AMERICAN COUNCILS ANNOUNCES MR. LORNE CRANER AS ITS NEXT PRESIDENT

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The Board of Trustees of American Councils for International Education is pleased to announce that Mr. Lorne Craner will succeed Dr. Dan E. Davidson to become the second President of American Councils, effective July 5, 2017.

LCThe Transition Committee of the Board carried out a seven-month search, assisted by the Spencer-Stuart firm, and considered the applications and credentials of over 300 candidates for the position, including many outstanding professionals from government, business, academia, and the nonprofit sector.

Mr. Robert Rhea, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, noted, “The Board of Trustees is delighted to have Lorne join us and lead American Councils in the next chapter of its service to international education and exchange. Lorne’s leadership skills and experience made him uniquely suited to continue the tradition began and fostered for so long by Dr. Davidson. The Trustees made an excellent choice. He has our full confidence.”

Mr. Craner has previously served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights as well as President of the International Republican Institute. He has resided and studied at length overseas and is a speaker of French and Mandarin. His clear passion for the mission of American Councils proved to the Transition Committee that he is the best person to take up the reins as the next leader of American Councils.

Transition Committee member Ambassador Richard Morningstar commented, “We are delighted that Lorne Craner will be leading American Councils into the future. Lorne has an exceptional blend of being a life-long advocate for democratic values together with extensive political and business experience. He is uniquely capable of building upon the incredible 43-year legacy of retiring President Dan Davidson.”

The Board of Trustees was also pleased to confirm Dr. Dan E. Davidson’s new role at American Councils, beginning July 5, as Senior Academic Advisor to American Councils Programs and Director of the American Councils Research Center (ARC).

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Interview Requests
To request an interview with American Councils President Mr. Lorne Craner, contact Christine Vivas: cvivas@americancouncils.org or 202-833-7522.

2017 Balkan Insider Tour an “Unmatched Journey” Through Bulgaria and Macedonia

For ten days in May, a dozen friends of American Councils ventured through pre-history to Greco-Roman times, from Slavic Middle Ages to Ottoman rule, and from socialism to contemporary everyday life in Bulgaria and Macedonia on the 2017 Balkan Insider Tour. Along the way, the group of retired foreign service officers, philanthropists, researchers, and American Councils board members and volunteers was joined by American Councils’ field staff, current program participants, program alumni, and locals as we examined the explored the competing histories of the many peoples and places of the region.

Starting from Sofia with a warm welcome from the US Embassy in Bulgaria, the Balkan Insider Tour traveled to Nessebar and Varna on the Black Sea and then back into the heart of the Balkan Peninsula by way of Lake Ohrid, a meeting point for ancient Greek, Byzantine, Albanian, Slavic, and Ottoman cultures.  We compared the banitsa of Bulgaria with the gibanica of Macedonia—savory pastries in the hotly-contested Balkan “pie” category—alongside the shared, but disputed sweet pastry, baklava. Each stop along the way offered up its best wines and fruit brandies (rakija).  In both countries, we were offered the chance to enjoy local hospitality in the homes of YES alumni and program participants. YES alumni and YES Abroad participants also served as local guides at nearly every destination, sharing their perspectives on local culture as well as their exchange experiences.

Throughout the trip, we experienced the patchwork of diverse languages and cuisines sewn together by Turko-Ottoman influence and encountered  the idiosyncrasies of religious and ethnic minorities. We contemplated the glocalism of the street art in Sofia. In Kurdzhali, Bulgaria,  we had a chance to learn about  the Alevi Turks, an almost unknown so-called double minority (minority within a minority group). In Krushevo, Macedonia, a traveler used her knowledge of Romanian to exchange greetings with an Aromanian speaker, whereas in Tetovo we were lucky to have met in person a Shi’a Albanian dervish who introduced the tekke (Bektashi shrine). We observed a christianized pagan practice of nestinarstvo (barefoot walking on live coals) in the hills above Sofia, heard the myth of the death of Orpheus at his symbolic grave at Tatul in Southeast Bulgaria, and listened to the mysteries of St. John of Rila in Bulgaria and St. Naum of Ohrid, Macedonia. Wrapping up the tour, Skopje‘s new abundance of statuary, fountains, bridges, museums, and other structures defined the changing national identity. We traversed time across the 15th-century Kameni Most (Stone Bridge), which led us directly from the hub of new construction into the old Turkish bazaar, site of the farewell dinner joined by the US Embassy in Macedonia.

Like a Balkan table crowded with food and drink, the Balkan Insider Tour was packed with all manner of sights, experiences, knowledge, and friendships, making for an inspiring trip for staff and participants alike. As one participant put it, “The Balkan Insider Tour was a unique opportunity to experience spectacular scenery and architecture, delicious cuisine, amazing culture, and fascinating history.”

Welcome home YES generation 2016/2017, Bulgaria

By Rumyana Yotova, program and administrative assistant, AC Bulgaria 

After more than 10 months in U.S. the eighth generation Bulgarian participants in YES program arrived home on June 16th. Ten students from different cities in Bulgaria was selected for scholarship and spent one academic year living with American host family and studying in American high school. These are Kuncho Atanasov from Stara Zagora, Teodora Demirova from Silistra, Venelin Deribeev from Sofia, Emel Hyusein from Varna, Rada Lazarova from Varna, Mirela Minkova from Pavlikeni, Stanimira Peycheva from Stara Zagora, Elitsa Stoeva from Svoge, Petya Stoyanova from Gabrovo and Mihail Todorov from Sofia.

 The students shared their excitement of coming back to Bulgaria with their friends and family who were waiting for them at Sofia airport with balloons, flowers and posters “Welcome home”. According to an old Bulgarian tradition they were welcomed with homemade bread with salt and honey and “banitsa”.

 The 10th YES participants generation 2016/2016 will join the alumni community as part as which they can organize different initiatives for popularization the YES exchange program, as well as to put into practice the new skills they have acquired in the U.S. We would like to wish these young boys and girls good luck and to be brave to make their ideas come true.

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FLEX Serbia Student Bojana Vuković Wins A Michigan Arts Competition

Bojana Vuković is a student of Gimnazija Veljko Petrović in Sombor in Serbia. She is currently in Wyandotte, Michigan on U.S. Department of State sponsored FLEX program. Last week U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell announced that Bojana was selected as the first place winner in this year’s Congressional Art Competition for Michigan’s 12th District! Bojana’s winning work, entitled Waterfall, will be displayed in Washington alongside other first place contestants from across the United States.

American Councils for International Education Serbia congratulates Bojana for this amazing accomplishment! We are proud when our students – FLEX scholarship winners – truly engage in a variety of aspects of the USA life- which is what exchange programs are all about!

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Trip around Eastern Macedonia with YES Abroad

By Vesna Naumovska, YES Abroad Coordinator, Macedonia

On May 5th, 2017, YES Abroad students Jeremy Slater, Kyra Jasper, Jaleh Shambayati and Arshia Badani accompanied by AC staff Semra Amet and me – Vesna Naumovska started our exciting and long waited excursion through Eastern Macedonia.
First stop was Kokino – worlds 4th oldest observatory. It took us longer than planned to enjoy the perfect view and to take photos.
On our way to the next planned landmark we stop to a village of Staro Nagorichane where we visited the Monastery of St. George built in the 11th century and renewed in the 13th century.

Jaleh, Arshia, Jeremy and Kyra at Kokino.

Jaleh, Arshia, Jeremy and Kyra at Kokino.

Monastery of St. George

Monastery of St. George

 

We stopped for a lunch break in village of Ginovci where we tasted cheese dishes and fresh salads.
It was our day of ancient history, so we stopped in the village of Kuklica where we could see Stone Dolls and hear more about the interesting legend of the stone formations. The most famous legend is that of a man who could not decide which of two women he should marry. So, the man planned to marry each woman on the same day at different times. When the first wedding was in progress, the woman to marry the man second went to see who was getting married on the same day as she. When she saw her future husband marrying another woman, she cursed all in attendance at the wedding and turned them into stone. We took plenty of photos.
Just as we arrived in the city of Kratovo it started raining, so our tour guide told us story about the towers all over the city. Kratovo is small city in Macedonia rich with gold and the towers from the Ottoman period were built so rich people can hide their gold at the top of the towers and they were and still are all connected with underground tunnels. Before we left the city a beautiful rainbow wished us a safe trip.
In Kochani we meet with Stefanija Petrova, YES Alumna. She welcomed us and showed us her home city. After visiting many places and having long walks we spend the night in Kocahni, by the lake Gradche.
On May 6th, full with energy and eager to see more places we went to Pehchevo. On our way to Pehchevo we stopped to see the hidden nature beauty and visited Skokoto waterfalls and Crnodolski waterfalls. We enjoyed and got an energy refill from the fresh scent of the forest and the river and soothing bird sounds.
Berovo was the next city we visited, Berovo is famous for white cheese and potatoes, so we tried every specialty dish with potatoes and enjoyed our lunch.
We stopped for a rest in the village of Suvilaki and had coffee in the newly built resort Bela Voda.
By the end of the day we were very tired, so we spent the night in the city of Strumica in order to get ready for the next day.

