Black History Month in Banjaluka, Bosnia and Herzegovina

On February 14th, eleven 7th grade students from a local elementary school Georgi Stojkov Rakovski in Banjaluka had an opportunity to meet our YES Abroad exchange students Chloe Koebel, Ella Thompson and Bryca Song-Weiss for an interactive workshop on the topic of the Black History Month. This event was organized by the American Corner staff in Banjaluka, in partnership with the American Councils in Bosnia and Herzegovina team, and carried out by these knowledgeable exchange students who had a lot to say (and ask) about history, cultural heritage and one’s view of their own culture.

Three YES Abroad students with the group of 7th grade students led by their English language teacher, Zinajda Hrvat

Three YES Abroad students with the group of 7th grade students led by their English language teacher, Zinajda Hrvat

For an hour and half, participants spoke to facilitators from the USA in order to both learn about the purpose and the meaning of the Black History Month, but also to practice their English skills and share some facts about their own culture and heritage.

“I had a lot of fun, and I learned some great facts that I never heard about at school! I love how they speak to us in English and they speak so we can understand, that is awesome”, one of the participants said.

Discussion on the importance of learning about all cultures

Discussion on the importance of learning about all cultures

Towards the end of the workshop, all students were asked to write a few sentences about a part of their own culture which they are proud of, and to think of ways to spread information about it. Here are some insightful ideas they have had:

“In Banjaluka have a lot of parks. We have many mountains. We have many museums and many schools. Many people can visit Kastel or river Vrbas.”

“In Banjaluka have a lot of parks. We have many mountains. We have many museums and many schools. Many people can visit Kastel or river Vrbas.”

“This year on Kastel was a knight festival Kastrum. There was a special chess. Make a story on Instagram.”

“This year on Kastel was a knight festival Kastrum. There was a special chess. Make a story on Instagram.”

“There is clock in the centar. Banja Luka have many parks. Volleyball player is born in Banja Luka. Name is Sonja and her live in America. I could post pictures of her in Instagram. “

“There is clock in the centar. Banja Luka have many parks. Volleyball player is born in Banja Luka. Name is Sonja and her live in America. I could post pictures of her in Instagram. “




I am thankful for… Thanksgiving!

This year’s Thanksgiving wasn’t only different for our YES Abroad exchange students in Banjaluka, but also for a group of 5th and 6th grade students from a local elementary school “Borisav Stankovic”, who had an opportunity to participate in an educational, interactive workshop about the history and meaning of Thanksgiving.

Elementary school students wave "Thank you!" after their Thanksgiving workshop

Elementary school students wave “Thank you!” after their Thanksgiving workshop

Together with their teachers Gordana Macura and Miladinka Simisic Macura, 25 young students visited the American Corner in Banjaluka, where they were greeted by Sonja Przulj, the director of the American Corner, Lee Wilson, this year’s Fulbright English Teaching Assistant placed in Banjaluka, Ella Thompson, Bryca Song-Weiss and Chloe Koebel, our three YES Abroad students in Banjaluka, and Barry Simpson, this year’s English Language Fellow placed in Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bryca, Ella and Chloe facilitating a discussion on the history of Thanksgiving

Bryca, Ella and Chloe facilitating a discussion on the history of Thanksgiving

In the next two hours, YES Abroad students, together with Barry, Lee and Sonja, facilitated discussions and activities through which everyone learned about the history of Thanksgiving, as well as its meaning today. All participants were then encouraged to make cards and notes about what they were thankful for in their lives.

Everyone was getting involved in writing their Thank you notes!

Everyone was getting involved in writing their Thank you notes!

“This event was very special, for me as well as for all the participants. Children were so immersed and focused on the lecturing, discussion, as well as on these creative, thinking parts of activities when they were asked to write and draw, expressing their gratefulness. It was so rewarding and fulfilling to see how everyone worked well together, and how knowledge of culture and history was exchanged on the spot”, said Sonja Przulj, the director of the American Corner in Banjaluka.

If you still wonder what these children were thankful for, see for yourself!


