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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.