By Merima Muhic (YES 2015-2016, Bosnia and Herzegovina, hosted by ACES in Apex, NC)
Even though YES has been in Bosnia and Herzegovina for only 10 years, we consider the 15th anniversary of the YES program an important milestone because it marks the beginning of a program that has impacted so many lives in so many countries. The second week of September in Sarajevo offered a picture-perfect setting for a celebration. On this occasion, U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Maureen Cormack hosted our cohort of 25 YES alumni representing all program generations, eight current YES Abroad students, and ten of our closest supporters among U.S. Embassy and American Councils staff at her residence.
Guests were greeted with opening remarks from Cultural Affairs Officer Holly Zardus, who then introduced a series of speakers, beginning with Ambassador Cormack. The Ambassador spoke about the importance of exchange programs for both the State Department and its partner countries. She also expressed her belief that it is the ones who have had a chance to travel, live abroad, and learn to think outside of the box that are going to make a change in their country and the world.
Following the Ambassador, American Councils Country Representative Selma Campara addressed the group, sharing her perspective on the impact the YES program has had in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Next, I, as the YES Alumni Coordinator, spoke about the alumni community and all we have been doing to improve our local communities. Finally, alumni Lamija Jamak (YES 2013-2014, hosted by PAX in Marysville, WA) and Pavle Lakic (YES 2011-2012, hosted by YFU in Roseville, MN) spoke. Lamija, who served as YES Alumni Coordinator in 2017-2018, talked about her experiences in that role, as well as how the YES program helped her even after her exchange year. Pavle talked about his expectations before going to the U.S., his experiences once he was there, and the ways in which he learned about U.S. culture and shared his own.
The rest of the evening was filled with conversations and building new connections. And cake, of course. What would a celebration be without a cake? In our case, the guests enjoyed three cakes decorated with the YES 15th anniversary logo!
We thank Ambassador Cormack and everyone at the Embassy and American Councils who worked hard to make this happen. Happy 15th birthday, YES!