A letter from FLEX participant to American Councils in Belgrade

Dear American Councils staff,

I have been delaying to write to you because I have no idea how to put everything in words, which is ironic because I always thought I was good with words, it was one of my talents. Yet, here I am, having no clue how to tell you how grateful I am to you, my host family, and everyone else who made this possible for me. Everything that has happened in the last few months still feels unreal. I don’t think it will ever feel real.

NNNIt is very strange how people, who I didn’t even knew existed, in a town, that I have never heard of before, became so important and dear to me in such a short period of time. They accepted me for who I am. My host family made me feel at home instantly. They are amazing and they have done so much for me that I can never thank them enough. I love them so much.

The first few days were scary in school. They told us at the PDO that it is very possible that we are going to be placed in a small town with a small school and that we maybe even the only exchange student ever to go to that school, but that was not the case. The first day I walked into a huge school with a few thousand students. It was terrifying, so many kids everywhere and no one noticed me. It’s amazing how just in a month some of those unfamiliar faces in the crowds became familiar. My school is very culturally diverse. There are many exchange students, Mexicans, Americans, and kids from other nationalities, races, and so on. Everyone is so open-minded and accepting. I have never felt this accepted for being different and unique, even in my home country.

nnn2Of course I feel a little bit homesick, but honestly I don’t even have time to stop and think about home and being homesick. I have seen so many places and done so many amazing things I could have never done back home. The school offers so many amazing opportunities like archery (which I always wanted to do). My school is filled with amazing students and teacher who make everyday fun and entertaining. Here in the U.S. I take JROTC in school, which I never thought I would do. I never thought it would be this interesting and amazing. It really helped me understand American values more. I’ve learned that are Americans are very proud and patriotic, and I appreciate that even though I am a foreigner, they let me do some things that are considered a big honor for them; like saying the pledge on the morning announcements, participating in the flag retirement ceremony and the veterans day parade.

nnn3I also had an amazing time with all the volunteer opportunities, from events that made me feel very happy (like cooking for the less fortunate and helping to make Christmas great for kids that otherwise wouldn’t have Christmas) to very fun and entertaining volunteer opportunities (like working as a tour guide in a haunted house and working at a car wash). My host family took me to so many amazing places that I only dreamed about before and that I never thought I would get to see. I went camping at the Grand Canyon which was an amazing experience. I went to California to the cities I always dreamed about, like San Francisco and San Diego, and I even got to go to Disneyland for the first time. It still feels unbelievable that this has happened. Another amazing experience was going to a family wedding in Cincinnati. It was so beautiful, and I am so grateful I got to live through an American wedding, just like in the movies. I can never thank my host family enough for everything. They are not my host family, they ARE my family.

My local coordinator is also amazing and really devoted to us. She also took me and the other exchange students on amazing trips, like this weekend when we went to New Mexico. I got to see the White Sands which is unbelievable. I didn’t even know that a white desert exists and yet I saw it with my own eyes.

I have learned so much and my view of America and even the whole World has changed so much. I am definitely not the same person I was four months ago. Everything has changed, for the better!

This is such a long email and yet I didn’t even tell you most of my experience. I just wanted to thank you and wish you the best Christmas ever, because I know it will be for me. The year 2017 was incredible and unbelievable and I also hope you will have a great 2018! Hope all of you are doing great!

Best wishes,

Nevena Nikić

FLEX 2017

 

 

 

 

Kate Lopan (FLEX student from Ukraine) and Nevena at White Sands in New Mexico.

Fall trip to Serbia

By Molly Maahs, YES Abroad PY2017-2018, Macedonia

At the end of October, my high school, Gimnazija Josip Broz Tito, had an excursion to Belgrade and Nis, Serbia. Christina and I were lucky enough to join, along with our IB class and students of other classes.

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About 50 of us rode in a coach bus for eight hours before we got to our first destination. Translated into English, the site was called “Devil’s Town”. After hiking through the gorgeous fall leaves and getting fresh air, we came upon rock formations that were entirely unique. Our teachers explained the folktales and legends as to how they formed. The next stop was visiting the memorials that commemorate significant battles in Nis. One memorial that stood out in particular was the Skull Tower, which as its name suggests, was built from the skulls of fallen warriors during The First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1809. In the morning we woke up early and went to the Red Cross Concentration Camp that operated during World War II. The tour was a very powerful reminder and I am grateful for my friends who translated for me.

