2022 Birthright Macedonia Youth Summer Program a Resounding Success

2022 Birthright Macedonia Youth Summer Program a Resounding Success

Birthright Macedonia is a program administered by the United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) headquartered in Washington, D.C. together with its partners in Macedonia, the Macedonian Center for International Cooperation (MCIC) located in Skopje and the Birthright Macedonia Bitola Alliance situated in Bitola.

The BRM Bitola Alliance was joined by the St. Kliment Ohridski University radio show “Slusnete neee!” for children and young adults, which produces creative audio-visual materials designed for the local Macedonian and diaspora youth.

Noela has the Birthright Macedonia participants test out their Macedonian language greetings in the video below:

After a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic, Birthright Macedonia resumed its program this year. It was a record-breaking year for two reasons. First, the international program attracted more young Macedonian adults from around the world than in any prior year. Also, 2022 is the first year the program was held in Bitola, which ran simultaneously with the program in Skopje.

Birthright Macedonia is a three-week adventure that allows young Macedonians worldwide to assert their Macedonian heritage and honor the culture, traditions, and history of their ancestors. During their stay in the Republic, participants are assigned an internship work program that complements their academic and career goals. Many are housed with a host family they never met before. On the weekends (known as Heritage Weekends), participants are taken, as a group, to selected areas of the Republic to experience contemporary life in Macedonia and explore the natural beauty of the country.

Since its founding in 2015, Birthright Macedonia has attracted to the program about 45 young Macedonian adults from Australia, Canada, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

This year’s Birthright program began with the Opening Ceremony at Hotel Solun in Skopje on July 1st, where the following twelve young Macedonian participants met one another for the first time:

Christian Doumkos, Angela Efremova, Ella Erskine, Nina Erskine, Naum Hoffman, Angela Josifova, Matthew Kostoff, Mila Kulevska, Aleksandar Krstovski, Alexandar Petrusevski, James Trentos, and Alexandra Vlcevska.

Some of the participants had never been to Macedonia before and others visited the country as young children on family visits. At the Opening Ceremony, participants connected with their host families and met their internship mentors.

Internship programs were varied, and unique and ran the gamut from public and private to not-for-profit enterprises. They included the Environmental Research and Information Center, Ministry of Justice, Bitolska Laboratory, Macedonian Center for International Cooperation, i-Source, Museum of the Macedonian Struggle, Zootrop Studio, Ministry of Finance, BtoBet, among others.

Birthright participants are given the option to visit selected areas of the country as a group. Each Heritage Weekend exposes participants to different aspects of Macedonia and its people.

During the first Heritage Weekend, the Birthright participants visited key sites in Skopje, a highlight which was the cable car ride to the top of Mount Vodno where the Millenium Cross is located. They also explored the natural beauty of Matka Canyon ending the day at one of the finer Macedonian restaurants in the Canyon.

The second Heritage Weekend was in Ohrid, on the shores of Lake Ohrid – the third oldest lake in the world, and a UNESCO heritage site. They toured historical sites such as St. Naum, St. Kaneo, Tsar Samoil Fortress, Ancient Theatre, Plaoshnik, and more. On the way back, they visited the City of Consuls, Bitola, and walked the famous Shirok Sokak.

The last Heritage Weekend was attending the famous Galichnik Wedding Festival, a celebration in the mountainous village of Galichnik. Participants experienced a multi-day traditional wedding replete with Macedonian traditions, music, dancing, and folklore. The festival has become so popular, that it attracts visitors not only from Macedonia but also from many European countries.

Participants in the Birthright Macedonia program were asked to express their opinions on any aspect of their time in Macedonia.

Here is a sampling of their responses (UMD’s website will be updated with all quotes once received):

Christian Doumkos: “I worked at the Ministry of Finance in Bitola and had a great time working with my peers and colleagues and seeing their daily lives and their work tasks.”

Ella Erskine: “I feel so blessed to intern at Zootrop Studio. I look forward to going to work every day and oftentimes continue working on projects from home. The days fly by and the people are absolutely delightful. I cannot speak highly enough of them. I am doing what I love, in a country that I love, with people that I love. I could not be happier. Thank you for this opportunity.”

Nina Erskine: “When I came here, I didn’t really know what I was going to do in Macedonia and what my internship was going to be, but my host family and all the participants were what made this program special.”

Naum Hoffman: “My family is from the eastern part of Macedonia, and I really didn’t know what the Western part of Macedonia was like. Going on trips in Macedonia really helped expose me to that and working on my internship was very valuable because I learned about working within the tech industry.”

Angela Josifova: “This trip really exceeded my expectations. The bonds we created as a group are going to be very memorable and I know I’ll keep them throughout the years.”

Matthew Kostoff: “Birthright Macedonia for me was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and what made it unique was being able to spend it in Macedonia with other people like me (first, second generation Macedonians). It was great meeting them and talking to them about their family stories especially. The employees at the Bitolska Laboratory were great. They taught me how to perform every task at the lab and we had great conversations about the difference between labs in Macedonia vs America.” Article about his internship here.

Aleksandar Krstovski: “I dedicated this trip to my grandparents, all the struggles they went through, and the Macedonian independence that was achieved in 1991. I pray that this country becomes even more prosperous than it already is.” Article about his internship at the Macedonian Museum for Macedonian Struggle here.

James Trentos: “I am thoroughly enjoying and learning from my internship. They are having me perform research to put together a presentation for the team on some forestry-related issues within Macedonia. They have been very kind and very welcoming to me and have arranged for me to meet Macedonians involved in my field of study as well as arranging a trip to Mavrovo National Park to see firsthand some of what I am researching.“

During their stay, Birthright Macedonia participants had the opportunity to meet with the first woman Mayor of the capital, Skopje, Danela Arsovska, the Bitola Mayor Dr. Toni Konjanovski, the National Democratic Institute Senior Resident Director Robert Scott Heaslet, and received a private tour of the Macedonian Parliament building and the U.S. Embassy grounds.

On Thursday, July 21, Birthright Macedonia’s sixth year of operations came to an end. The Closing Ceremony was held on the rooftop of Hotel Arka in Skopje’s Bazaar neighborhood.

Guests included UMD Board Members Katerina Trajkova from Maryland and Mishko Josifov from Florida, MCIC and Bitola Alliance partners, host families, internship supervisors, the U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia, Kate Byrnes, and other dignitaries. Also in attendance were business community leaders from Macedonia and the Macedonian Diaspora and former Birthright Macedonia participants.

Special thanks to MCIC Executive Director Aleksandar Krzalovski, MCIC’s Jasmina Chaushoska, Bitola Alliance’s Renata Petrevska Nechoska, and her Bitola Alliance colleagues, UMD’s Ema Brown and Gordan Jordanov, for all their hard work leading up to, and during the program!

The 2023 Birthright Macedonia Summer Program application will open in the fall of 2022. Dates confirmed: June 30-July 21, 2023.

UMD is seeking donors and sponsors to help alleviate the cost of Birthright Macedonia. The cost of Birthright Macedonia per student can run between $1,250-$1,500. Once you factor their airfare to and from Macedonia, the price would be around $3,000 per participant.

If interested in helping fund Birthright Macedonia, please contact UMD Director, Advancement and Development, Ema Brown at ebrown at umdiaspora.org to discuss your support.