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A Gap Year in North Macedonia

Matt Marko

By Matthew B., YES Abroad 2021-2022, North Macedonia

Matt has spent his first few months in North Macedonia integrating into his country’s culture through family, friends, and food. During an October Instagram Live session, he urged American high school students to seize the opportunity to study abroad: “Everyone's so welcoming here. Not just in North Macedonia, but wherever you go, they're interested to meet you. You're a new student to their school, and you're coming from a whole new culture. Every day, I'm getting new questions on what life is like in America and sharing my own experiences.”

From the first day, he felt welcomed into his host community, including at his school, Gimnazija Orce Nikolov. "The first day at school, everyone was just so excited to meet me! In every class, a new person sat next to me, and we just started talking. The first day, they invited me out to our local café, and we all just shared a coffee together. That was one of my favorite days!" Matt has already become an important member of his school community, recently planning a 90’s discussion event where high school students from across Skopje discussed what life was like for teenagers during the 1990s.

Matt Cooking

Matt has also developed a great relationship with his host family, cooking with his host mom, making local grape juice with his host grandfather, and bonding with his younger host brother, Marko. He and Marko recently made one of his favorite foods from the U.S.: guacamole. He finds that these daily activities are one of the most important parts of cultural exchange: “You're going to be able to make [foods from home] and share them with your host family. That's what I really appreciate about my time here, being able to share my favorite foods, parts of myself from back home, with my host family here.” 

Even though Matt has already graduated from high school in the United States, he finds value in learning a new language and making connections at school. On his decision to take a gap year to study abroad, Matt reflected, “In high school, everyone had always seemed to be on the same path, working hard to finish high school and moving on directly to college or their careers. However, even though I was nearing the end of my high school experience, I still felt the world had so much more to learn about, but I had never had the opportunity to experience it myself. I wanted to explore a different path, and when I found the opportunity to take a gap year abroad with YES Abroad, I knew that was the right path for me.”

Matt Grapes

Of course, life on program comes with its share of challenges. “Being immersed in a new country, it’s a given that you won’t always be able to understand conversations or communicate your ideas, and it has definitely been difficult to be surrounded by unfamiliar words without the opportunity to chime in on conversations easily. However, for me, this has been my motivation to keep practicing my Macedonian with my Macedonian teacher Katica, my friends at school, my host family, and even the people I encounter throughout my day.”

Despite the challenges of life abroad, he hopes that more American students will take the opportunity to explore a new culture through YES Abroad. “Studying in Macedonia has inspired me to continue exploring paths off the beaten track, saying YES to opportunities I never knew were out there and carrying the lessons I learn into the future. I’m excited to see what more there is along this path through my experience in Macedonia!“