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After our time in Nis, we got back to the road and headed to Belgrade. Although there was some construction, we managed to see the Museum of Yugoslavia which happened to be Josip Broz Tito’s final resting place. I was really intrigued to learn more about the former president that my school in Skopje was named after. Other highlights included the Nikola Tesla Museum, Kalemegdan Fortress, the 61st International Book Fair of Belgrade, and of course some shopping.

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My whole weekend felt like I was living in the History Channel, as I was learning about many new aspects of culture and history while seeing them too. I am thankful for the opportunity to visit a country that I didn’t know much about and places that I may not have otherwise been to. Aside from the educational aspect, I was also able to meet a lot of new people who weren’t in my class, and bond with my friends over a lot of time in the bus. The same fun road trips I had at home with my family and class are also something that people in my host country enjoy as well!

STEP Training in Banja Luka

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From December 20-22, 2017 participants of the newly launched Student Training and Empowerment Program financed by the United States Embassy’s in Bosnia and Herzegovina Democracy Commission Small Grants program and implemented by American Councils for International Education office in BiH, participated in a three-day training which enabled them to gain skills they will need to be successful in future job search. Ten university graduate and undergraduate students from Banja Luka and Sarajevo were selected as finalists of this competitive pilot program.

During the intense three-day training held at the “Affirmation and Development Center in BL,” and which was led by expertise instructors, students gained skills in business etiquette, public speaking, basic IT literacy.  They also learned how to make concise, yet effective CVs as well as cover letters which they will use in their future job search, but which will also aid them in the second portion of the STEP program, which is participating in three-month long internships. These internships will be carried out from February until the end of April 2018.

During the three-day training in Banja Luka, participants also had the chance to meet and converse with Mr. Edward Gallagher and Ms. Sutton Meagher from the US Embassy Branch Office in Banja Luka. Mr. Gallagher and Ms. Sutton greeted the participants and gave them valuable words of advice, optimism and encouragement when it comes to the job market in Bosnia and Herzegovina and their future career choices.

November American Abroad Student of the Month: Gregory Reimonn

Greg in Bascarsija

Gregory Reimonn, a Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Abroad Program (YES Abroad) participant is the November 2017 American Abroad Student of the Month. Hailing from Massachusetts, Greg is currently studying in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Greg has so far shown that he is a responsible, mature, and diligent YES Abroad participant who continuously takes initiative in his host community.

Since his arrival to Sarajevo in mid-August, Greg has already volunteered over 50 hours through his efforts on promoting the United States around his host community, including volunteering twice per week for the English Club at a community center in Butmir, a small neighborhood of his host community. Greg has also been assisting during English language classes at a local middle school and has started a pen pal project between this school and his former elementary school in the U.S. According to the teacher at the school, her students are so impressed with Greg that his visits to their class are something they all eagerly look forward to each week. Greg launched the pen pal initiative during International Education Week in November 2017.

Greg’s Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian language skills have been particularly impressive. He is already able to hold fluent conversations with native speakers and has shown extraordinary progress in writing the languages as well, especially considering that he has been in Sarajevo for just over three months. Greg credits his language skills to hard work, assistance from his BCS teacher Asmira, and communication with peers at his host school and his host family. Staff at Greg’s host school, Četvrta gimnazija in his neighborhood of Ilidža, are impressed by his great language and social skills. According to his teachers, Greg is fully immersed in his classes, including his Bosnian language class that was designed for native speakers. According to his teacher, Greg has managed to write an analysis in BCS on Russian literature and did it very successfully this semester.

For his capstone project, Greg plans to focus on exploring the differences in ideologies of Bosnian youth who were not directly affected by the war, but who live in an environment where the events of the war still dictate the rules of their society.

