The U.S. State Department’s English Access Microscholarship Program (Access) provides a foundation of English language skills to talented 13-20 year-olds from economically disadvantaged sectors through after-school classes and intensive sessions. Access gives participants English skills that may lead to better jobs and educational prospects. Participants also gain the ability to compete for and participate in future exchanges and study in the United States. In addition to English language instruction, the program provides an American-style classroom experience using U.S. materials and emphasizing active learning. Access also fosters mutual understanding, strengthens teachers’ and students’ teaching and language skills, develops critical thinking capabilities, and conveys balanced and accurate information about the United States. Since its inception in 2004, over 100,000 students in more than 85 countries have participated in the Access Program.
Currently, in Bosnia and Herzegovina there are around 800 Access alumni and 100 students who are now attending the Access program under the auspices of American Councils for International Education and the Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Access program was introduced to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2004, and has been administered by American Councils for International Education since 2006. It provides English instruction and native guest speakers to students from state-funded Madrasahs throughout the country: Sarajevo, Tuzla, Veliko Cajno, Travnik, Cazin and Mostar. Upon completion of the two-year program, students receive diplomas from the U.S. State Department. Since 2006, approximately 800 students in BiH have participated in the Access program. In 2013, Access program was divided between the Islamic Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the American Councils. In this period the Islamic Community implement the program in Madrasahs, and American Councils office in Sarajevo has implemented portion of the program in schools that use different curricula in Zepce, Travnik and Busovaca. From 2015, the Islamic Community started implementing program in Busovaca, in addition to implementation of the program in Madrasahs. American Councils continued to implement program in Zepce and Travnik during 2015/2016. For program year 2017/2018 Access program will be implemented by American Councils in Travnik and by the Islamic Community in Madrasahs and in Busovaca.
In 2007, students participated in the first summer camp as part of their program held in Madrasah in Cazin. The second camp was held in 2012 in Veliko Cajno, third in 2013 in Sarajevo, fourth in 2014 in Tuzla and fifth in 2016 in Mostar, all in the respective hosting Madrasahs.
Access students are encouraged to actively participate in classes, work on their own projects and even come up with new ideas to make classes more interesting. Scavenger hunts, field trips and pen pal programs are just some of the hands-on activities that are part of the Access program. Students also participate in the annual Embassy-sponsored spelling bee contest, are introduced to guest speakers from the United States several times per year and they also participate in community service projects.
In 2014 American Councils celebrated 10 years of Access program in Bosnia and Herzegovina. For this event, a group of alumni were invited for a day at the Embassy of the United States, where they met with their former teachers and Embassy and American Councils staff in charge of the program. Alumni expressed their great satisfaction for being a part of Access and they told stories of how Access changed their lives. These are some of the things alumni said:
“Nowadays it is mandatory to know at least one foreign language, especially English, because it is present everywhere. Knowledge that I gained from Access program helped me a lot during college where we had to use English literature for a number of subjects and I’m sure that it will give me great opportunities for employment.”
“English language is very important at university. Next year I am going to graduate Pharmacy and I believe that Access helped me to gain the skills and qualification that lead to my position now. I already said that it improved my language and speaking skills and also it taught me that I have to be good and honorable citizen so after finishing this program I felt that I can make positive changes in my own life and society as well.”
“Being part of the program helped me grow both personally and professionally by giving me the opportunity to improve my English, learn other useful skills, meet new people some of whom later came to be my friends and/or colleagues. I especially liked the opportunity to meet new people coming from a foreign country, having different cultural background.”
Madrasahs in Tuzla – 10-year anniversary of Access program
Alumni were asked what did Access mean to them and what does it still mean, and some of the answers were following:
“It was a great experience. For two years of Access I learned a lot. Access offered a rich program of workshops that have helped me in socialization. It is very important to be able to communicate in a foreign language; thanks to Access program I can do it successfully.”
“For me, the Access program is the best process so far, in which I participated. On this program, I learned many things, starting with the American culture, their civilization, way of life, learning method. My communication in English language is now much better, thanks to Access program. Also, this program has enabled us to expand our friendship. It contributed me that I can communicate freely, deal with a variety of activities, people, personalities, with full support. I am very proud to be a part of this team. Thank you!”
“The word “access” as a noun means approaching to something. For me it means approaching to knowledge and communicating to the world. During this program I improved my language and speaking skills. Also, we taught about American values and history and about people with other culture and interests. I felt richer after this experience.”
During the following years Access students were using their knowledge, were ready to start their role as young leaders ready to build better future of this country. It is very important that these young people are aware of their capabilities and are prepared to undertake necessary changes in the society.
The role of the U.S. Ambassadors in awarding the certificates to students adds additional value to the program itself, by showing the importance that the United States of America gives to raising mutual understanding and bridging cultures through high profile programs such as the English Access Microscholarship Program.
Learning about each other, having possibility and opportunity to get to know other cultures, customs, religions, overcoming prejudice etc. is the real impact of this program.