YES Alumna Creates Hometown Book Exchange

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

After spending a year in Chaska, Minnesota as a YES student, Anela Tiro (PY 2015-16) knew how powerful it was to discover and engage with a different perspective. She wanted to bring that experience to people in her hometown of Mostar, BiH so she decided to create a public bookshelf at the American Corner in Mostar. Anela described the bookshelf as “a resource for personal and intellectual development” that she hoped would help her peers “discover new things in order to shape critical thinking and make this world a better place.”

The public bookshelf is open to everyone and operates under one simple principle: if you take a book from the bookshelf, you should also donate one in return. That way, the bookshelf is home to an ever-changing variety of literature that anyone, regardless of their background or personal finances, can access. Anela hopes that “the shelf might bring new ideas to others, and will spark a fire in someone’s deepest thoughts.”

And it appears to have done just that! Since its opening in August of 2016, the shelf has grown in popularity. American Corners staff in Mostar have remarked that most locals are surprised to find a bookshelf like this exists in their hometown. People have enthusiastically latched onto the bookshelf’s principle, with many people taking one book, but leaving 3 or 4. In fact, the bookshelf is so popular that at times it’s hard to find a place on the shelf to put the newly donated books! With this simple structure, Anela Tiro has created a whole new type of exchange in her own backyard.

Side by Side

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.

Letter from Bulgarian YES student currently on the program in USA

by Mirela Minkova, YES sudent from Bulgaria currently on the program in Edwardsville High school, Illinois

I have been in Edwardsville, Illinois for a month and a half but I already feel like a part of that amazing community. I am thankful for the great opportunity that the YES program gave me. Every day I learn new things about America and I teach people about Bulgarian culture. My experience so far has been really exciting and I am happy to share some of my most awesome moments. I want more students in Bulgaria to find out how much they can gain from an exchange year and I want to encourage everyone interested to apply!

Now I am a senior at Edwardsville High school and my wonderful host sister, Dara, is a freshman. We are having a lot of fun together. In one of the photos that I am sending, Dara and I are enjoying one of the best zoos in the US – Saint Louis Zoo. On the other photo we are having a great time at the lake at Holiday Shore, Illinois. It was my first time kayaking. On the third photo I am at my first American football game. I was really excited to take a picture with Edwardsville High School mascot, the Tiger! I feel great and I am an active part of the school life. I believe that it is an amazing experience and that everyone should try and apply to become an YES exchange student.

YES Alumni Mingle at Welcome Party

To celebrate the return of the YES Alumni 2015-2016, a party was held at American Councils on Saturday, June 25. The new alumni retuned to Macedonia from the United States a few days before the party, and the event was a way for them to get to know each other and other YES Alumni.

The party started when those in attendance went around the room to introduce themselves and tell the group where they were placed in the United States. The group then mingled and chatted in both Macedonian and English about their experiences. Alumni discussed what they enjoyed about the United States, what surprised them about the United States, and what they learned during their time abroad.

photo for party

They also shared stories about their unique experiences and then talked about what they hope to accomplish now that they are back in Macedonia and have access to the support system and network of YES Alumni.
Rina Halili, who spent the past year in Minnesota, said she was thankful the party gave her the opportunity to talk with everyone and hear about their experiences.

“Everyone was very welcoming and friendly,” she said. “The alumni really helped us by sharing some information and tips on what can we do in the future as YES Alumni.”

She also said she “really enjoyed” the food at the party. The Mexican lunch included mini burritos and quesadillas in addition to various soft drinks and chocolate-covered churros for dessert.

City Representatives work to make a positive impact on their communities

When YES Alumni Marija Krsteva wanted to volunteer more in her community and promote the opportunities that are available through YES Abroad, she decided to become a City Representative.

City Representatives are leaders within the YES Alumni community, and they work to coordinate and promote various projects within their groups. City Representatives take initiative to help others with their volunteer projects, and they also work to plan their own volunteer projects.


Marija Krsteva

“I wanted to challenge the kids to apply (to YES Abroad) and show them that everything is possible through my example,” she said. “I was also thrilled about working with other people, sharing ideas and learning something new.

Once she became a City Representative, Krsteva began a project she called “Seeing Beyond Blindness.” She reached out to blind members of the area where she lived and spoke with them about their needs. After determining how she could best assist them, she worked to obtain a grant through American Councils to purchase 16 white canes for blind individuals who needed them.