Greg spends time bonding with his host parents and two host brothers as well as many extended family members and friends in Ilidža.  In his free time, together with friends from school, Greg joined a local swim team called “The Sharks”. Greg’s host family is particularly proud of all of his accomplishments and have nothing but words of praise for him. They state that Greg’s mature, responsible, and adaptable behavior make him a wonderful addition to their family and are looking forward to hosting him for the rest of the program year here in Sarajevo.

Congratulations, Greg!

HELLO FORM KANSAS CITY, MO

By Vesa Sherifi, YES 2017-2018, hosted by AFS Intercultural Programs in Kansas City, Missouri

Today I was coming back from school in the bus, and I was counting how many days have been since I am here, in Kansas City, MO, and I realized that haven been more then 3 months already. Wow! When I look back, I can clearly remember the days completing the tests, after that the documents, and very clearly the day me and my friends departed from Skopje, to start a wonderful journey.

I’m Vesa, exchange student in Missouri as part of YES program-Macedonia.

I’m one of those student that didn’t really decide to accept the scholarship until they saw themselves in the plane! If you ask why, I think it’s pretty normal to be scared to get out from you comfort zone, your small circle with few friends and family, get out of a small city as Kumanovo, to come in a different culture and huge city.

But, I am so happy I did it. I am so happy I had American Council’s workers on my side, the amazing 9 other finalist from Macedonia, and of course my family and friends.Since the first day I am here, my days have been full with memories to collect and moments to save and keep forever.

I go to “Lincoln College Prep Academy” which is the 1st best school in Missouri and it’s part of 100 best high-schools all over USA.

Since the first day, I felt very welcomed there and it was amazing how many people came to ask me about Macedonia.

But school, I’m volunteering in a pet shelter where I spend time with dogs and cats. I also worked with a Metropolitan College’s drama club for their last play where I was part of the stage crew.

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I’m looking forward to start shadowing soon in one of the hospital in KC.

I was part of a lot of school activities. Me and few other students, represented Lincoln to a Math Competition for the best math students around the region where more then 150 students were participating..and I won the 4th place.

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Being an exchange student is more than just for yourself. I understood that being an exchange student is being an example of people of your country, especially when you come from a small country as Macedonia, people want to know more and more. I’ve been trying my best to represent Macedonians and Albanians who live in Macedonia in the best way possible, talking about the diversity, culture, the way of living etc.

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One of the moments when I really felt like an young ambassador of Macedonia was while ” International Education Week”.

I gave 6 presentation in a row and to be honest after each 50 minutes long presentation I felt so tired, but each time, when I saw a lot of people coming through the classroom doors, encouraged me to talk to them, show them Macedonia, show them the Balkans, a piece of Europe they never knew before but I can ensure you, now they want to visit and it’s on their goals list.

All of those presentations made me see a lot  I never recognized about my country, like how many beautiful places are there to visit, how hospitable we are and how much we are worth to be recognized. I am feeling more proud as the days go by and so thankful I’ve been given this chance to tell people who I am and where I am from every time I succeed and do something good for this community.

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But me, Macedonia has 8 other amazing students, representing us in the best way possible, Marija, Lumi, Sara, Berta, Petar, Marija 2, Kushtrimi, Sara 2.

Separated all over USA, we are doing our best to teach people about us and at the same time making our American Dream come true.

We’re going to come back with a lots of stories to share and a lot of beautiful, useful ideas for our own community in Macedonia, until then don’t forget that everyone is good enough for this experience, all you need is confidence and you can be the next one writing for YES website and sharing you exchange stories.

PDO Teaching Opportunities for Alumni and Americans

Two types of pre-departure orientation teaching opportunities are now open to Americans and FLEX/YES program alumni. Apply by January 20, 2018!


 

TEACHING OPPORTUNITY
American Councils in Southeast Europe (SEE) seeks PDO Teachers to prepare U.S. State
Department FLEX and YES exchange program scholarship winners for the 2018-19 school
year. Under the guidance of American Councils, PDO Teachers and FLEX/YES alumni
Teaching Assistants will orient finalists to American culture and family life at PDOs to be held
June-July 2018.
Job Description
PDO teachers will be requested to:
Attend the entire four-day training of trainers (ToT) to be held in Kyiv, Ukraine in
(March or April-TBC) 2018 to learn about the FLEX/YES goals and objectives and the
PDO teaching methods and materials.
Collaborate with FLEX/YES alumni Teaching Assistants to prepare sessions and
teaching materials.
Team-teach sessions at PDOs to be held in June-July 2018 in Southeast Europe
Assist American Councils staff with occasional non-classroom responsibilities at the
PDOs.

