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowship Program represents. From strangers we became acquaintances, from acquaintances we became friends, from friends we became one close knit family. The time spent in thousands of kilometers away from my family, across the Atlantic ocean, turned out life changing and very educational for me, helped me to know myself  better, broaden my outlook, improve my skills and abilities, expand my horizons, try so many new activities, and get the answers to a lot of  questions.

International Bazaar, an event where all the participants had an opportunity to present their country to the guests (local refugees, the staff of Wake Forest University, host families) and each other, has become one of my favorite parts of the program. I was very happy to tell foreigners more about our blue-eyed country, answer their questions, and offer them to try zefir, marmalade, taffy, Belarusian sweets and potato chips that have become super popular.

Many people here, in Belarus, wonder whether Americans know about the existence of such country. Yes, the majority of them have heard about the existence of Belarus and some of them even know where it is located. I was very impressed by the fact that you can go to any shop, and if they notice that you are a foreigner, they will always ask where you are from, what you are doing in the U.S. and how your visit is going.  Americans are always willing to learn about you and your motherland; they will always wish you to enjoy your stay in the USA and will advise you what to try during your stay.

During the second week we had a study trip to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. We visited a huge amount of various tourist attractions. I had never thought in my life before that one day I could see the White House, visit the Capitol and even see the fireworks on July, 4. The visit to the Department of State became one of the most significant parts of the trip. We had an opportunity to meet such specialists of the Department of State as Regional Alumni Coordinator, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Bureau of European Affairs, Acting Assistant Secretary of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and the specialists that work with our countries in the U.S. We asked them a lot of questions, concerning exchange programs and relations between our motherlands and the U.S. We also had a simulation on the topic of International Refugee Crisis. We were given a special scenario and divided into groups. Each group represented a certain country or a certain organization. All of us had the same problem, which we had to solve with the help of diplomatic negotiations. Thus, we put on the shoes of diplomats and public figures and experienced their hard work.

The 3rd week of the program is my favorite. After returning from the capital, I just came to the house of an unfamiliar family, and in 10 days they became so close to my heart. My host family showed me the traditions and habits of an American family, let me feed themselves with “draniki”, “syrniki” and our traditional pancakes, gave me the possibility to try hiking, sailing and go around the house not taking off shoes.

I got priceless experience and met incredible people. I’ve never thought that the house of strangers could become the place where I would feel like at home. I would never imagine that diversity is so beautiful. Today I know that in 45 countries of the world I always have a free guide, who is ready to show me picturesque places of his homeland and share my memories about BFTF2017.

I’m very proud of being the representative of our blue-eyed country at BFTF 2017. I did my best to leave only good impression about Belarus abroad. Thanks to the U.S. Embassy in Minsk for providing me with such a great opportunity! I’m very happy that today young Belarusian people are able to get such priceless experience as I got. I hope that there will be more programs of this type in the future as they contribute a lot to the future development of transatlantic relations between Belarus and other states by bringing absolutely diverse people together and providing them with opportunity to share ideas and thoughts about ways of making this world better.