How FFA has been a life changing experience for a big city Ukrainian on a small town Californian Ranch.
“All my life I lived in a big industrial city full of noise, water, and air pollution. That’s why when I saw cows, horses, and fields of trees, I was shocked and excited at the same time.”
Valeriy Khimyuk (Ukraine/CA) recalled about the moment he first saw his new host city; a small rural town of Woodlake, CA. Valeriy applied for the FLEX program because he was ready for a whole new life experience and a whole new experience is what he got.
Valeriy is spending his exchange year on a cattle ranch. Although he has never been on a ranch and had a bit of a fear of horses and steers; Valeriy felt it was his duty as a new family member to help with the daily tasks and chores.
“They gave me such amazing opportunity to spend all year in the USA in their family so I have to pay them back.”
Valeriy had a hard time keeping up with the work ethic of his host family the first week. He would get tired quickly, but he kept at it. During his second week, his host father invited him to start working with some of the animals, even giving Valeriy his own steer to take care of named Toffee. Toffee is less than a year old and has required a lot of training.
“I remember the first days when I tried to at least make him move. Family members said that he is just lazy and that’s why he doesn’t want to move. I was upset because I thought that problem was me. But I continued training.”
With his new-found interest in agriculture, Valery’s host family suggested he should join his local FFA chapter. FFA is the largest youth leadership organization in the U.S., comprised of over 600,000 student members. Members develop leadership skills, confidence, agricultural knowledge, and passion for service through a hands-on learning approach. No one knows these benefits better than Valeriy’s host dad, James Henderson; who was the Texas FFA Vice President during his high school years. Learning about his host dad’s experience with this life-changing organization, Valeriy was eager to join.
In the first month, Valeriy attended the FFA Greenhand Leadership Conference where he was introduced to the benefits and opportunities in Agricultural Education and learned about the foundations of good leadership. Valeriy also was selected as a ‘reporter’ during the Mount Whitney Invitational Opening/Closing Competition, his team coming in third place. On top of these and other school activities, Valeriy was feeding, washing, brushing, and training his young steer.
The week of the Tulare County Fair, Valeriy continued to work with Toffee; getting the stubborn steer to follow his lead. The day of the showing competition was filled with excitement and nerves, and not just for Valeriy. The first round for the pair did not go as planned, but Valeriy contributes this failure to Toffee sharing his anxious feelings. Valeriy took a deep breath and faced the challenge again in the second round. The end of the day proved Valeriy’s hard work had paid off. He and his steer were awarded 5th place in showmanship and 2nd place in the steer competition. Not bad for Valeriy’s first showing!
“This experience on working with animals was very important for me because one thing that mother always told me – if you want to get a good result then you have to work for this result. And if you worked hard – you will get this good result.”
The Tulare County Fair and his other FFA experiences have made Valeriy well known in his community. Recently, a famous cattleman learned Valeriy enjoyed creating and editing videos. So, when the cattleman decided he could not attend the Tulare County Fair Buyers Appreciation Dinner, he asked Valeriy to help him create a thank you message for the attendees. Valeriy was ecstatic and it turned out to be one of his favorite US experiences so far.
It is only the beginning of the exchange year and Valeriy’s FFA experiences have already started to mold him into a future leader. FFA has helped him overcome his fear of public speaking. He has given 17 cultural presentations in two months and plans to join Speech and Debate soon. Valeriy has become more confident and outgoing. He has volunteered to be the high school mascot during school events and received a part in the upcoming school play. Valeriy has stepped outside of his comfort zone countless times already because of FFA and his life on the ranch. This courage has given him many unforgettable experiences with many more to come.
“I am in America to get a new experience which I will not be able to get in Ukraine. That’s why I say ‘yes’ to all invitations. And I said ‘yes’ to FFA.”