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Connecting, Learning, and Leading through Robotics

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By: Helena S. (YES 2018-2019, Kosovo, hosted by Greenheart in Richmond, ME)

Throughout my exchange year, I have been a part of the Delta Prime 4473 FIRST Robotics Team, an experience that has meant a lot to me. Before coming to the U.S., I had some familiarity with robotics, as I had participated in an Arduino course, and all of the robots are pretty much based on Arduino boards; this gave me a nice base for starting robotics in the U.S. I have always been connected with science and interested in how things work, so joining the robotics absolutely helped my curiosity.

Leading up to my arrival to the U.S., my host dad and I sent emails to each every day for the entire summer, and we discovered that both of us are really science people and share the same interests, especially for robots and electronics. So, he got a recommendation from a coworker whose son is also involved in a robotics team, and he suggested that both of us join them. I went to one of the meetings and found it interesting, so I decided I wanted to be a part of it. 

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The mission of FIRST Robotics is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills that inspire innovation and foster people’s well-rounded capabilities, including self-confidence, communication, and leadership. The founder of the FIRST Robotics is Dean Kamen, and it has been an established network over 30 years. My team started in Farmingdale, Maine and it has been around for seven years. 

During the year, there are several competitions. Each year, a different game is presented usually at the beginning of January, and as soon as this happens, the build season starts. We had six weeks to build our robot, get the practice driving, and bag it until our competition. Once the build season is over, you are not allowed to work on your robot. Usually, each team has its own coding team, building team, social media team, fundraising team and a few other sub-teams that just generally support each other. 

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One of the main messages of FIRST Robotics is gracious professionalism. Although teams compete against each other, the main purpose is to build long-lasting relations with other teams and develop leadership. As an exchange student on the YES Program, I believe that leadership is a very useful trait that a person can have, and FIRST has helped me to develop that for sure. 

It's important to mention the reason why we are so good at what we are doing: our mentors. It is all because of them. They are the ones who help us figure things out if we have the problem, and they are always there to motivate and support us in any possible way. Without them, none of this would be possible, and we are very grateful for their existence. 

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It has been amazing experience to be part of something as incredible as this is, as I've said many times: the future lies in one place - robots, nerds, and FIRST. I would honestly recommend for everyone to join FIRST, especially since they have their teams all over the country and even internationally, and you will have the time of your life! It is one of the best experiences so far of my exchange year, and I don't regret spending any moment in our lab. Be part of something innovative and futuristic - be part of the FIRST Robotics!

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On a final note, I also want to say that I am really grateful that I have my host dad, because he is the one who supported me so much on this journey and helped me to discover my passions and engage me in other leadership programs. Beyond this, I am grateful to have him because he is a very good person in the first place and is always kind and willing to take actions and make a positive change in this world. I respect him because of that, and I respect all that he does, whether it's for me or for other people. It is easy to love and get along with someone if you are both passionate about making this world a better place and helping others. 

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I am grateful for my entire host family as well. Apparently, my seven-year-old host sister is also passionate about robots, and as we were going along, we discovered that she would also like to be involved in robotics team. Even more, right now, my host dad is actually thinking about starting a FIRST Lego Junior team in Maine, for ages 6-11. It might be a beginning of something very big, especially for the kids who decide to join it. I know my host sister will! There is nothing better than loving and supporting our host families in any way we can. And since FIRST is a global network, I might also start thinking about inviting them to Kosovo, and we can all build our relations and spread love among each other. 


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