William Byrd student Jeremy Slater is spending his senior year studying in Macedonia in southeast Europe on the Balkan Peninsula. He has a full scholarship through the United States Department of State Kennedy -Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Abroad (YES) program— one of only 65 students chosen from across the United States.
He and other students in the YES program are serving as youth ambassadors for the United States in several countries, promoting mutual understanding by forming lasting relationships while immersed with their host families and communities
Slater is living in the capital city of Skopje and studying at the private NOVA International School– a college preparatory school offering AP and International Baccalaureate classes taught in English. His host family is the Kondevi family, which includes the parents, and a son and daughter around Slater’s age.
Here is his latest update:
“I just got back into the curve of daily life after having a blast seeing two more absolutely beautiful cities in Macedonia,” shared Slater. “First, we saw Ohrid, a UNESCO heritage site that sits on Europe’s second oldest lake. The architecture is distinctly Macedonian, encompassing influences from Ancient Rome, Byzantine, Ottoman, and medieval periods.
“Being a Latin student for four years, I was very excited to see parts of what I have been learning from the beginning come to life,” said Slater. “Ohrid has ancient Roman ruins. It is such an engaging time when education comes to life, and being in the place 5,000 miles away from where history actually happens is incredible– and something everyone should be able to do.
“My English teacher and program advisor has a summer home here and she was gracious enough to take us for a trip,” Slater explained. “She has been an enormous help to each one of us, especially me, because she has done everything possible for me with college applications. She wants the best for us, and I am beyond grateful to have her during this time. I would just like to give her a shout-out because she truly is a major part of all of our exchanges and experiences. We all crammed into a car with her to go to another local city. Apparently, the local teenagers everyday use these informal taxis to transport from one area to another. It was truly cultural and exciting.”
Slater says that the locals essentially sit on the lake, converse for hours, and drink lots of coffee– “a beautiful way of life, yes, but I have realized that balance between the American dream and coffee culture is what suits me best.
“Other than my day trip to Ohrid, I have been doing fairly well,” says Slater. “The winter was very tough for me. Everything was grey– skies, buildings, clothes, and atmosphere. It was the snowiest and coldest winter in history, and everyone has been hibernating since December basically. However, the sun is starting to come out, pollution is decreasing because of the higher temperatures, and I have become exponentially happier.”
Slater said he has just passed the six-month mark of his stay in Macedonia, which leaves him four more months to go.
“I can’t get my head around that I have passed the halfway mark and entering a downward slope,” Slater remarks. “This year has taught me so much about myself, my beliefs, personality, and way of thinking. Though I still have much more learning to do, I am seeing huge changes in myself from the beginning. When I look back on the Jeremy who left six months ago, I do not recognize him. He is someone who entered a country with a naivety that is expected, but leaving with a maturation that only comes with leaving everything. It is a beautiful story, I suppose. Leaving everything to find, well, everything. I am becoming so content with the fact of life and the simplicity of just breathing; and that is something I have always lacked in Roanoke, because of my race to be the best person possible.
“I believe that this country has opened my eyes to beauty in simplicity, normalcy, and mundanity,” says Slater. “For example, it is not the day trips to other cities or fancy dinners with the Embassy that makes me the happiest, but the small things, such as riding the bus, running into a friend in the city, or laughing with my host family. Finding appreciation for the smallest units of life has really cemented within me this year. I can grasp happiness during the most polluted days, coldest nights, and hardest battles; and, to me, that is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Because I now have an understanding and appreciation for the beauty of life, I know that wherever I go next year, whether that be Charlottesville or Boston or somewhere else, Macedonia’s lesson of simplicity will continue to teach, comfort, and reconcile my deepest struggles.
“I am looking forward to the spring here and everything that the sun offers in Macedonia,” concludes Slater. “It has been said that spring in Macedonia is the most beautiful, and I am beyond excited (except for my seasonal allergies haha!).”