On October 28-31, six FLEX alumni from Serbia joined 21 YES alumni from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Kosovo, and North Macedonia in Skopje, North Macedonia, for an interactive workshop on critical thinking. Guided by award-winning professor and Executive Director of American Councils’ Center for Global Leadership Dr. Sam Potolicchio, participants learned about the ways in which our brains process, and sometimes tune out, new information, and explored strategies for more effectively observing, processing, analyzing, articulating, and utilizing information.  

This core program was complemented by peer sessions led by public health expert Klea Troka (YES Albania ’12), communications specialist Kejsi Kurani (YES Albania ’16), lawyer Selma Lacic (YES Bosnia and Herzegovina ’11), gender expert Krenare Loxhaj (YES Kosovo ’11), soon-to-be Doctor of Medicine Edina Osmankaj (YES Kosovo ’15), and architect Petar Tatic (FLEX Serbia ’10) in their fields of expertise.  At the end of the program, 100% of participants reported that they had developed personal competencies, such as confidence, communication, teamwork, problem solving, conflict-resolution and leadership, and that they left the workshop “more curious or eager to learn new things.” 

“After this workshop, I have more hope that I can better contribute,” one participant acknowledged. “The experience has rekindled my interest in gaining more knowledge, making meaningful connections and being more active [in the alumni community].” 

“I have learned to be more careful to inputs that we are subjected to on a day-to-day basis,” another participant reflected. “This workshop gave me a lot of motivation to advance more in my professional field and also in personal development. I will make very good use of it.” 

“I think viewing different situations from a different point of view has helped me realize how diverse [a] particular situation can look depending on where you’re looking at it from,” a third participant noted. “The important thing I learned…was to actually try and look at things from different points of view and pay more attention to what people want to get out of [a] conversation to try and meet both of our needs and preferences without stepping over each other’s barriers and keeping the mutual respect.” 

“I am impressed by this workshop in the best way possible,” a fourth participant shared. “This workshop not only helped me [to be] a more critical thinker, but I am also motivated to share [what I learned] with people in my network circles. I am thankful and feel privileged to be able to participate in such training [so] many years after my [exchange] program. These trainings are a reminder and a motivator for me to increase and prioritize participation with the alumni organization.” 

Many alumni shared the sentiment that they appreciate the opportunities the YES and FLEX programs continue to provide alumni after they complete the initial exchange. “Starting from the exchange year to this day this program and alumni community continue to have one of the biggest positive impacts on my life,” one participant explained. The Critical Thinking Workshop program was designed specifically for the Southeast Europe region’s most “senior” alumni, those of generations 2017 and older, offering this group of young professionals and advanced students not only content specifically designed for their needs, but also an opportunity to (re)connect with one another and with the FLEX and YES programs. All participants reported that the workshop left them feeling more connected to the alumni community, and 96% shared that they were interested in becoming more engaged in alumni activities and/or taking advantage of more alumni opportunities as a result of participating. 

Following the workshop, alumni shared their reflections on what being part of the alumni community means to them. Here are some examples of what they had to say: 

“It’s a very special connection that…alumni have I believe. Because [the alumni community] is so unique to only us, it gives a place where we are understood and a space where we can continue to learn and grow as different individuals… It is always so special for me whenever in the presence of alumni. It feels like home. It’s like a security blanket.” 

“There are many great opportunities created by American Councils and other related organizations which motivate me to continue the connection to the alumni community and when possible, give back to my local community as well.” 

“[Being part of the alumni community] has opened my eyes to so many things I didn’t even know existed in terms of life philosophy and way of living. When I see how successful [alumni] are it motivates me to do better. Every time I meet an alum, I am recharged with energy to do more and better.”

“[Being part of the alumni community] broadens your perspective of how you see the world and every time we get the chance to [be together with other alumni] I grow more.” 

“[The alumni community is] a community where I always feel inspired and motivated to be a better person.” 

“I’ve had better opportunities and more valuable acquaintances because of the alumni community. The access to tailored, exclusive programs such as this one has made me a more competent professional and a better human being.” 

Participation of FLEX alumni from Serbia in the Critical Thinking Workshop program was made possible by a grant from the Embassy of the United States of American in Serbia. Participation of Youth Exchange and Study (YES) alumni was funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State through the YES Program.