Written by Veljko Ristić; A-SMYLE (Now FLEX) Alumni 2013/2014; Serbia/IL
Finding My Passion
My U.S. experience ended approximately 3 years ago, but it feels like I’ve just returned home yesterday. I found out about the A-SMYLE (now FLEX) program by accident and I would never have thought I would have been selected among thousands of youth who had applied. To me and most alumni, this experience changed us to the core, made us more aware of ourselves and the communities we lived in.
I was placed in Swansea, IL, a small town near St. Louis in a family of three. My Lavoie/Altenburg family made such an impact in my life that I’ll be forever grateful to have had the chance to be their “Serbian son”. My U.S. experience as a whole was comprised of me doing any club, activity, and sport I could find. I tried to immerse myself in anything my school had to offer. That mindset has helped me learn a lot of things, meet wonderful people I’m still in contact with, and made me appreciate many things I had in life. I truly cannot emphasize how much this experience enriched my life and how many doors it opened.
I started doing Model UN (MUN) during my exchange year thanks to a friend who told me I should give it a try. At that point I was already in the debate club and I had a couple of tournaments behind me. From what she had explained to me, Model UN was similar to debate except we debated on politics and policy. That idea was so interesting to me that I wanted to give it a try. Everything was confusing at first and I didn’t even know how to write a position paper, but through time and practice it all became clear.
Taking My Passion to the Next Level
Once I returned home, I had such a motivation and vision of things I wanted to do. My family was a bit overwhelmed by the fact that I was never home. I was volunteering, going places, doing projects and I had never felt better in my life. After I finished high school I moved to Belgrade and I enrolled at the University of Belgrade where I am now currently in my third year; earning my bachelor’s degree in International Studies at the Faculty of Political Sciences. Let’s just say, it didn’t take long before I joined the debate team and the MUN world.
I along with some friends founded an an organization called “Students for United Nations of Faculty of Political Sciences” to which I became the first president. Soon after, I became part of the organizational team of BIMUN (Belgrade International Model UN), a very prestigious and large conference happening in Belgrade with the sponsorship of the UN and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia. I have been a part of the organizing team for two years now planning this conference and this year I’ll be the head of the Security Council Crisis Committee. This conference will take place in March of 2018.
If you are a university or high school student that is ambitious and passionate about the world and politics, I would like to invite you to register for BIMUN2018.
My Next Project
A couple of months ago I received an email stating I will have the honor to be one of the representatives of Serbia at the Telenor Youth Forum (TYF) with another A-SMYLE (now FLEX) alumna, Ana Janošev. After some rounds of testing, we were finally selected. The TYF is a whole year-round project.
In December, we will be heading to Oslo, Norway to work on solving global challenges and be a part of the events regarding the Nobel Peace Prize Awards. We will be mixed in international teams and with our mentors, we will start planning our team project. For the months following the Oslo workshop, we will work on the project virtually. In May of 2018, each team will present their project in Bangkok, Thailand where the winning team will be announced.
Veljko recently told the Telenor Youth Forum:
‘I’m passionate about creating equal opportunities through empowering youth so that everyone can achieve their full potential. As someone who had never been fully aware of their own potential I think it’s crucial to help everyone find themselves and by doing so we will have a society capable of change and progress.’
December 2017 Update:
Upon his arrival to the Telenor Youth Forum Conference in Oslo, Veljko was put into an international team to tackle the 10th UN sustainable goal, “Decent Work and Economic Development”. Veljko said this goal is most important to him and he cannot wait to see how he and his team plans to solve it.
On December 10th, Veljko and the rest of the Telenor Youth Forum participants attended the Noble Peace Prize Awards.
Here is what he wrote on the event:
“If someone had told me a couple of months ago that I’d be attending the Nobel Peace Prize Awards and as a delegate of Serbia at #TYF I would have been so doubtful. The award ceremony was breathtaking and so inspirational that it really makes you reflect on yourself and things you have done, things you’re doing and the future that is coming. I’m so grateful that I had this opportunity and I truly cannot comprehend, at this time, how much the experience changed me.”
The group was also given front row seats to the Nobel Peace Prize Conference and took part in the in the tradition after the ceremony, lighting torches and walking to the Grand Hotel in Oslo where the Nobel Laureates stay. Veljko said the imagery was extraordinary.
June 2018 Update:
Congratulations to Veljko and the rest of the his team for winning the 5th annual Telenor Youth Forum in Bangkok on 31 May 2018!
The winning project they created is an app called “angcy”. Veljko describes his project and it’s importance:
“agncy (our platform) is a whistle blowing app (like a digital message in a bottle) that is intended to help workers around the world report any violations of their human rights and bad working conditions that they endure. Most of the time their cries for help are silenced within the establishment they work in and our goal was to give them a tool, a weapon, to fight against it. This is also going to be given to local and international labor organisation as a way/tool to pressure companies and factories to be complaint with the international ISO certifications (international labor laws). We are backed by Telenor Group and the Nobel Peace Center and in the months to come we are going to develop it and start distributing it. We hope to help people out by launching it from country to country.“
For their prize, the team won $15,000 to put towards further development of the app with experts in the field from around the world. They also opened an exclusive exhibition showcasing the struggles of the workers and the problem itself in Bangkok. In the upcoming months, they will be opening another exhibition in the Noble Peace Center in Oslo and will again be invited to attend the Noble Peace Prize Ceremony.
People all over the world can experience a part of their exhibition digitally here: TYF Exhibitions – Decent Working Conditions
See the Telenor Group Press Release statement on the winning project here.
We would like to thank Veljko for sharing his story with us. We are proud of his and his team’s accomplishments and cannot wait to see the future development of their whistle blowing app.
If you are a World Link alumni, current student, host family, or host school representative we encourage you to share your World Link story with us.