Alumni of the U.S. State Department-funded American – Serbia and Montenegro Youth Leadership Exchange (A-SMYLE); the Serbian Youth Leadership Program (SYLP); and the Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Kosovo and Macedonia have been using their experiences as exchange students in the U.S. to inspire activities and projects that improve their home communities, teach about life in the U.S., and encourage others to take part in international exchange since the first A-SMYLE alumni returned home in 2006.
Now, for the first time, alumni from all three programs and seven countries are working together. From April 8-10, 2011, 35 alumni met in Ohrid, Macedonia to take part in a conference organized by American Councils, entitled “Get the Word Out!” Alumni spent the weekend learning how to advocate, advertise, and gain vital support for their community projects through interactive sessions on topics ranging from how to pitch a successful project proposal to potential supporters and donors, to how to tell a compelling story through photographs. Instruction was provided by Filp Tatalovic and Srdjan Djurovic, associates of an NGO that specializes in debating skills at the University of Belgrade, and professional photographers Tomo Vukadinovic and Bojan Dragicevic.
The participants unanimously agreed that this conference made them feel more confident in representing themselves and their projects both orally and visually. “I’ve learned more about debate arguments in these two days than I’ve learned from my teachers in two years,” one alumnus observed. “Also, learning more about creating a photo story is a very useful tool for future projects and events.”
Perhaps even more important than the skills the alumni gained are the relationships they built. Despite differences in language and culture, these diverse groups quickly blended into a single alumni body, not only collaborating during sessions, but also using free time to share their cultures and languages and explore the many differences and similarities among them. “Meeting new people and sharing ideas was amazing,” one alumna commented. Many alumni are now eager to continue collaborating across borders.
The “Get the Word Out!” conference was also attended by John Surface, Cultural and Educational Attache for the U.S. Embassy in Skopje; Niles Cole, Assistant Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Embassy in Tirana; and Tijana Hrkalovic, Public Affairs Assistant for the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade.