An accent from the American south is quite peculiar: the elongation of vowels and shortening of consonants, all said in a nonchalant, yet formal eccentricity, reminiscent of the United States’ British ancestors.
An American myself, from the Pacific Northwest, I seldom hear this intriguing southern accent in real life, outside of television and films. But in the idyllic town of Prizren, Kosova, I met a YES program alumnus speaking this very dialect which he had perfected to a tee. The alumnus’ name was Ermal and he had recently returned from his ten-month study abroad trip in North Carolina, a state well-known for its deep southern accent.
Ermal lived in a small town in North Carolina, with a large and gregarious family that became like his second away from home. He told me that the southern “drawl” was difficult for him at first, but he soon became used to those accentuated vowels and forgotten consonants, bringing them back with him upon his return to Kosova.
After a long Turkish coffee with Ermal outside of the Sinan Pasha Mosque in Prizren, I headed to Prishtina with my colleague Fjolla to to continue the application and testing process for the next generation of YES students. Coincidentally, the next morning I met an alumna named Rinë who spent her 10-month exchange even deeper in the American south, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Having studied in the US several years before, Rinë’s accent wasn’t quite as strong as Ermal’s, but from her cadence, it was still obvious that she had lived in the south. Interestingly, Rinë explained to me that her experience in the US was emblematic of American culture. Her host parents had Chinese ancestry and the high school she attended was predominately African-American. Coming from the Western Balkans, which is already diverse with numerous ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds, Rinë’s time in the US was an entirely new experience. Other YES program alumni I met during the recruitment testing in Prizren, Kamenica, and Prishtina all had equally interesting experiences in the US, complete with distinct communities and contrasting environments.
Students who participated in the first rounds of testing included those with Albanian, Serbian, Bosnian, and Turkish descent, all of whom shared the same aspiration of studying for a scholastic year in the US. Whether they will pass all three testing rounds and be successful candidates is still unknown, but one thing is certain: exchange programs such as YES lead to exciting and unexpected connections between different American and World cultures.
Christopher T. Barber
YES and FLEX Programs Participant Recruiter