As we patiently await for new World Link students to arrive (January 2021), we have been reaching out to alumni around the world and sharing their stories as part of our #AlumniHighlight Series.
The next alumni we are highlighting has had many impressive successes since her exchange year, 10 years ago!
Meet Ina Gjika from Albania! She was placed in Bakersfield, CA with Angie Rodriguez and attended Centennial High School.
What you are currently doing?
I have been a banker for 4+ years as a business advisor and credit risk specialist for medium and large size businesses in Albania. This year, I also received a certification for International Trade Finance (CITF), by the London Institute of Banking and Finance and the International Chamber of Finance.
I hold two B.A majors in Business Administration and Political Science & International Relations, as well as a B.A minor in Economics from the American University in Bulgaria. I have also successfully finished a three-year part-time Executive Management Programme in Furth, Germany, as part of ProCredit, a German banking group.
Just recently, I started on an MS of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University, in NY, as an MIP (Master & Internship Program) Scholarship recipient, sponsored by the Albanian-American Development Foundation (AAFD) and Biberaj Foundation.”
I love reading and writing and I have recently launched my blog Ina’s Bookshelf where I share my insights on books I have read, as well as on book-related topics. Besides that, I work as a copy-writer freelancer for an American auto logistics company.
What activities have you been a part of since your exchange year?
When I returned, I became the first Alumni Coordinator of YES Alumni Albania. During all these years, I have been part of many regional conferences representing Albania.
As a YES Alumni Coordinator for Albania and later on as alumna, I have organized different activities in Albania such as volunteering in an elderly house, teaching English at an orphanage; organizing reading days for the International Book Day, and putting together a Christmas celebration with the alumni. I organized regional YES conferences in North Macedonia and Montenegro on digital marketing and project management, the YES 10th-anniversary conference in Istanbul; and the 2019 IDEAL workshop in Serbia. After which, I organized a workshop in Tirana with high school students, on recognizing cognitive biases, embracing critical thinking, and practicing effective habits.
During my undergraduate years in Bulgaria, I was involved with student organizations such as AIESEC, where I have led and participated in community activities like interacting with the Roma community, aiming at embracing tolerance and shared values.
I have been part of the Phi Beta Delta honor society. As a member, I have organized and hosted a talk/discussion on the topic of tolerance in the university community.
I have participated in different Model UN simulations in Bulgaria and in Kosovo. I played several roles like a delegate, chairperson of ECOSOC, and Vice Secretary-General.
At university, I served as a writing tutor, teaching assistant of Corporate Finance and Business Ethics. I was a student representative of the Academic Curriculum Committee.
During all these years, I have also been part of the activities organized by the YES family, involving stakeholders such as the US Embassy, the American Corner, the American Chamber of Commerce, etc, further networking within the community.
What are your plans for the future?
As mentioned above, my nearest plan is to obtain my MS degree at Cornell University. The program lasts for 2 years. In the summer in between, I aim at conducting an internship related to my international development economics studies at an NGO in the US. After finishing the program, I will return to Albania and implement my obtained skills in the Albanian economy, by working for an NGO, conducting research on key Albanian development issues and hopefully managing to have an impact in development-relevant policy-making.
How did your year with World Link contribute to your success as an alumnus?
During my high school exchange year, with World Link as a placement organization, I had the chance to be exposed to different cultures in California, and living with a Hispanic American host family, taught me a lot not only about their culture but also about embracing diversity and multiple perspectives. I practiced community-service in different institutions such as in the local church, libraries, and the Boys and Girls club. I discovered volunteering is a civic virtue that not only helps others around me, but that also gives me great satisfaction by creating meaningful relationships and getting a sense of belonging to a community. As a part of the debate class, I also practiced debating in different tournaments and further gained critical thinking skills.
Overall, I think that the openness to different cultures, volunteering, critical thinking and embracing a liberal arts style of education are what I learned during my exchange year. These lessons shaped my future (for ex. my choice to pursue a university American education), my character and future choices on getting involved with different sustainable projects.
Anything else you’d like to talk about!
I would like to use this rubric to emphasize the importance of exchange programs such as YES, or FLEX, partnering with organizations such as World Link, in shaping one’s personality from an early age. Hence, I always try to promote them to my friends, presenting them as life-changing experiences.
Recently, I was part of a training panel for the first Alumni Coordinator generation for FLEX in Greece, Hungary and, Czech Republic. It is such a pleasure to see FLEX expand giving more opportunities to more young people. I believe that in populist political times like this, these programs play an essential role in reducing the risk of extremism in future generations.
World Link would like to thank Ina for taking the time to do this interview for us. We are so proud of her and her accomplishments and we cannot wait to see her future achievements.
Read about more of our amazing alumni by visiting our Alumni Highlight page!