"Im tank for my life and water and food"

“Im tank for my life and water and food”

"I am thankful for Food. I helped my (now) best friend from Serbia to now somthing of new street and place."

“I am thankful for Food. I helped my (now) best friend from Serbia to now somthing of new street and place.”

"I am thankful for my parents becouse I have a great home and a great life. My great friend Aleksa showed me the new school. And i meet new friends."

“I am thankful for my parents becouse I have a great home and a great life. My great friend Aleksa showed me the new school. And i meet new friends.”

How YES Abroad students brought Halloween to Banja Luka

American tourists

YES Abroad students Bryca, Chloe and Ella dressed up as American tourists to host a Halloween party for children at the American Corner in Banja Luka

As Halloween was approaching, our YES Abroad students in Banja Luka eagerly decided to share some of the Halloween spirit with children and their peers as well. At the American Corner in Banja Luka, Bryca, Chloe and Ella facilitated activities for children who came prepared: all dressed up in their costumes! Some were ready to join Ella and play musical chairs with Halloween music in the background, while others enjoyed “Pin the Face on the Pumpkin” game with Bryca. With her talent for art, Chloe offered kids face painting with Halloween designs, all of which children  enjoyed!

Musical chairs

Children playing musical chairs with Halloween music in the background, with Ella as a facilitator

None of that would have been possible if it was not for ideas and assistance of the American Corner director, Sonja Pržulj, and another colleague of ours, this year’s English Teaching Assistant in Banja Luka, Lee Wilson! You might be wondering where the pumpkins were–those were taken to another venue, a youth center in Banja Luka where our YES Alumna, Jelena Pilipović, PY 15/16, organized a Teen Halloween Party together with Chloe, Bryca and Ella.

“This was an exciting opportunity for us to show people here what the US tradition for Halloween is like, but it was even more fun adapting it to this context. As we realized some of the food we wished to have couldn’t be bought here, we decided to be creative and improvise—so, we made it!”, said Bryca.


Bryca in a costume of a baba (grandmom) with a friend during a Halloween Teen Party

“Even though we may have been miles away from home and people we usually spent our Halloween with, participating in all these activities did make us feel at home in a new way. I was delighted by the interest for American culture that people showed here”, concluded Ella.


Chloe with her host sister, Eva Martina, at the Teen Halloween Party

Thank you to everyone who helped us share the Halloween spirit in Banja Luka this year. We look forward to many more holidays spent together! And, YES, they did bring pumpkins! 


This is Halloween!


Student Training and Empowerment Program (STEP)

STEP Program


The Student Training and Empowerment Program (STEP), the newest program administered by the American Councils office in Bosnia and Herzegovina, aims to combat the growing societal problem known as “brain drain” in Bosnia and Herzegovina by teaching ten junior and senior university students how to be competitive in the job market and offer them vital work experience through internships with prospective employers in their communities. STEP launched in November 2017 and will last until June 2020. Program is sponsored by the US Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina under its Democracy Commission programs.


Countering ”brain drain”


Brain drain is one of the biggest problems that Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is currently facing. According to the most recent data, 150,000 people have moved out of BiH in 2016 alone. As trends have shown over the last decade, young people are moving out of BiH with an idea that in order to succeed in life or have a career, they need to leave their country of origin. Young people in BiH finish their education and struggle to find a job, either because most employers look for people with work experience that recent graduates cannot provide, or because they were not taught the skills necessary to be competitive in the job market.

Universities generally do not have any specialized classes for career skill building; they do not have career advisors nor do they organize workshops or trainings outside of the regular curriculum. Secondary and tertiary education often does not equip students with any basic skills when it comes to the job-seeking process. Students graduate without knowing how to behave in a job interview, or write a resume or cover letter.


What does STEP consist of?


The STEP program consists of three phases:

  1. a series of courses and workshops designed to equip university students with the skills necessary to be competitive on the job market to be held in Banja Luka;
  2. internships with local businesses, institutions, and organizations for students in Banja Luka or Sarajevo;
  3. peer education programs organized by participants to share their knowledge and experience after the internships.

After all participants have successfully completed the training, internship, and peer training, they will be invited to a closing ceremony that will be held in Sarajevo in the spring of 2018. This event will be an opportunity for participants to share their experiences. Each participant will receive a certificate of completion that confirms they have three months of work experience.


For more information about STEP, please contact: +387 33 838 262, write an email to: or visit our STEP Facebook page.

A Historical Trip Through Hungary and Poland

By: Maeve Brind’Amour YES Abroad Bosnia and Herzegovina, PY 2016-17

Last weekend, the other YES Abroad students in Sarajevo and I had the opportunity to travel to Budapest, Hungary and Krakow, Poland with our fellow classmates from our host school “Druga gimnazija.” As part of the curriculum in the Bosnian language course taken by our peers, students read Fatelessness, an autobiographical novel depicting a young Jewish boy’s experience through the Holocaust and the infamous concentration camp, Auschwitz. On the trip, which was organized by the Bosnian class teacher, we visited many of the places which illustrated the background of the Holocaust as Gyuri, the main character, experienced it.

We first stopped in Budapest, Hungary, Gyrui’s original home. We spent our night in Hungary visiting the Hero’s Square and the marvelous, neo-Gothic Fisherman’s Bastion. The Hero’s Square in Budapest features statues of the seven chieftains of the Magyars as well as other important national leaders, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Fisherman’s Bastion pays homage to the guild of fisherman who protected the architectural feat during the Middle Ages. These attractions represent some of the most glorious moments in the country’s history, in stark contrast to the horrors which ensued in in the Holocaust. In this way, we experienced the grandeur of Hungary as it was, before the oppressive grip of the Nazis added a darker chapter to the nation’s history.


After a long ride through much of the countryside of Hungary and Slovakia, we arrived in Krakow, Poland at dusk, giving us time to orient ourselves before an informative tour the next morning. We began our tour in Kazimierz, a historical district preserving and exhibiting Jewish culture where Krakow once had a large, flourishing population. The tour also gave us further insight into Poland’s history and some of its most iconic sights including the Wawel Castle, often referred to as the “heart of Poland,” and Rynek, one of the largest market squares in Europe.


The next morning, we visited the Auschwitz concentration camp, where 1.1 million Jews, political prisoners, and other enemies of the Nazi Party lost their lives. On this frigid day, the chilling wind whispered and wavered around us, carrying the harrowing essence of victims who had their lives stamped out in the name of hatred and ignorance. The powerful visuals and horrifying facts presented to us on the tour evoked a deeper understanding of the atrocities, though the victims faced suffering on a far greater scale than is possible to truly emulate.

In addition to learning more about the Holocaust, we explored other parts of Eastern Europe’s rich culture and history. We discovered and picked out similarities between Bosnia and Poland through language as well as Austro-Hungarian architectural styles evident in both Krakow and Sarajevo. All in all, I’m very grateful to have been given the opportunity to go on this informative, eye-opening trip.

Not Quite 17 Again: A YES Abroad Alumna Returns to Sarajevo

By Emma Morgan, American Councils BiH Administrative Intern, YES Abroad Bosnia and Herzegovina ’14

Returning to the place where you were a high school exchange student is a strange thing. At times, you feel like you’re 17 again, but the trick is to remember that you’re not. You’re older now, and (hopefully) wiser. You’ve been given an opportunity not just to revisit all your favorite spots, but to dive deeper and learn more about the city you called home for a year.

That’s what I’ve been telling myself since arriving back in Sarajevo, but the truth is old habits die hard. The french bakery will always be where I go to treat myself and I’m loyal to one doner place, and one doner place only. Even so, I’ve made it my personal mission to do the things in Sarajevo I neglected to or wasn’t able to do in high school.

Before I started my year as a YES Abroad student, I devoured information about Bosnia. I read countless books and articles about the country’s past and present. Once I arrived, however, I never really took advantage of the in-country opportunities to explore Bosnian history. I guess I had decided early into my exchange year that museums were for tourists and that I was no tourist. In hindsight, that was a very dumb decision.

In order to right my previous wrong, I’ve decided that I’ll spend my second term in Sarajevo visiting as many museums, lectures, and events in the city as I’m interested in. First on my list, is the National Museum. It was closed the year I was here in high school so I never got the chance to see the Sarajevo Haggadah, which actually played a large role in what that initially got me interested in Bosnia. Lucky for me, February 1st is the Museum’s 129th birthday and they’re hosting a special viewing of the original Haggadah. Talk about serendipity!

Onto the next phase of my mission: making more friends. When I was in high school here I spent the majority of my free time with my fellow Americans or other international students. I only really had one or two close Bosnian friends that I would hang out with, and now they both attend universities outside of the country. As a result, I’m left back in Sarajevo without the friends I made here the first time around.

So I’m faced with two options: make more friends while I’m here or become a hermit. I’m far too talkative to really enjoy a life of social seclusion, so the former option wins out. Unfortunately, I’m no longer in school here which means that I run into far fewer people in a day. I, therefore, have to seek out spaces where I have the opportunity to meet new people and make friends. (A ˝high contact˝ situation as my sociology professor back in the US would call it).

Cafés, for example, the hallmark of Bosnian social life, are actually not great high contact locales. People go there to hang out with the friends they’ve already made, not to meet new ones.  Gyms are equally tricky, because even if they’re crowded, most people (myself included) want to tune out the world and listen to music while they work out. As such, I’ve turned my attention to clubs and classes around the city. These are great spots to potentially meet a friend, because they guarantee that me and my hypothetical new friend already share at least one interest.So far, I have the information for three different groups around the city. My plan is to test the waters of each and find one that is both fun and social.

I doubt that most people feel the need to jump into new routines when they visit the place they studied abroad, but I really do. By seeing and doing more here than I did the first time around, I’m not allowing myself to think of my exchange experience as open and shut. I consider my year as a YES Abroad student here a success, but it was more of an Act I of the ˝Emma in Bosnia˝ story (working title) rather than the whole show. I’m back, the curtain is rising on Act II, and now the fun really starts.

Holiday Cheer At The American Corner in Banja Luka

By Lela Draganić, YES Programs Local Coordinator for Bosnia and Herzegovina


YES Abroad student Tana and Deputy Director of the Embassy Branch Office with kids at Thanksgiving

YES Abroad student Tana and Deputy Director of the Embassy Branch Office with kids at Thanksgiving

For three years now, the American Corner in Banja Luka has been a wonderful partner to American Councils in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They had provided us with the space to host our events, workshops and activities, and YES alumni and YES Abroad participants volunteer or come with their ideas and organize activities.

This year, we have celebrated every holiday at the Corner: Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Together with U.S. Embassy Banja Luka Branch Office staff, YES Abroad student Tana Korhonen and Cole Potter came up with fun games for elementary school kids and helped read famous American children’s stories on the day. With lots of laughter and squeals, the kids got to participate in a Mummy wrapping competition (toilet paper standing in for ancient band aids),  stuck their hands into ”Mystery Boxes” and touched eyeballs (peeled grapes) and raw brains (spaghetti). While our YES Abroad students were busy chasing after the youngsters, YES alumna Jelena Pilipović spoke to the media about the YES program and the work of American Councils in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

YES alumna Jelena Pilipović, PY 15/16, giving an interview during Halloween activities

YES alumna Jelena Pilipović, PY 15/16, giving an interview during Halloween activities

For Thanksgiving, YES Abroad student Tana helped Mrs. Sutton Meagher, the Deputy Director of the U.S. Embassy Branch Office, read stories to kindergarten and elementary school students. After this ”StoryTime” activity, the kids did some crafts and played games.

YES Abroad student Tana and Mrs. Sutton Meagher reading stories during Thanksgiving celebrations

YES Abroad student Tana and Mrs. Sutton Meagher reading stories during Thanksgiving celebrations


Two days after Christmas, during a time slot when the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, Ellie Dupler, runs her English conversation class they screened the now staple Christmas movie, ”Elf”, to a crowd of some 25 people. Since it was announced we would be creating a proper holiday atmosphere and bring some additional cheer by serving hot chocolate, tea, coffee and sweets to the audience, both kids, young adults and adults were in attendance.