Angela Gekanovik

This is just one of the projects Krsteva has worked on during her time as a City Representative, and both she and YES Alumni City Coordinator Angela Gjekanovikj agree that the position has allowed them to make meaningful connections with those around them and in turn have a positive impact on the community.

Gjekanovikj most recently led a team of YES Abroad students and YES Alumni as they prepared for seven months to compete in the Model United Nations conference. She organized workshops to improve the team members’ resolution writing and public speaking skills. The team went on to represent one of the biggest countries in the competition, Russia, and two members of her team were selected to receive the “best  delegate award.”

In addition to leading the Model United Nations team, Gjekanovikj has facilitated entrepreneurship training during her time as a City Representative. She used NESTA training and tools from a British Councils to lead interactive activities to help the nine participants in attendance develop business ideas and create plans to execute future projects. The goal of the program was to support a diverse group of individuals to start their own businesses and in turn grow business in Macedonia.

Because of the various activities she has participated in while serving as a City Representative, Gjekanovikj said her time in the position has been “interesting and rewarding.” Krsteva also said she enjoys the position because she can help those in her community.

“I can help people directly and indirectly (as a City Representative,” Krsteva said. “For example, I can encourage these kids to apply and I have helped them indirectly, but maybe if I actually teach blind kids some English, I have helped them directly. I feel like I am alive, doing something right.”


YES Abroad Alumni 2015-2016 return to the United States

YES Abroad Macedonia 2015-2016 students ended their 10-month stay in Macedonia this weekend and arrived in the United States on Monday, June 13. Alumni Marina Godinez, Brendan Schultz, Charlie Bordeon, and Maxwell Myers touched down on Monday and then made their way to Washington, D.C. for a debrief orientation.

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The four spent Tuesday at the Department of State and the Macedonian Embassy discussing their experiences in Macedonia and talking about everything from Macedonian geography to Macedonian food. They then presented their capstone project as a group and talked more about their time abroad.

While in the capital, they met with YES Abroad Bosnia and Herzegovina 2015-2016 alumni to share their experiences and tour the city. The group saw the White House and the Washington Monument as well as other attractions in the area.


The alumni then went to the airport to board separate planes to fly to their hometowns and reunite with their families and friends.


YES Abroad students, YES Alumni participate in Macedonia’s Model United Nations

Maxwell Myers, YES abroad student Macedonia, shared his experience at Macedonia’s Model United Nations on May 28:

“After months of preparation and hard work, the 5th Session of Macedonia’s Model United Nations was under way. People from across Macedonia, including Kosovo, were ready to represent their respective countries. Along with my fellow YES Abroad students, YES Alumni, and friends, we made our way to the conference as delegates representing Russia. As delegates from Russia, we were tasked with job of portraying the interests of The Russian Federation within our committees in the United Nations.

My fellow YES Abroad student, Brendan Schultz, and I, were tasked with representing Russia in the Security Council. Since the early hours of the morning until the latter hours of the afternoon, we debated on an array of topics and worked with other countries to make resolutions. The opportunity to work in a committee such as the Security Council proved to be a great challenge for us. Challenges pertaining to working in the Security Council ranged from working on a crisis issue to making resolutions pertaining to the current crisis in The Central African Republic.

received_10207826551236459This opportunity was an amazing experience because it pushed my fellow
delegates and me to learn how to cooperate, mediate, and form coherent arguments while represent the interests of our countries. In addition to this, I am sure that the skills I gain here will assist me in becoming a better public speaker, debater, and representative of my views.”

YES abroad visit Struga, Vevchani and Ohrid

Marina Godinez, YES abroad student Macedonia shared her experience of visiting Struga Vevchani and Ohrid  in her own words:

13260260_1306091216071993_6447439980681971040_n“This past weekend , we went to Struga , Vevčani, and Ohrid. Unfortunately, our second time in Struga was also diminished by the bad weather but visiting the American Corner was great as always. It’s so cool to see what people are actually gaining and learning from this institution.

Vevchani was so much fun, we danced and learned the local “oro” and learned a lot about old traditions only done in Vevchani. Living in Skopje, it’s easy to get caught up in a very modern part of Macedonia.

Ohrid was gorgeous as always, and we got sun! I highly recommend spending more time at St. Naum- one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life. The bay of bones was also incredible , I had no idea that there was ancient history in Ohrid dating all the way to the bronze age. It was great to have alumni with us in all the cities because they are usually our friends and know the best places to eat and have coffee!”