By Merima Muhic (YES 2015-2016, Bosnia and Herzegovina, placed by ACES in Apex, NC)
What are some of your biggest accomplishments since becoming an alumni of the YES program?
I would first highlight my time as a City Representative and an Alumni Coordinator, in which I was able to implement dozens of projects and support other fellow alumni in doing so. These roles provided me with networking opportunities, and also benefitted my own community.
After I graduated high school, I completed my bachelor's degree at the University of Sarajevo with a major in International Relations and Diplomacy. Thanks to many things, but being a YES alumna at the forefront, I received several scholarships and was able to finish my degree with no debt at all. I received an Erasmus Mundus Scholarship to complete my master's studies in three countries (the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom; National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece; and Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain) as a part of an exchange scheme. It is a highly competitive process and I was the only one from Bosnia and Herzegovina in my specific program to receive the scholarship. I graduated with distinction and was able to get a job in my profession even while still at university.
During my master's degree, I interned for the Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the United Kingdom and Ireland. I have also attended several conferences and seminars that relate to my area of interest, such as the Young Mediterranean Voices and the Institute for Economics and Peace Ambassador Program.
What are some of your favorite memories from the YES program?
There are so many events and moments! I had a great school environment, and was able to enroll in classes I never would have been able to take back home. I also had the opportunity to play for my school's lacrosse team, which is a sport that Europeans often haven't even heard of. I made a lot of friends through sports and classes, and those are friends that I am still in touch with. One of my favorite memories with friends is also Prom! It was a wonderful experience and so different from how we do Prom back home.
My host family experiences are also memories which are very near and dear to my heart. We explored the North Carolina beaches together, as well as took a few trips. My favorite was probably Yellowstone National Park! I was also incredibly close with the group of exchange students who were a part of the group that was overseen by two local coordinators. It was a very diverse group, and we often did activities together, whether they were organized by ourselves or through our coordinators. We did lots of presentations about our cultures and community service.
What are some of the ways you’ve stayed connected to fellow alumni since your exchange experience? What about your host family or friends?
I have stayed very close to alumni from my cohort, mostly trough social media, but also because our community service involvement has brought us together on many occasions (within the YES alumni community, but also through other programs). I've been very luck in the sense that I have met hundreds of other alumni through my work as an Alumni Coordinator and attending several YES and FLEX workshops. I chat with my host family every other week, and I have gone back to the U.S. a couple of times to visit my host mom, even as she moved a few times since I've been an exchange student. I also managed to reunite with quite a few of my friends from the U.S. when I visited my host family, and I met up with them as they did their study abroad experiences and/or traveled through Europe.
How did the YES program impact you professionally? What about personally?
The exchange itself was life-changing. It was a whole new environment in terms of education, making friends, and just every day life. It made me more resilient and flexible. Apart from the networking opportunities and benefits to my community, becoming a City Representative and an Alumni Coordinator was also my first working experience, which taught me numerous skills. My experiences from the exchange, but also as a member of the alumni community, have always been a part of my CV and cover letters. I have no doubt they have played an integral part in my selection for scholarships, conferences, and seminars (and jobs!).
What is one piece of advice you would give to current or future YES program participants?
The biggest piece of advice I would have for current and future YES program participants is to take advantage of every single chance they get as an exchange student, but also alumnus/a! Life gets crazy pretty quickly, and the time they will have during their high school and university years is the perfect time to make sure they take those classes they really like, go on trips, meet different people, and build connections for a lifetime.
In 10, 20, or even 30 years, what do you hope the legacy of the YES program will be?
First of all, I hope the program will still be around! In the past two decades, it has changed the lives of thousands of young people. I can't explain how grateful I am to have experienced the U.S. lifestyle, but also had the opportunity to share what my culture and country is all about. I think, and I hope, that the longest lasting legacies are both the great cross-cultural relationships we build and the work that alumni do in their home communities when they're back.
Read more about Merima's story in our archives.