By Kristijan Naumcheski (YES 2016-2017, North Macedonia, hosted by CIEE in Barnard, MO)
I was a part of the YES program in 2016-2017 and was placed in Northwestern Missouri. I had fulfilled my wish to move out of my home country and visit the Western world, the first stop being the United States. I had the opportunity to live, for the first time in my life, in a relatively small town. The vast differences between the community in which I lived in the U.S. and my own country and city posed a challenge for me. Learning how to acclimate to a small midwestern town in Missouri as a teenager from the Balkans was difficult, but it taught me what it means to truly grow as a person.
Returning from the U.S. after my exchange year ended was equally confusing and exhilarating. I was excited to return to my city, to my family and to my friends. At the same time, however, I was sad to leave the new life I had started in Missouri. Missouri gave me so many new friends and acquaintances, new hobbies and new thrills. I had to leave them and continue my former life in North Macedonia. Acclimating back to the Balkan way of life took a surprisingly short period of time, but my view on life was different, of course. There were many differences of opinion on many subjects between my friends and me; some were rejected, but most were welcomed as a fresh perspective.
My wish to visit other countries never went away. Soon after returning to my country, I was quick to hop on board to travel at any opportunity available to me. After returning to North Macedonia in 2017, I visited Turkey, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and a couple of years later, I returned to the U.S. I decided to act on the passionate feeling of patriotism that I’ve always had by continuing my education in the Macedonian Military Academy “General Mihailo Apostolski”. I felt a strong feeling of belonging once I put on my military uniform. Shortly after becoming a cadet, I came across the opportunity to visit the U.S. for the second time in my life, this time at Norwich University in Vermont.
As soon as I stepped on campus, it seemed as my experience living in the U.S. during my YES year had given me a huge advantage at living in a foreign country. For the first time after leaving the U.S., I realized how much I’d grown during the time I was a part of the YES program. I gained new perspectives on life and I learned to blend in in a foreign atmosphere, to respect different cultures, and to be more independent. It became clear to me that I was a more complete person than I was before joining the program. I greatly enjoyed my second time in the U.S., learned many new things, and returned home an even more complete person.