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A Bethesda Host Family Reunion

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Interview with Filip Stefanovski (YES 2014-2015, North Macedonia, hosted by American Councils in Bethesda, MD)

Did the YES program change your world view?

Of course, it did. Before the YES program, I didn’t really know what to do with my life. At one point, I toyed around with the idea of becoming a psychologist, like my Mom; at other times, I wanted to study computer science. I was a bit directionless. In the U.S., I realized what my dream was. I decided I wanted to open an inclusive and innovative English language school for all ages in Macedonia. After being exposed to a different style of teaching, I was very keen to develop a new creative way of learning foreign languages in my own country. My single-parent host dad was very supportive of my English learning – he always read my essays and provided comments, and we had lots of interesting discussions in the evenings. I’m currently a student majoring in English language and literature.

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You mentioned that you are a student. Do you also work?

I’ve actually got two part-time jobs – one as a Key Account Manager in a commercial audio studio called Tik Tak and another as a barista in a park cafe. Our main areas of work at Tik Tak are dubbing and post-production of movies, cartoons, and commercials. We work with lots of languages and operate a large audio database. It’s exciting to match voices in order to make movies come alive in your native language. I like searching for the closest alternative to every character’s voice. My tasks also include developing relationships with current and new clients. Of course, these two jobs are very different from one another, but there’s one thing that unites them – it’s the importance of communicating with other people. And this is something that I really love.

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Going back to your American experience, what are your YES highlights?

When I arrived in the U.S., there were lots of things that I’d never tried or even planned on doing. But my peers and teachers there always pushed me to challenge myself. It was scary at first, but exciting when I actually got myself to try new things. For example, I’d never tried singing in front of anyone, even in front of my family, but in the U.S., I once performed the U.S. national anthem with my school choir at a DC United game. But the most memorable experience of all was a two-week school trip to The Camphill School for children with developmental disabilities.

What did you do at The Camphill School?

Together with my classmates, I volunteered by doing activities with the children. We participated in their classes and evening activities, and I was amazed at how interesting and varied their activities were. Every evening there was something new to do – from picking fruit to planting trees to visiting the farm. It was a lot of fun, and the two weeks flew by. 

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After your return home, you organized your own community service project for children and youth with developmental disabilities in Macedonia. Can you tell me about it?

It was a yearlong project for 30 children and youths with developmental disabilities called “Healthy Mind, Healthy Lifestyle.” I organized it with the Institute for Rehabilitation of Children and Youth with Developmental Disabilities and the Lions Club of Skopje. The aim of this initiative was very simple – to encourage these young people to lead a healthy lifestyle through exercise and a balanced diet. Afterwards, I received a lot of positive comments from them. This was a new experience for them, and they felt inspired to continue with sports and healthy eating.

Unfortunately, education and support for youth with developmental disabilities is very different in Macedonia. Work in the field is underpaid, there aren’t communities designed to meet their needs, and schools often don’t have enough facilities and activities for them. Another huge problem is bullying. In the U.S., my classmates grew up seeing people with disabilities in their communities and weren’t surprised by the fact that they were different. In Macedonia, there’s still a long way to go to achieve such inclusivity. But I’m confident that things will change in the future, and I’d love to contribute to this change personally.

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Tell me about your experience being a Civic Education Alumni Ambassador.

Being a Civic Education Alumni Ambassador is something I will remember for the rest of my life. I got to visit my host dad as well as meet so many amazing people. It helped me further develop my leadership and public speaking skills. I am used to speaking in front of people in a more casual way, but it challenged and pushed me forward to present to people from the State Department as well as Congressman and their staff. What helped me get past the anxiety was realizing that I was doing something important. I was promoting the YES Program so other young people can have the same experience. Presenting to the current exchange students and hearing their questions and thoughts on possible future projects was also very fulfilling.

Last, but not least – how was the experience of reuniting with your host dad?

After my exchange, I kept in touch with my host dad, but I never thought that I would get the opportunity to see him again so soon. Four years sounds like a long time, but, for me, it was like my exchange never ended. It felt like only yesterday we said our goodbyes and now we were reunited again. During our week together, I got to experience a lot of things. First, I got to meet Toby, a 185-pound Mastiff. Our initial meeting was an experience of its own! But what followed was a friendship I will never forget. He is basically a human, not a dog. He loves people, apples, and really, I mean really, loves to cuddle. 

I also got to go to one of my host dad's operas, since he opened his own opera company, Maryland Lyric Opera. Before my exchange, I was never exposed to opera or playing instruments, but during my exchange, I came to realize that I really enjoy it. The best thing about my host dad is probably his cooking. I will try any new food if he makes it, and I am a picky eater! We also went to a hockey game, which was a really nice experience because I finally found a sport I like watching. My host dad is literally my favorite person ever, and if I had never met him, I don’t know where I’d be today because he is my inspiration in life.


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