When Filip heard about the American Youth Leadership Program with Bangladesh from one of his high school teachers, he couldn't think of a reason not to apply. When news came that he had been chosen as one of 30 participants, Filip was both shocked and excited.
"I was honored to be chosen as a youth ambassador for the United States, especially as a first-generation American," says Filip.
Filip decided not to have any expectations for the four-week immersion program despite the uneasiness he felt about the natural disasters to which Bangladesh is so often subjected.
He was pleasantly surprised at how quickly his Bangladeshi host family welcomed him into their home. He and his host brother, Sakib, even bonded over their shared love for the Da Vinci Code book and movie.
While completing a service learning project in a Dhaka slum, Filip saw some trash on the ground and started picking it up.
"Some boys ran up to me and asked why I was doing this," says Filip. "I explained that I had clean parks and places to play in and for one day I wanted them to have a place like that as well.
"The boys laughed and asked who would pick up after I left. I looked at them said that it was up to them. It was their park and it was up to them to clean up after themselves and for their community. The kids ran away, probably thinking I was crazy. A few minutes later a boy came back with a piece of trash and handed it to me. I said thank you in Bengali and suddenly all the kids started running up with pieces of trash, looks of pride on their faces."
"No picture or video can describe the emotion I felt working to clean up the park with the local boys. Their energy and their excitement at hearing a foreigner even speak a few words of Bengali really showed me the impact of cultural exchange programs and how they can increase understanding and empathy between people."
When Filip returned home after a successful exchange experience, he struggled with reverse culture shock.
"[After] seeing how much people could do with so little, I wanted to share my experiences with fellow students and show them that the people of Bangladesh aren't needy but resilient people who make the most of what they have…with little money but having big hearts."
After graduating in June 2012, Filip plans to spend a gap year studying urban and rural development and Arabic in Jordan. He plans to attend Macalester College and eventually join the Foreign Service.