From March 24-28, 83 YES and FLEX alumni from Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia gathered in Tirana, Albania, for the thirteenth annual regional workshop in Southeast Europe and the seventh annual IDEAL Workshop. For the first time, the event also included a country outside of Southeast Europe – Armenia, making the entire workshop even more international!
Before the workshop, participants gathered in their country groups for pre-departure orientation, led by each country's Alumni Coordinators, where they learned about team building, constructive communication, dialogue facilitation, and conflict resolution skills.
On the first day of the workshop, when participants arrived in Tirana, they met the staff and mentors and learned more about the workshop. After introductions, participants spent most of the program in five theme groups: Art, Culture & Storytelling, Career Development & Workplace Skills, Creative Communication, Mental Health with a focus on Stress Management, and Mental Health with a focus on Self-esteem. Alumni selected the workshop topics through a series of surveys and idea-gathering.
Each track brought alumni from different countries together, and mentors from the region’s U.S. government-sponsored exchange program alumni community led each group.
In addition to working on their theme and in country groups, participants also took part in a cultural activity. Participants could choose between several city tours that would allow them to learn more about Tirana and Albania. To further help participants get a feel for the host city, the workshop also included a community activity where one group of students visited a local middle school leading mini-training programs inspired by the workshop for several classes, while another group of students visited a local elderly home where they collected oral histories from the residents.
One of the main aims of the workshop was for participants to develop community projects to implement when they return home. Therefore, during the workshop, various sessions were dedicated to project planning and gathering feedback for their ideas. Participants first planned their projects in country groups, then collaborated in mixed groups to present their ideas and hear feedback from other participants and mentors. Currently, participants are working on implementing 62 community projects in their countries!
As in the previous years, participant feedback about the program was overwhelmingly positive, calling the workshop a “safe place” and a “comfortable [learning environment]." Participants noted that the workshop helped them better understand other cultures, work with people from different backgrounds, and effectively communicate disagreements! Some of the participant reflections read:
“The IDEAL workshop was a life-changing experience, as are most YES/FLEX workshops. I felt more connected to people and made many new friends but, most importantly, received valuable information about career development, stress management, and mindfulness.”
“IDEAL Workshops change lives. The new perspective you gain is invaluable, exemplifying the true goal of these events.”
“This workshop was one of the best ones I’ve ever been. The mentors were very nice, understanding, and smart. They are great role models, and I learned a lot from them during these four days.”
“[This workshop] helped me develop so many skills and gave me more [insight] on what critical skills I should work on. I feel extremely inspired to contribute my new experience to my community by organizing new projects with my improved skills.”
“I loved having the opportunity to meet other FLEX/YES alumni and reconnect with the ones I know. This workshop is a great way to learn something new and expand your network.”
“IDEAL is an amazing workshop that brings together people from different countries and cultures.”
“These programs truly have a positive impact on communities and are a great way to give young people a chance to get to know each other, exchange great ideas, and become a better version of themselves. Thank you!”
Photos by Ljubica Novcic (Serbia) FLEX '22 and Lilit Hovsepyan (Armenia) FLEX '22