Out of the Books and into the Real World

August 15, 2012

Ivan, an American Serbia and Montenegro Youth Leadership Exchange (A-SMYLE) participant, talking about his exchange experience. Ivan, an American Serbia and Montenegro Youth Leadership Exchange (A-SMYLE) participant, talking about his exchange experience. Ivan Vuksanovic, an A-SMYLE student from Montenegro, felt right at home with his new host family in Durham, NC.

"North Carolina is a beautiful state," says Ivan. "It reminded me of my country so I really enjoyed spending my year there. I lived with a host mother and host brother and felt like a member of the family."

"My host mother's family accepted me too, and we shared all kinds of traditions and holidays. For Thanksgiving, we went to her family in Virginia and I got to meet all of the cousins."

Ivan quickly realized that going to school in the U.S. was not the same as in Montenegro. During his program, he was introduced to a new system of learning that helped him step out of the books and into the real world.

"Back home, our school system is set up to study from the books," says Ivan. "In the United States, I got a different picture because we had all kinds of different subjects which allowed us to learn, but also to apply the things we learned. For example, I had botany and we would learn things from the books, but we would also go out to the green house, plant things, learn about plants, and learn about doing all kinds of things around the yard or around school."

Ivan branched out into extra-curricular activities and volunteered with his host family. Soon, he even had the opportunity to share his experience growing up in Montenegro with different international clubs.

"As an A-SMYLE student, I was involved in many things in school, because that's a major focus of the program," says Ivan. "Community service is not appreciated in my country as it is in United States, so learning the importance of volunteering, giving back to the community, and starting initiatives in the community was really important to me. Those are some of the things I've learned and am trying to get started in my country. I'm trying to be an active member of my community back home."

Ivan credits his exchange experience with opening his eyes to new and different opportunities and wants to take the things he's learned during his program to contribute to his community back home.

"A-SMYLE changed my life because it gave me a completely different view of the world," says Ivan. "It made me more independent and more open-minded. It gave me the opportunity to learn about the United States, about American people, and to learn about all the great things the United States is doing around the world."

"I am a junior in law school back in Montenegro, and in the future I plan to go into politics. I hope to go into politics and one day come back to the United States, to the State Department, and meet the Secretary of State as an official [of Montenegro]."