FLEX Participants Follow in the Footsteps of Tesla, Pupin, Abramović…

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Barber, Chris and Nikola Tesla

While strolling past the Spanish, Turkish, and Belgian embassies one Saturday afternoon in Belgrade on Krunska street, I noticed the Nikola Tesla Museum was open to visitors. In an attempt to escape the September heat, I soon found myself taking refuge among a number of Tesla’s inventions. Among the induction motors, alternating currents, and electric coils, a quote from Tesla made me stop and ruminate its significance:

“The spread of civilization may be likened to a fire; first, a feeble spark, next a flickering flame, then a mighty blaze, ever increasing in speed and power.”

What did Tesla mean by “the spread of civilization”, I pondered? Growing up a Serb in modern-day Croatia, and studying in Graz, Prague, and Budapest before leaving for the United States at the age of 28, Tesla already had ample life experience among diverse cultures, languages, and ethnicities. His exposure to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and later the US exemplified the ability of human beings to relocate, adapt, and develop according to their surroundings. And just as his quote stated, in the US Tesla did become a “flickering flame…ever increasing in speed and power” soon working alongside Thomas Edison and contributing to inventions that are still in use today.

Reading about Tesla’s biography compelled me to recall stories of other famous Serbians whose experiences in the US contributed to their personal and professional development. For example, Marina Abramović, the so-called “grandmother of performance art” of Montenegrin origin, raised and educated in Belgrade, eventually settled down in the US and had her work featured in a 2010 Museum of Modern Art exhibition in New York. Another famous Serb, Mihajlo Pupin, became a world-renowned physicist and chemist who moved to the US in 1874, becoming one of the founding members of an agency which later became NASA.  A plethora of famous Serbian athletes have also ended up in the US, such as Vlade Divac, who came to the US to play professional basketball, being named on the FIBA Hall of Fame and later working as general manager of the Sacramento Kings.  Actors and actresses, such as Croatian-born Rade Šerbedžija and Serb-Australian Bojana Novaković, have also spent time in the US developing their professions in entertainment and starring in American films.

While the US may not always be the final destination for the long list of influential Serbian inventors, entertainers, and athletes, for many of them it did leave an impression upon their careers. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote following his renowned trip to the United States, “America is a land of wonders, in which everything is in constant motion and every change seems an improvement.”  Having an advantageous head-start on their education and professional journeys, Serbian students participating in the U.S. Government sponsored FLEX Program with American Councils are thus given the opportunity to seek out the very motion and self-improvement of which de Tocqueville wrote about, gaining greater cultural insight along the way as they follow their dreams.

Christopher T. Barber

YES/FLEX Program Recruiter