Qualifications
PDO teachers must:
Be American citizens, with native English language skills.
Have attended a U.S. high school in the USA.
Have teaching experience, preferably high school level.
Have recently lived or still live in at least one of the SEE program countries (Albania,
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia).
Have a profound cultural understanding of Southeast Europe (preferably, candidates
need to be living in the SEE- candidates from outside the region will be considered on
a case by case basis)
Have interpersonal skills and ability to work with staff of different ages and cultural
backgrounds.
Be available to teach two to four PDO cycles between June 15 and July 15, 2018 (as
determined by Program Hub Director)

This teaching opportunity is compliant with Peace Corps guidelines for volunteer activities. Previous PDO teachers are welcome to apply.
PDO Teacher applicants should email
statement of purpose,
resume, and
passport copy (pdf)
to: pdoteacher@americancouncilssee.org by January 20, 2018.
Questions about the position can be directed to the same e-mail.


 

ALUMNI TEACHING OPPORTUNITY
American Councils in Southeast Europe (SEE) seeks FLEX/A-SMYLE and YES Alumni PDO
Teaching Assistants to prepare U.S. State Department FLEX and YES exchange program
scholarship winners for the 2018-19 school year. Under the guidance of American
Councils, FLEX/YES Alumni Teaching Assistants and American PDO Teachers will orient
finalists to American culture and family life at PDOs to be held June-July 2018.

Job Description
PDO Teaching Assistants will be requested to:
Attend the entire four-day training of trainers (ToT) to be held in Kyiv, Ukraine in
(March or April- TBC) 2018 to learn about the FLEX/YES goals and objectives and
the PDO teaching methods and materials.
Collaborate with American PDO teachers to prepare sessions and teaching
materials.
Team-teach sessions at PDOs to be held in June-July 2018 in Southeast Europe
Assist American Councils staff with logistics and occasional non-classroom
responsibilities at the PDOs.

Qualifications
Alumni PDO Teaching Assistants must:
Be alumni of the FLEX/YES/ASMYLE program who successfully completed their
program, with no extensive on-program issues (i.e. with no behavioral and
academic problems while in the U.S.), between and including 2012-2013 and
2015-2016 academic years.
Have completed their secondary school education.
Have interpersonal skills and ability to function with staff of different ages and
cultural backgrounds.
Be comfortable to interact and work with youth, and serve as an authority figure
to large numbers of teenagers.
Be available to attend the training of trainers in (March or April-TBC) 2018
Be available to teach two to four PDO cycles in Southeast Europe between June
15 and July 15, 2018 (as determined by Program Hub Director).
Alumni who taught PDO for more than two years are ineligible for this position.
PDO Teaching Assistant applicants should email their Alumni Teaching Assistant
Application Form and Essay to: pdota@americancouncilssee.org by January 20, 2018.
Questions about the position can be directed to the same e-mail address.

FLEX Serbia ’17 Re-Entry Spirit Continues Months After the Workshop

Edited by Marija Stojanovic ’17, with contributions from Andreja Milosevic ’12, and Nikola Milenkovic ’16

 

On August 28-30, 2017, 39 of the newest generation of FLEX Serbia alumni participated in a Re-entry Seminar organized by American Councils with support from the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, led by FLEX Serbia Alumni Coordinator Nemanja Miltenovic ’13 and a team of eight alumni mentors. Through the Re-entry program, participants had the opportunity to reflect on and synthesize their exchange experience; develop strategies for successfully navigating the challenges of readjusting to life in their home communities; build networks of fellow alumni; learn about the opportunities and resources available to them as FLEX alumni; and prepare to implement their own community service projects.