 

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On May 7th, 2017, our day started with the visit of the village Banja Bansko, and we were astonished by the archeological findings of Roman Thermal Bath witnessing that the spa existed earlier in the ancient period and the baths were the center of the social life.
We visited Koleshinski waterfalls and after a long walk Kyra still had energy and accompanied by our tour guide they visited the famous Tsar’s Towers in the city of Strumica, where they could enjoy the perfect view of the city while we all had coffee in the center of the city.
We ended our wonderful weekend excursion with lunch at the vinery Popova Kula surrounded by the breathtaking nature and view.

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We Are Looking for Host Families in Belgrade!

HFSERBIA2017The Balkan Language Initiative program offers intensive, highly-individualized instruction in Albanian, Bosnian, Macedonian, and Serbian. Through homestays, conversation partners, in-class instruction, and a wide range of extracurricular activities, participants enjoy an unprecedented opportunity to immerse themselves in daily local life in a region largely unserved by study abroad programs.

We are currently looking for host families who would be willing to host students from the U.S. who will be spending eight weeks from June 17, 2017 to August 13, 2017 in Belgrade, Serbia, studying Serbian language, and learning local customs and traditions. Host families receive a monthly sum for providing a guest with a separate room and meals 2 times a day.

If you are interested in hosting, please fill out either of the two language versions of the application before May 17, 2017.

BALKAN LANGUAGE INITIATIVE HOST FAMILY APPLICATION 2017:
Language program for studying Serbian in Belgrade, Serbia – host family application in English
Language program for studying Serbian in Belgrade, Serbia – host family application in Serbian

 

 

The Creation of Women United for Independence – WUFI

By Erris Boshnjaku, (YES 2015-2016, Faribault, MN)

Following the YES  Social Entrepreneurship Workshop held  in Krushevo in October 2016, YES alumni participated in the UN Women-supported UPSHIFT Social Impact Workshop held in November 2016. Supported by the mentorship of Adam Snow (Peace Corps Volunteer in Gjilan)  we strengthened our problem-solving skills and gained the necessary entrepreneurial skills to design products or services to tackle gender equality challenges in their communities.

The UPSHIFT workshop is part of UNICEF Innovations Lab Kosovo By Youth For Youth program, which empowers youth to build professional skills through mentorship and experiential learning. UN Women partnered with UNICEF for the #16Days of Activism campaign in order to engage youth in Kosovo on the issue of gender-based violence. This is the environment in which WUFI ( Woman United For Independence) was established.

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YES Alumni Erris Boshnjaku (’16), Visar Zeka (’16), Rinë Fetahu (’14) and Anita Maloku saw a need in gender equality organizations and volunteering opportunities in Kosovo. UPSHIFT workshop was the perfect opportunity for this idea to come to reality, with the help of great mentors and the support from UNICEF Innovation Lab Kosovo and UN Woman, WUFI was selected among the winning projects.

We believe that girls have so much to offer to the world – we believe in the power that they hold and know that they will mold future generations to come. At WUFI, we are here to give them the support they need in order to shape them into leaders of the future. We have developed a number of educational programs and leadership initiatives that help nurture our youth and help them develop the skills they will carry throughout their lives and look forward to expend this project further!

Family reunion overseas!

by Rinë Fetahu, YES 2013-2014, Kosova, hosted by American Councils in Baton Rouge, LA

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It only took me a thirty minute drive with small talks on our way back from the airport to feel like I never left!

Baton Rouge, Louisiana was the place where I spent my YES exchange year with my two host parents who fortunately I got to meet again after three years. My sweet reunion with my host family became far more interesting when my brother who is currently doing his masters in the U.S. was there, next to my host mom and her friend Miss. Wendy, wishing me a warm welcome.  I remember, at the moment I was thinking: “Finally, my brother is going to fully understand what it means to go from one home to another!”

Louisiana also welcomed me with its warm and humid weather as of the first steps I took out of the airport while having my  big winter jacket on.

The drive home was a roller-coaster of memories. Throwbacks, chills, and big smiles were being combined in this half an hour.  Surprisingly, the first stop was not my host family’s house, but my high school. My host mum and I shared the same excitement being there because we were reminiscing all the times we spent there on football, soccer and volleyball games, senior nights and award shows.

The next four days went by very quickly as I tried to meet up with as many people as possible, always having talks about Kosova and Louisiana and remembering my exchange year while eating bowls of gumbo, crawfish etouffee and other traditional Louisiana food, which is one of my favorite things about Louisiana.

Speaking of food, nothing conquers my host mums cooking. Her thoughtfulness of cooking something similar to what we have in Kosova for my brother combined with many conversations we had at the house with her and my host dad, and just the reigning atmosphere of pure positivity within the family, not only made me feel like I never left, but my brother’s comment was: “I feel like I am home.”

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At this moment I realized that in a world dominated by judgment and inequality, programs like YES, and people like my host family are the most important factors towards building bridges of connection and braking down walls.

Before realizing it, my trip to Louisiana came to an end. In 2014, when we said goodbye at the airport neither me nor my host family had any idea when we would be meeting again, and now different from that time, our goodbye was “See you later”.

MY INCREDIBLE EXCHANGE EXPERIENCE

By Vesa Saqipi, YES student from Macedonia, currently on the program in Oregon, OH

The fact that I was given the opportunity to live this beautiful experience inspired me to write a couple of words to let you know how my experience has been so far.

My host family welcomed me in the best way possible. I fit in immediately and I felt like part of the family. Along with my work at school and community service, after school and during weekends, there were also some holidays. The first fancy place I got to visit was Cedar Point, an enormous amazing amusement park. It was my first time in a rollercoaster and it was incredible. I also had an amazing time for my birthday and my host family made it very special by giving me different lovely gifts, taking me to the movies and also taking me to a Hibachi Grill Restaurant, which is one of my favorite things ever. Later in November came Thanksgiving break. My host family decided to surprise my host sisters and me with a one week trip to Orlando, Florida. Orlando was unbelievable! Full of lights, full of life, it made me feel like I was in a movie, rather that reality. While there I got to accomplish one of my biggest, wildest dreams since I was a child and that was going to Disney World. I can’t describe in words how amazing this experience was.

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When we came back, a couple of days later Christmas was here and it was something very important to American culture. They like to be near their families and celebrate with a beautiful Christmas breakfast. I also got to understand that Christmas for Americans is a family holiday, rather than a religious one. They buy lots and lots of presents to show their love for the family members. I loved being part of that and getting to give presents to my host family.

We have also done many volunteer hours, counting to 100+ and we are still trying to do as much as possible, to help people and be human. I was also part of the crew behind the stage for the play “South Pacific” that my school organized. I am looking forward to visiting more places as the months pass, following month New York, after that Chicago, Niagara Falls, etc. And then after all, the time for me to say goodbye to this place I lived for 10 months will come. I miss my country, my city, my family, friends and everything there. I know I will miss this place and this family that opened their heart and home for me, but I am more than excited to go back and share my experience.

Although, there is one thing that I understood as time passed by, being an exchange student is not all about seeing big cities and famous places. It is about getting to know a new culture, getting to know a second family and getting to know yourselves better. That’s what matters the most.

YES program is a program I would recommend to any student, because it is worth it.

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FLEX Alumnus from Montenegro Empowers Youth in the Region

(Originally posted on the Bradly Herald.)

FLEX alumnus from Montenegro, Stefan Raicevic ’12 (Bar, Montenegro/Parsons, KS), is using what he learned during his exchange year to empower youth in the Balkans through the organization Movement of Cooperation and Development of Youth (MCDY).  Established in 2016, the organization launched its first project in September.  The project ‘Why Youth’ aims to examine why young people feel marginalized in society and use what organizers learned to train and empower youth.

Interactive lessonsStefan and the MCDY’s co-founder launched a series of ten workshops for 350 youth in cities across Serbia.  Participants will attended meetings with local representatives and officials, and with young
people in Serbia who are making a positive change in their communities.  Additionally, participants will take part in trainings to develop public speaking skills, learn how to create an elevator pitch, learn the basics of human rights and specifically the rights of youth, hone their team work and negotiating skills, and dive into the world of project design and management and proposal writing.  The workshops are funded in part by the FLEX Alumni Grants program and the Resolution Project.

The first of the workshops took place in January at the Stevan Sremac School in Nis, Serbia.  Nineteen young people participated in the first workshop and as a result of the session held four open discussions for 128 youth on community activism and participation.

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MCDY alumna Tijana Ivanovic holds an Open Session for nearly 100 youth in her community on environmental protection.

 Stefan gave us his take on the initiative, “Kids are ambitious nowadays.  We need to offer youth programs and tools to be involved in changing the world!  Personally, I was lucky enough to have learned these skills through my FLEX experience, on the exchange and as an alumnus! Now, I want to give my best to provide as many young people with these skills and I hope that they will give back to their community once they are ready.”

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Bins for cigarette butts were set up in front of five schools as a part of the environment protection open session.