Stories

Branko Backovic, a dynamic and motivated student from Despotovac, Serbia, worked hard to pass three rigorous rounds of competition to win an A-SMYLE scholarship. He spent the 2006-07 academic year in the U.S. living with a host family in Lisle, Illinois.

Now a graduate of Yale University, Branko works in the financial services industry in New York and is dedicated to helping other students from Serbia.

Directing a campaign that has raised $27,000 in scholarship funds for the A-SMYLE Program, Branko is making it possible for more students from Serbia to benefit from that same life-changing exchange experience in the U.S.

“At the start of this journey, I presented the idea for a scholarship fund to a group of fellow Serbs and Serbo-Americans in New York City, who deeply care about improving the state of education in Serbia, empowering individuals to achieve their goals, and strengthening ties between the U.S. and Serbia,” says Branko.

“Ultimately more than 10 donors, including accomplished finance professionals, the partner-in-charge of Promontory’s NYC office, and a former NBA player contributed to the scholarship fund, which resulted in two additional scholarship recipients for 2015. Without our generous donors, this initiative would not have been possible.”

At a time when budgets are limited and many scholarships are shrinking instead of growing, Branko’s initiative will give two additional young people from Serbia a chance to live and study—and find their talents—in America. Just as importantly, the scholarship winners will have the chance to be part of the dynamic alumni community in Serbia.

“Besides the practical desire of enabling two more people to experience a year in the United States, an additional goal on my end was to encourage A-SMYLE alumni to continue their fantastic work and the service they are providing in their communities, universities, and civic life in Serbia,” says Branko.

“The work of A-SMYLE alumni is incredibly important and inspiring, even though the results and benefits may come later down the road and the path can be arduous. The fundraising initiative is to show that A-SMYLE alumni are not alone in their mission to better the lives of people that they most care about in Serbia. We all have talents we are proud of that can benefit people in our inner circles, regionally, and globally,” continues Branko.

Branko takes his role as an alumnus seriously. “Being an A-SMYLE alumnus means that I work every day to empower myself and others through education and action; to be kind and compassionate about the challenges others are facing; to give thanks for the opportunities that came my way; and to give back. I am proud to be A-SMYLE.”

About the A-SMYLE Program:
The American Serbia and Montenegro Youth Leadership Exchange (A-SMYLE) Program was established in 2005 to create stronger linkages between the United States and its partner countries of Serbia and Montenegro. The program provides the opportunity for students, aged 15-17, to explore youth leadership, civic responsibility, community activism, democracy, and American society.

Learn more about American Councils’ work in Southeastern Europe by visiting the local website and blog.