From April 19-23, 81 FLEX, YES, and YES Abroad alumni from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and the United States gathered in Podgorica, Montenegro, for the fourteenth annual regional workshop in Southeast Europe and the eighth annual IDEAL Workshop. For the first time, the event also included YES Abroad alumni from the United States – Armenia. The program was led by ten mentor-trainers, including eight FLEX and YES alumni mentors, one current Fulbright Teaching Assistant, and one Professional Fellows Program alumna.  

Before the workshop, participants gathered in their country groups for pre-departure orientation, led by each country’s Alumni Coordinator, where they learned about team building, constructive communication, dialogue facilitation, and conflict resolution. 

During the program, participants were divided into five groups, each focused on a different theme with a program developed exclusively for the alumni group by their mentors. These themes were: Art, Culture, and Storytelling; Communication and Professional Development; Diplomacy and International Relations; Policymaking and Regional Integration; and Self-actualization and “Adulting”. Participants also had the chance to participate in two elective sessions related to a workshop topic outside their theme. Throughout the program, participants built intergenerational and cross-border relationships while gaining valuable professional skills and experiences they will later use to implement projects that address needs in their communities. 

On Saturday, representatives of the U.S. Embassy Facility Manager Brad Rollans and On-site Architect Armando Horsey addressed participants, sharing life and career advice related to the workshop themes. Participants also explored Podgorica, guided by local FLEX alumni. 

On Sunday, alumni analyzed, synthesized, and utilized what they had learned to design their own activities, which they implemented on Monday at two local elementary schools, one high school, and one international school, engaging 295 students. After analyzing this experience, participants planned their own community projects, which they will be implementing in May and June. Monday ended with a celebration of FLEX’s 30th anniversary, complete with cake, a rendition of “Happy Birthday” (to FLEX!), a networking mixer focused on reflections on participants’ exchange and alumni experiences, and participant-led karaoke featuring songs from each participating country and U.S. songs that reminded alumni of their exchange year in the U.S. 

On Tuesday, one participant from each theme group addressed workshop participants in the program closing, sharing reflections on the highlights and impact of the IDEAL experience. The majority described leading activities at local schools as the highlight of the workshop, explaining that the experience helped them to better understand what they had learned and to see how they could use that learning to impact others.  

Marina Simou (FLEX ’23), representing the Diplomacy and International Relations track, shared how a message from mentor Ana Milojevic (FLEX ’17) changed her perspective: “It is not me against you, but us against the problem.” Orges Selimi (YES ’20), representing the Self-actualization and Adulting track, shared how his group became “like one family” after mentor Ksenija Edelinski (FLEX ’13) demonstrated the Barnum effect by giving them all a single personality test result in which all of them saw themselves clearly represented. The closing concluded with remarks from the U.S. Embassy’s Deputy Public Diplomacy Chief Suzanne Schaefer, followed by acknowledgement and applause for the alumni mentor-trainers. 

Participant feedback about the program was overwhelmingly positive. Participants noted that the workshop helped them better understand other cultures, work with people from different backgrounds, and effectively communicate disagreements! Here are some of their impressions, in their own words: 

“These programs are so valuable for me in so many ways – from socializing and feeling more connected to my own local alumni community and the whole community to learning so much and gaining confidence and leadership skills.” 

“It was an eye-opening experience that further improved my appreciation for different cultures by the connections I made during the workshop, and it helped me develop professionally.” 

“It is extremely helpful and inspiring for me as a student to participate and learn from others and peers my age with different ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives.” 

As the participants now embark on implementing 59 community projects across their countries, the impact of this workshop will continue to ripple through their communities, showcasing the power of international exchange and collaboration. 

This workshop was made possible by the FLEX and YES programs, as well as grants from the U.S. Embassies in Prishtina, Sarajevo, and Sofia. 

 

Featured Alumni: 

Marina Simou FLEX ’23 (Athens, Greece, placed by AFS in Bear, DE) 

Ana Milojevic FLEX ’17 (Belgrade, Serbia, placed by ASSE in Longview, WA)  

Orges Selimi YES ’23 (Prishtine, Kosovo, placed by AFS in Geneva, IL)   

Ksenija Edelinski FLEX ’13 (Belgrade, Serbia) 

 

Alumni Mentors: 

  •  ART, CULTURE, AND STORYTELLING 
    • Ana Dutina YES ’16 (Dutina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, placed by PAX in Lake Worth, FL) 
    • Marija Takic FLEX ’18 (Belgrade, Serbia, placed by CIEE in Grand Junction, CO) 
  • COMMUNICATION AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT 
    • Irfan Durmic YES ’16 (Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, placed by World Link in Caseyville, IL) 
    • Simona Jendroska YES ‘10 (Tetovo, North Macedonia, placed by World Link in Washington, IA) 
  • DIPLOMACY AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 
    • Ana Milojevic FLEX ’17 (Belgrade, Serbia, placed by ASSE in Longview, WA) 
    • Djordje Mirkovic YES ’16 (Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, placed by American Councils in North Easton, MA)  
  • POLICYMAKING AND REGIONAL INTEGRATION 
    • Miljana Pejic (PFP Serbia ’23) 
    • Reneta Krivonozova YES ’12 (Sofia, Bulgaria, placed by American Councils in Baxter, IA) 
  • SELF-ACTUALIZATION AND ADULTING 
    • Ksenija Edelinski FLEX ’13 (Belgrade, Serbia) 
    • Mitchell Johnson (Fullbright US ’24) 
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments