Hosting an American student in my home

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American Councils Serbia organizes Balkan Language Initiative Program for American students who wish to study Serbian language in Belgrade, Serbia, throughout the year. Alexandra Karppi is one of the students who came to Belgrade to study Serbian on an eight-week long program from June 17 to August 14, 2017.

Alexandra and other Balkan Language Initiative students, as a component of this program, are placed in Serbian homes, to live with Serbian host families and thus gain additional insight about the Serbian culture.

We have asked Alexandra’s host, Dragana Pešić, to tell us about her impressions of time spent with Alexandra.

“If I tell you that I feel honored to have been given an opportunity to be a host of a young woman from a far-away America, then it says it all about my experience. It has been wonderful, and Alexandra’s and my relationship is really good.”

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Because host families are obliged to speak only Serbian language with American students and in such way provide the students with the additional opportunity to learn and practice Serbian, depending on the level of the knowledge of Serbian language each student has prior to coming to the country, communication between hosts and students could potentially be challenging, especially in the beginning.

“When Alexandra first arrived, communication between us was very challenging, but my granddaughters helped us understand each other.” – Dragana commented.

About her and Alexandra’s relationship and daily communication, Dragana said this: “Alexandra is one very cultured, very responsible and hard-working young girl. Her obligation was to text me when she arrives at the language school and then again when her classes end and she is on the way home. She did not give me one single reason to worry about. Because of mobile phones, I knew her coordinates all the time.”

20621121_1808308399499365_3202570696099082342_nThe hosting experience is valuable not only for the students, but also for the host families. It changes the host family’s daily routines, and provides them with the opportunity to show their own culture, hospitality, and learn about the culture of their guests.

“When it comes to change in dynamics in my own life, I walked more than usual, because I wanted to show Alexandra as much as possible of the city, regardless of high summer temperatures. Every little excursion we went on was remarkable in its own way. And her young, forever smiling face was the best prize for this whole experience.”

American Councils has an open application for Serbian families who are able to provide a separate room and two meals a day for American students who wish to come to Serbia to learn the language and Serbian culture. For more information about all the conditions of this experience, please fill out the application, and contact local American Councils office.

BALKAN LANGUAGE INITIATIVE HOST FAMILY APPLICATION:
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

 

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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Lessons Learned Abroad

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By: Maeve Brind’Amour

YES Abroad, 2016-17

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

If I was asked last year to point out Bosnia and Herzegovina on a map, I wouldn’t have been able to. As I’m now nearing the tenth month of my exchange in Bosnia, it’s hard to believe that a country I had never heard of, has become a country I now call home. It seems like just yesterday my vision of studying abroad was more like a dream than an actual possibility. Now that dream has become my life, and very soon I’m going to have to leave it behind.

I’ve always felt perfectly comfortable in my small town back in the States. The people I interact with everyday are the same people I’ve grown up with and known for years. In Bosnia, I was truly an outsider for the first time, which caused me to question my confidence and self-perceptions prior to exchange. Moving to a country where I didn’t know the people or the language challenged my flexibility and patience; it taught me to let go of expectations and instead to accept aspects of culture that were difficult to understand.

Learning a new language was yet another obstacle of exchange. Living in a place where I didn’t have complete control and confidence in speaking the language made me realize how often I take for granted monolingualism in the U.S. I had never before felt insecure about my accent or grammar when speaking until my exchange. With every small accomplishment, whether it be greeting a neighbor, learning how to order food properly, or giving a stranger the time, I learned to appreciate the small victories. It also encouraged me to talk less and listen more when I couldn’t completely understand what was going on around me. I often find myself interrupting friends and family when I talk to them, but simply trying to understand conversations on exchange increased my patience and attentiveness towards others. Not only has this improved my listening skills but my Bosnian skills as well.

Another slightly shocking aspect of culture for me in Bosnia was the appreciation of free time. In the U.S. I’m constantly occupied with school and extracurriculars, which eat up the majority of my time. Conversely, most people in Bosnia don’t seem to be in a big rush, perhaps because there is less pressure to always be “doing something.” While plans seem to fall though here more often, this has provided me with another lesson in patience and flexibility. In Bosnia, I had far more time to spend with my host family, and explore Sarajevo. It made me realize how often I’m preparing for the next thing. My life in Sarajevo taught me that a meaningful use of time does not necessarily constitute a planned activity or event. Some of my favorite moments on exchange have been enjoyed simply chatting with my host family over coffee.

In the end, I can honestly say that a year of exchange has taught me far more than a year of school ever has. Learning about a place from a textbook is a completely different thing from actually experienced it. While this might seem obvious and even expected, few other high schoolers receive the opportunity to leave their home country and live for ten months in a different one. Going through such a transformative experience at a young age is truly incredible, and I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to go on exchange.  Though I will no longer be living in Bosnia, I will continue to hold on to the memories of my exchange and love for my host family wherever the future may take me.

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

 

 

YES Program: A Postcard From Indianapolis

Toni Bevanda Program Postcard

— by Toni  Bevanda, YES Program 2016-2017, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Hi there,

My name is Toni, I am from Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and am placed in Indianapolis, Indiana. These 9 months have been a real roller coaster, because during this period I have had to adjust to a new culture and country, but then also start thinking about what it’s going to be like to leave this new life I built.

Thanks to the YES program I have realized everything is possible and that you can overcome almost every obstacle life puts in front of you. This year has affected me so much and has changed my mindset entirely. I feel like my brain and the way I think have improved and reached a level I never thought were possible for me.

I came to the U.S. to expand my cultural views and represent my country the best I can, and in return I have learned a bunch of things that have helped me determine my future life path. Living in a completely different environment and a new family helped me realize how there are different people, different cultures, and different ways of solving problems and doing things. The YES program connected me to both American and Mexican cultures, since I have been living with a host mother who is from Mexico. I am so grateful to this program but also to everyone I have met during this year. My new friends and family have shown me what support means and that they are the ones who will always help you if you are feeling homesick.

I did not document every moment through photos, because I think photos are a way to show off to others. I came here to experience things, to live in the moment and experience everything to the fullest. It’s too hard to choose what made this year unforgettable. From helping kids with disabilities with their theater performance, helping my teachers tutor students to becoming a captain of a Varsity Volleyball team and being a part of an amazing host family, theater family. I am a part of an amazing program which gave me so many chances to explore aspects of myself and learn about life. Something that I am always going to remember is International Education Week, when I saw how many students are interested in my country, a country 90% of them have never heard of.

I certainly know I will never, and I really mean never, forget this year of my life. This is the year which laid out for me a plethora of future paths. Travelling when you’re 17 and filling your schedule with volunteering and helping others is something that has helped make me feel fulfilled. Especially volunteering has showed me how grateful I have to be for everything I have, and I am proud to say I have reached my goal of volunteering for 100 hours while on program.

Now, when this year is slowly coming to an end I am trying to remember everything I have experienced and it is impossible to remember all of it. I urge everyone to at least try and apply for the program because you have nothing to lose. By applying for the program you can only enrich every segment of your life. It’s a unique experience and something you will never regret doing.

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!