Thank you to the American Corner, Fulbright English Teaching Assistants and the U.S. Embassy Branch Office staff. We are looking forward to many more activities and holidays with you!

YES Abroad student Tana hosting the Christmas movie night at the Corner

YES Abroad student Tana hosting the Christmas movie night at the Corner




A Brewed Awakening: Bosnian Tradition Brings the Feeling of Home

By: Ben B., YES Abroad 2016-2017, Bosnia and Herzegovina

This story was originally written for the Sarajevo Times, an online English language media outlet based in Sarajevo, on November 24, 2016. 

Almost every day, my host brother asks me, “Hoćeš kafu? Do you want coffee?”, to which I always reply yes. After preparing the drink the traditional Bosnian way, he carefully pours the hot black coffee from its džezva. My host brother passes me the the small cup and we sit back and slowly sip our drinks. This Bosnian tradition has become a tradition for me too, and is something I have come to appreciate and enjoy. Drinking coffee with my host family is one of my favorite parts of the day, and is part of what makes me feel truly at home living in a city over 6000 miles away from home.

Ben Blum Bosnian Coffee

My name is Ben Blum, and I am a 16-year old American high school student from the coasts of California, living in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a “youth ambassador” on the Kennedy-Lugar YES Abroad program. I’ve been in Sarajevo for almost three months now, and so far my time here has been filled with learning a new language, exploring a new city and meeting new people. Even though studying abroad has had its highs and lows, living in Bosnia and being able to open my eyes to a new culture and way of life has been an incredibly life-changing experience for me so far. From playing late night pickup basketball games with my host brothers to helping my host mom peel dried grah beans, being immersed into the daily life of Sarajevo has taught me so much about the culture of the country I now call my home.

As the excitement of living in a new city has faded into daily life for me, I have realized how similar the culture of my Bosnian host family is to the culture of my American family. Despite speaking different languages and celebrating different traditions, I believe that we are alike in more ways that we are different. When I first arrived in Bosnia, I was able to connect with my host brothers through shared interests and beliefs. Despite growing up in different countries, we became closer because of our shared passion for graphic design, photography and the NBA. We even read the same books, just translated into our own languages. Moreover, I have noticed my two families share common goals and aspirations, and both strive for a better future for not only themselves, but for their friends, their community, and their country. My two families also share common fears and worries for the future. Understanding and accepting these shared aspects of our cultures has made living in Sarajevo even more meaningful for me – not only has it expanded my worldview, it has made me realize how similar we all are, regardless of where we’re from for what we believe in.

When I leave Bosnia and Herzegovina in June, it is this idea that I want to carry with me back home. Today, more conflicts are being ignited because of cultural differences than ever before. Religion, language, traditions and beliefs – more and more, we are becoming divided by the qualities that makes us us. How can we progress as a nation and as a world if we are stuck fighting battles over culture? Through immersing myself in a culture different from my own, I have realized that these conflicts could be more easily resolved if people simply open their eyes, hearts and minds to other cultures, and accept others for who they truly are instead of who they are thought to be.

Wedding Weekend in the Hills of Bosnia and Herzegovina

By Tana Korhonen, YES Abroad 2016-17, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Banja Luka)

Tana with her host mom, host sister and girl at the wedding


This weekend, I attended a wedding in a small town called Mrkonjić Grad, which is approximately 36 miles of winding roads away from Banja Luka, my home in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was so excited to see a different part of my host country, and I was not disappointed. The drive alone was incredibly beautiful.

My host family and I arrived at the reception space around 1:45pm, where we ate meat and bread while chatting with family and friends. A few hours later, the bride and groom marched in accompanied by two accordion players. Everyone stood and cheered and began to dance in the middle. Then, we walked to the beautiful Orthodox church down the road, where the ceremony was held.

