This is the next article in our series this year, ‘Opening our homes and minds: West Hartford’s AFS foreign exchange students and their host families.’
Interviewed and edited by Jamie Cohen, AFS host mom and volunteer (now), host sister (1980s) and returnee from Japan (1984)
Meet Bogdan Kauluderovic from Budva, Montenegro. He is one of five AFS foreign exchange students living in West Hartford this school year.
Hi, Bogdan Tell us about yourself.
I’m 18 years old, and a senior at Conard High School from Montenegro. This year counts for me as my senior year, and once I take three exams when I get back I will graduate. I’m studying economics in Montenegro. I’m here because I won the FLEX scholarship from the U.S. Department of State – a merit-based competition. In my country only 15 students came to the U.S. out of over 400 applicants. I live near the Center with a great host family – they took me to a lot of places, and I really enjoy hanging out and talking with them. We also have a super cute dog.
Why did you want to be an AFS exchange student?
In late middle school I wanted to travel to the U.S. because of everything I saw in movies and on TV. Personally, I had never been outside of my country except for vacation and wanted to see what it was like to actually live abroad. And I thought that an exchange will make me more independent and help me grow as a person. And it’s a good way to completely change up my life! My sister told me about the FLEX scholarship, so I applied in high school. I won it in 2019, and was supposed to come last year, but couldn’t because of COVID and came this year instead.
What are the biggest cultural differences between Montenegro and here?
I think socially here, people have a lot of things to do and you can find your passion with all the things at school. But the biggest difference is the education system. The classes are interactive here – in my country the teacher just lectures and then we have to memorize what they said or what’s in the book. I prefer the interaction here. And in Montenegro I can’t choose my classes – I can only choose my focus of study, like economics or tourism, marine/ocean studies, or hospitality.
Also, the food is really different. Here there is so much choice – fast food or even by country. In my country we don’t have any fast food franchises, and almost no ethnic choices. And even though our food is really good and fresh, every restaurant has a similar menu with fish, pizza, pasta, and then cakes and desserts.
What have you liked about Connecticut and West Hartford?
My town is less than half of the population than West Hartford, but it’s all densely concentrated between the sea and the mountains. West Hartford is a great suburb! (We don’t have suburbs in my country.) I love the Center and all the activities that the town does for the different holidays. And at the same time, it’s peaceful. And I really like the school community.
What do you do outside of school here?
In the fall I played soccer for Conard – I was a striker. I’m still playing with some friends now, too. I’ve been mountain biking with my host family, which was amazing. But when Conard’s acapella group, Be S#arp, needed a beatboxer, I joined the group! I also did the 10 Minute Plays – which are definitely one of the highlights of my year. Being on stage was way more fun than I thought it would be, and I’m so glad I did it. Now I’m in Conard’s musical, Footloose, and I’m playing Cowboy Bob. Come see me sing my solo!
What would you like people reading this to know about:
Montenegro: If you don’t know where Montenegro is, we are an ex-Yugoslavian, Balkan country on the Adriatic Sea across from the east coast of Italy. It’s a coastal country with amazing beaches, but it’s also really mountainous with lot of beautiful nature. It’s a touristic country, and most people come in summer for the beaches or on cruise ships. I think everyone should come visit, and I’ll gladly give you a tour!
Hosting an AFS exchange student: If you’re going to host and exchange student, you need to be open to seeing a culture different from yours. It’s going to fun, because you get to see a new culture while seeing your own from their perspective. You’ll have an excuse to go places and show your exchange student. But you also have to be flexible because different cultures bring different expectations and sometimes compromises. And it’s also important to become a part of the AFS community here so you can meet the other exchange students and their families.
Being an AFS exchange student: Oh, 100% I’d absolutely recommend it for the right person – someone who is willing to step outside of their comfort zone. I’m two-thirds of the way through my year, and it’s by far the most amazing experience I’ve ever had. You’ll meet so many other exchange students and be a part of the AFS community forever.
AFS-USA, a non-profit organization, has been a leader in international student exchange for more than 70 years. Its mission is to enhance the global competency of U.S. citizens by providing intercultural learning experiences for individuals, families, communities and schools through a global volunteer partnership. Each year, AFS-USA awards more than $3 million in scholarships and financial aid to U.S. students applying to study abroad, and it maintains a network of more than 4,000 U.S. volunteers who support participating educators, students and families nationwide.
If you are interested in hosting an exchange student, or if your high-school aged student would like to participate in an AFS exchange, please contact Jamie Cohen at [email protected] or visit afsUSA.org.
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