Sasha Kronidova traveled nearly 6,000 miles to come to Waterloo for the year.
The 16-year-old from Krasnodar, Russia, competed with hundreds of other teens to get the opportunity to make the trip she had dreamed of since she was little.
Kronidova is part of a program called Future Leaders Exchange, or FLEX, which is run through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
“I always had a dream about traveling to different countries and meeting different people,” she said. “Competition was extremely hard.”
In order to be accepted into the program and come to the United States, Kronidova had to take a three-part test that included written, spoken and listening components.
“I didn’t believe that they would call me, but about a month ago, they did,” she said. “They told me to prepare to go to America.”
Kronidova was completely ecstatic to make the trip to America and stay with a host family for an entire year.
The only problem was finding one.
Host mom Christene Baldwin said Kronidova didn’t get to pick her family, but instead had to wait for one to pick her.
“She waited and waited and waited and school had already started,” Baldwin said.
The Baldwins started the 2013 school year not planning on hosting a student as they settled into a new home and new town.
“We really missed having a high school presence in our home,” Baldwin said.
Kronidova has been in the U.S. for only three weeks and loves it.
“I really wanted to be in Illinois – I don’t know why, but I did,” she said. “I was so happy when I found out I would be.”
She compares her home city of Krasnodar, which is located in southwest Russia near the border of Turkey, to California.
“It’s a huge, warm city and you can get wherever you want by using public transportation,” she said. “Even in the country, there’s public transportation.”
Kronidova said she loves big cities and everything about the lifestyle that comes with them.
In Russia, she leads a busy life with school, art lessons, singing and helping keep up the apartment she shares with her father and dog.
“You really have to work to be successful,” she said. “And you have to be successful – you have no other choice.”
Kronidova has been singing on stage for about nine years in Russia and took part in many competitions.
She also graduated from art school in Russia, where she attended classes for seven years.
In her 16 years, she has also done modeling, dancing and even was in a circus when she was younger.
“I’ve tried to do a little bit of everything in my life so far,” she said. “You never know if you’re going to have tomorrow, so you have to try everything today.”
Baldwin said though she worries that Kronidova isn’t taking singing or art lessons during the year she is in the United States, she thinks some time off will be a good break for her.
“(Kronidova) grew up very quickly, but there’s something to be said for just being together and being at home,” Baldwin said. “We’re homebodies. We’re very low-key.”
Baldwin said she wants to encourage local families to consider hosting international students.
“It makes continents and countries so much more personal when you know someone from there,” she said. “You’re experiencing family in a whole different way, and we feel so blessed.”
She said hosting an exchange student adds a completely new dimension to an otherwise regular, everyday life.
“You can’t even imagine what this experience will bring to your life,” Baldwin said of having an exchange student. “So many kids want to have this experience and are just waiting for families to step up.”