By Filip Trajkovski (YES 2018-2019, North Macedonia, placed by AYA in Angelica, NY)
What are some of your biggest accomplishments since becoming an alumni of the YES program?
Upon completing the program, I successfully worked towards becoming a driving force of change in my community. I have actively been taking part in--and organizing--events addressing issues such as the rights of persons with disabilities and socially vulnerable families.
I have been awarded several grants and realized multiple projects based on the inspiration and dedication to bring back home the experiences and skills I obtained in the U.S. Most notable of these projects was a soccer tournament in my hometown, Kumanovo, which is slowly becoming a tradition and attracting dozens of teams, sponsors, and hundreds of supporters as time goes by. I have actively participated in my educational institutions' student assemblies, namely as the president of my high school and my university student assembly. From battles for educational reforms for senior students in high school to fighting discrimination against students and public transportation, the journey has definitely been full of success, but also setbacks and injustice.
By being flexible and practicing virtue, I have been able to stay focused and continued to walking my path together with my fellow students, fellow alumni, and especially with my community, which has always given me outstanding support in every step along the way. I have actively been promoting the YES program and expressing my thoughts on the meaning of student exchange programs between countries.
My biggest accomplishment so far has been learning how to deal with hardships and challenges while remaining focused and disciplined. The realization that the obstacle is, in fact, the way to success has given me the strength to believe and persist in the efforts of making the world a better place day-by-day.
What are some of your favorite memories from the YES program?
I would have to first of all say that every moment spent with my host family was a blessing. Looking back, I can also see how much being involved in my community impacted me in a positive way.
I formed an inseparable bond with small towns in upstate New York, a place I had not known about prior to visiting. I participated in every sports season, made life-long friends, and improved as a person and athlete along the way. I visited many cultural centers and experienced some of nature's finest gems on North American soil. My favorite memory is the night I randomly saw a Macedonian Church while traveling towards New York City. That particular moment inspired me to do some research and explore the astonishing diversity that makes America what it is. It enabled me to meet people from different backgrounds and treat them with respect and understanding. My spiritual self also experienced a rebirth and I have never looked at life the same ever since. With this last sentence, I will conclude that every moment was my favorite - from overcoming homesickness and challenges, to being presented as the prom king at my school.
What are some of the ways you’ve stayed connected to fellow alumni since your exchange experience? What about your host family or friends?
As a famous old saying goes: "All good things come to an end." Or, that's what I used to believe until I realized how small the world actually is and how interconnected we are as humans in the 21st century. Technology has allowed me to stay in touch with many people and stay up-to-date with my school, my American community, friends, and family, which has been a joy to do from thousands of miles away.
It always gave me hope to know that one day soon I would be back. I managed to see my host family while attending a workshop, and I am scheduled to see them again soon! As a more mature person during this visit, my focus now is to check on the wellbeing of my beloved host family and friends, and also see how much I've grown over the years.
With fellow alumni, I have been able to keep in touch by attending multiple projects and trainings together, such as the IDEAL Workshop, Virtual Alumni Leadership Training Workshop, etc. One thing that stands out is my continued friendship with friends all over the world. I regularly call and message them and their families. One of my friends, fellow alumnus Yousif Bakkoush (YES '19) made it all the way to Macedonia in the summer of 2022! Those were some memorable moments, and the fact that we went from roommates in Washington D.C. to lifelong friends who visit each other is truly a remarkable thing. Yousif got to experience the Macedonian culture, which is in many aspects different from his home, but it is the respect and love we have for each other that made everything possible. As a dear friend of mine, I look forward to seeing him grow in life and visiting his country, Libya, in the near future.
How did the YES program impact you professionally? What about personally?
Looking back, I have to begin by sharing about my personal growth over my exchange year.
Maturity comes with experience, not age. With the help of my host family and my friends, I began to look at myself in the mirror and reflect on my own behavior and character and ask questions like, Am I being a good host son/sibling? Am I doing good for my friends and school? Am I giving or selfish? The answers were not always easy, but the realization of some of the answers made me demand more of myself. My host family and the people surrounding me provided valuable feedback on what I could improve in myself. It was the beginning of an awakening and knowing of oneself, which is crucial in developing a character that leads a young person and holds them accountable.
Professionally, I have been fortunate to attend many workshops, events, and receptions at different government and NGO institutions. I have met ambassadors, leaders in educational policy, and fellow young leaders who dare to dream of positive change in this rapidly developing world. I am grateful for every opportunity that has been presented to me and allowed me to work on building new, but also repairing, bridges between different cultures, religions, and ethnicities.
What is one piece of advice you would give to current or future YES program participants?
Respect. Begin by respecting where you come from, offer it to the world, and above all respect the community that is accepting you. Time will run out, the days will get long, and a storm will surely come, but remember that at the end of the storm, there's a golden sky and that you'll never walk alone.
Do it for yourself, your family, and your community, both at home and in the U.S. There is no better action than taking the good and bad from all experiences and creating your own approach to the World.
Gratitude. Learn to love what you have and never take things for granted. Remember that it's not better, not worse, it's just different. As simple as that.
In 10, 20, or even 30 years, what do you hope the legacy of the YES program will be?
I hope that the legacy of the YES program will be one that will mark one of, if not the best, exchange programs ever created. As the years progress, we continue to see all of our alumni become great leaders and successful individuals in their profession.
Above all, though, I sincerely and wholeheartedly hope that it will create future leaders who will primarily be interested in dialogue and understanding. Ignorance must not prevail, and dialogue shall persist and bring faith to ourselves and the generations to follow in our footsteps.
Read more about Filip's story in our archives.