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Nikola Milenkovic ’16, who served as a Re-entry mentor, described the experience as “rewarding from many perspectives” and explained that he felt honored to be a part of the mentor’s group, where he learned new skills and developed a vision of what he wants to do in future – and that is organizing and helping others while actively learning and growing as a person.

Nikola and fellow mentor Andreja Milosevic ’12 were among four pairs of alumni mentors who led the new alumni in discussions about their experiences and problems they had faced while in the U.S. and after they have come back. They also discussed reverse culture shock and all the possible solutions to it. The mentors talked to the newly arrived alumni about how to get involved in the alumni community. They told them about their first projects, their success stories, but also their hardships and how they overcame them.

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In their free time and in between the sessions they talked to the alumni and got to know them personally, and that’s when they realized how much FLEX community means to all of them because they understand each other on so many levels.

Andreja Milosevic ’12, who has followed this alumni generation through testing, PDO, welcoming them home at the airport to, now, Re-entry, said: ‘A year after being a PDO teaching assistant, I got a chance to be a mentor at Re-Entry. Seeing all the students I taught last year and hearing their stories, was a really special thing for me. All of them came back more mature, more confident, more aware of others, but more importantly, aware of themselves and their possibilities in this world. Amazed by their creativity and kindness, I am so excited to see and participate in their future projects they do as FLEX Alumni.’

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Nikola also got really inspired by the new alumni’s dedication and said: ’The energy around here is amazing! I would definitely love to be a mentor at every re-entry in the future!’. He recognized himself in the new alumni; in their passion for growth, success, and their positive attitude. He liked how they kept in contact while being in the US, helped each other, and how they formed strong friendships. He said that there would be work to be done when they become active, but with their powerful mindset, every problem would be easily solved and every event successful.

 

Re-entry seminar participants had prepared final proposals for small grant funding, with support from their alumni mentors. Proposals have been submitted by September 30, 2017. A few of the projects have already taken place during October and November, while the rest will be implemented through December 31st, 2017.

 

There are nine (9) projects in total, which include twenty-two (22) newly returned alumni that have received the small grants. The projects will take place in eight (8) different cities around Serbia and will focus on many different community needs, few of which are: a holiday themed workshop with children without parental care in Sremska Kamenica, a food and clothing drive for the elderly in Jagodina and Paracin, a clean-up in Uzice, and lectures that focus on bringing light to important ‘taboo’ topics in Pancevo. It is these projects that will be showcased during the gallery walk and reception in January.

 

The reception will be located at the American Councils office in Belgrade, which will be decorated with posters created by the grant recipient(s) that highlight their project activities and impact. For the first hour of the event, grant recipients will stand with their posters, ready to discuss their projects with other guests. For the second hour, grant recipients will have the opportunity to circulate and view each other’s projects.

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By celebrating their first projects in this way, the alumni community hopes to show its newest members how valued and supported they truly are, and to give them the opportunity to further develop their networks within and beyond the FLEX alumni community.

 The exact date for the event will be set in consultation with U.S. Embassy representatives and grant recipients during December, when initial invitations to guests will be sent. They will also include a call to gather clothing and toys for the Children’s Shelter in Krfska, which will be collected during the event and delivered shortly afterwards, in the spirit of the winter holidays.

Identity

Old Orthodox Church

By: Haley Z.,

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2017-18

I’ve lived with the burden of being mixed race my whole life. Perhaps “burden” isn’t quite the right word, but it has always been an obvious part of my identity. I’ve figured out the best way to answer “where are you from” or more bluntly, “what are you” questions. When someone asks me about my race, it’s easy enough to explain. My mom is Chinese, my dad is white, I’m American. But here the answer is never so simple. When people ask me where I’m from, I automatically answer “America,” because I have an American passport. If they persist, I get a little more specific and say Maryland. If they persist even longer, usually by asking where I was born, I say California. This answer is never satisfactory, and leads to a heated argument about where I’m really from.

I know my own identity. I know who I am and that at the end of the day I am 100% American. Here, however, things are sometimes a bit more complicated. I’m obviously different from my other exchange students in some ways: I celebrate Chinese New Year’s, aggressively apply tiger balm at every opportunity given, and have never properly celebrated Thanksgiving. I have nearly black hair and equally as dark eyes and a complexion that is neither European or Chinese. I stand out from the crowd –  not just from locals but from the other Americans.