The ceremony was very different than weddings in the U.S. Everyone stood–women on the left and men on the right–and it lasted about 45 minutes in total. The priest did not speak, but sang. He had such a beautiful voice, and it echoed through the church. I did not understand most of it, as he sang very quickly, so I spent most of the time admiring the mosaics on the walls. Toward the end of the ceremony, the bride and groom both had crowns placed on their heads, then they switched crowns. After they had switched crowns, everyone walked to the front of the church to kiss the bride and groom.




Next, we went outside where a few fun traditions took place. One thing that is the same in weddings in the U.S. and Bosnia is the throwing of the bouquet. The bride stood on the church steps and threw her flowers, and whoever caught it is said to be the next one to marry. Another tradition is called the “Kum’s Moneybag.” The kum, or Godfather of the bride and groom, otherwise known as the Best Man in the U.S., has a bag of coins and candy, which he throws for guests to collect from the ground.

Students from the nearby school came and did a traditional dance. It was so fun to watch them dance and see traditional Bosnian clothes. After the dancing, we ate soup, bread, and a lot of meat–there was pork, followed by meat platters with sausage, chicken, kebabs, and more. During the meal, another interesting tradition took place. A friend of the bride steals the bride’s shoe, and the Godfather (Best Man) has to go and pay to “buy” back the bride’s shoe. The amount he pays depends on the person who stole the shoe because they have to bargain about the price. After we were done eating, everyone got up and danced. I had a lot of fun dancing to narodna muzika, or popular folk music and even learned a traditional dance. It seemed like every time I sat down someone new was pulling me by the arm back to the dance floor. After a while of dancing, the lights turned off and the wedding cake was rolled in, complete with a sparkler on top.

After eating cake, everyone got back to dancing. Eventually, my host sister and I were too exhausted to continue dancing, so we went to my host grandparents’ house to sleep. The next morning, I was woken up and taken back to the reception space. Not everyone who was at the reception the night before was there–only close friends and family–but that was still at least 60 people. We ate the same meal that was served at the wedding, and then my family and I drove back to Banja Luka.

Overall, I had an amazing weekend. I love my host city of Banja Luka, but seeing different parts of the country is incredible. I learned a lot more about the culture, met amazing people, and had fun dancing the night away. Everyday I become more amazed at the beauty of the landscape and people of Bosnia and hope I’ll have the opportunity to attend another wedding soon.


Tana with her host sister and best man or kum    Bride groom best man and wedding party


YES Alumni Interview: ”The U.S. Showed Us How To VALUE And Be PROUD OF BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA”

by Lela Draganić, YES Programs Local Coordinator for Bosnia and Herzegovina

YES Alumni Đorđe Šukalo , Kristina Lukajić and Jelena Pilipović featured in ''BUKA Online Magazine''

YES Alumni Đorđe Šukalo , Kristina Lukajić and Jelena Pilipović featured in ”BUKA Online Magazine”

YES alumni Jelena Pilipović, Đorđe Šukalo and Kristina Lukajić recently gave an interview and spoke about their experiences in the United States and what they learned while on program.

The three young alumni are based in the city of Banja Luka, in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and during a conversation with ”BUKA Online Magazine”, one of the most popular websites in the country, stated that BiH citizens have a lot to learn from Americans. Jelena, Kristina and Đorđe revealed how they hope their compatriots would learn how to ”be prouder and value more our own country, culture and heritage”, something they saw Americans do exceptionally well. They were also happy to see how united the civil society in the U.S. is, without any unnecessary divisions, and they would like to see Bosnia and Herzegovina follow that model.

All three alumni gave a valuable insight into what it looks like to go to an American high school, live with an American family and what everyday life looks in the United states. They had a chance to spend 10 months in the United States, on the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program, which is fully funded by the U.S. Department of State. To find out more about the YES program and how you can participate, go to

Testing for YES will start in Bosnia and Herzegovina in October and to find out more about the testing dates, requirements and locations, find us on Facebook: YESProgramBiH or check our website for more updates.

You can read Đorđe’s, Kristina’s and Jelena’s entire interview here