My race here is the most visible part of myself. Culturally speaking, I am more American than Chinese. But people don’t see that when they first meet me – they don’t associate the way I look and the way I act with Americans. They don’t associate me with being American, purely because I look different than how the average American is portrayed in the media.

At times I feel as if I’m reduced to simply being Asian. I’m reduced to questions about race and comments about stereotypes and people asking me to “just say something in Japanese,” (I’m not Japanese).  Everything I do somehow reflects my un “Americanness,” in a way that I have to prove myself to be just as American as other exchange students.

Being mixed race is hard wherever I go. In China, for example, people didn’t consider me Chinese. But that made sense, because I don’t even speak Mandarin.  So, here, having people argue with me about my ethnicity and my identity is a challenge I’ve never experienced. It’s something I’ve had to think about, something I’ve had to justify to others, and something that keeps coming up.

My point is, these are things I didn’t think about in the US.  Being in Bosnia I think about it a lot. I knew exchange would change my views on the world. I knew it would probably change my views on other people as well. However, I didn’t know it would change how I view myself. I’m still in the process of figuring out how to identify myself, and even more, how to express these identities to other people.

 

Sharing Macedonian Culture during IEW

By Sara Aleksieska, YES 2017-2018, hosted by Program of Academic Exchange in Yelm, Washington

 

Coming to the United States of America has been one of the greatest goals I have ever achieved for which I am very thankful for. I have been here as a 17 year old teenage girl, an exchange student at that, for only three months and it already feels like I belong. I’ve been to so many places, seen so many cool things, participated in crazy interesting activities and still, the best is yet to come! Thanks to Cross Country, a sport I ran a varsity race in, I made my first friends here, people that I still very often hang out with. Balancing that with the Drama Club has given me so many opportunities to learn and grow, understand and teach. Dramatourge is a position that followed my name in the high school play The Frogs and I had a lot of fun filling it in!

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Aside from trying out so many different things here, my culture is still a part of me that I cherish very much, so when International Education Week came around, I couldn’t help but spread around my excitement and of course, knowledge. Creating a presentation about my country Macedonia reminded me of how important it is to inform people about the uniqueness of every culture. My drawing class had the opportunity to hear it all first and their interest and participation took me aback so much that after that first presentation I talked to more of my teachers and had two more presentations that exact same day. Depending on which class I presented in, I used different methods to engage the audience. I had a PowerPoint in which I shared pictures and information about our History, Food, Music, Traditional Clothes etc. In other classes, such as Drama I made a Board Game in which I would introduce my classmates a Macedonian game, make them learn a traditional Macedonian dance, had them recite the alphabet with me, had them play charades with words in Macedonian and similar activities. We had so much fun that my teacher, Ms. Olson let me use the whole class period participating in the game herself!

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I have already held four presentations and have two more scheduled for the following week. I have also talked to the local library and we are working on arranging a date for a presentation there as well!

Putting the entirety of Macedonian culture in 20 minutes or 30 or 50 minutes has been very challenging as it has so many variations to it that it’s hard to stop talking about, but after hearing all the questions my classmates had I knew it was all worth it!

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BELL+ TOEFL Tips and Tricks

If you are planning to take the TOEFL test,

the BELL+ TOEFL Tips and Tricks is the right course for you! 

The BELL+ TOEFL Tips and Tricks is free of charge program the aim of which is to introduce the TOEFL test-takers with the structure of the TOEFL test, to provide them with useful tips on how to prepare themselves in the most efficient way in order to achieve the best possible results. The program, intended for English language learners who already have good command of English (CEFR B2 or higher levels), consists of five 90-minute classes which are held in the American Corners in Belgrade and Novi Sad.

BELL+ TOEFL Tips and Tricks, under the auspice of the US Embassy in Serbia, is implemented by the American Councils in collaboration with the American Corners. 

The deadline for application is November 23rd

Apply now on https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TOEFLtips

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