American Corners Bring US Closer to Kosovar Youth

The three American Corners in Kosovo provide hundreds of Kosovar students with free workshops in the English language, computer programming and entrepreneurship skills.

Durim Kolukaj’s mother complains that he spends more time at the American Corner Prizren than at home. Kolukaj, an active participant and volunteer, does not disagree. “If they give me the keys, I would stay all night,” he jokes.

Kolukaj began volunteering at the American Corner Prizren in 2018 when he was a student at the university.

The American Corner Prizren is one of three American Corners in Kosovo, with the other two in Prishtina and Mitrovica. The Corners offer free programs in English language learning, cultural exchange, STEM education, and entrepreneurship.

Many programs target “youth in transition” [ages 14-24], but the American Corners also offer classes and workshops for children and adults, especially women.

For Kolukaj, every activity at the American Corner offers a “new experience” and “a chance to learn something new.” He credits his strong English language skills, broad worldview and leadership abilities to the American Corner Prizren’s programs.

His favorite activity was the American Corner Prizren’s tour guide training. Kolukaj learned new facts about his city, and, now, as a certified tour guide, he is able to share Prizren’s rich history with tourists.

More recently, he volunteered with the American Corner Prizren at two ‘Girls Design With </Code>’ training programs, which educates teachers on how to teach their students about micro:bits [tiny computers that help students understand computer hardware and software]. As a computer programmer himself, Kolukaj is excited about encouraging girls in Kosovo to engage in STEM fields.

As someone who benefited from the American Corners programming and now gives back to his community as a volunteer, Kolukaj describes his decision to volunteer at the American Corner as “one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.”

Programs offer more than language classes

Photo courtesy of The American Corner in Prishtina.

The three American Corners in Prishtina, Prizren, and Mitrovica opened in Kosovo in the early 2000s.

“In the beginning, I was alone,” remembers Durim Hasaj, executive director of the American Corner Prishtina. When Hasaj started working there in 2010, he was the only staff member. Now, the corner has three full-time staff, one American Fulbrighter, and many volunteers.

At the American Corners in Prishtina, Prizren, and Mitrovica, the initial focus was on English-language education. While the Corners still offer language classes, they have expanded to meet other demands and offer a diverse set of activities.

All three Corners have Makerspaces, equipped with 3D printers, 3D pens, sewing machines, CNC machines, micro:bit kits and digital scanners. They offer several types of technology-related programs throughout the year, including Mobile App Hackathons, MIT App Inventor classes, “Digital Citizen” programs, and Spark Labs, to provide students with important technical skills.

Argesa Hereni is one of the high-school students learning to code and create mobile applications at the American Corner Prizren’s MIT App Inventor training. She has already created a step counter and a speech to text application. Although Hereni is studying to be an architect, she also hopes to “design apps that improve peoples’ lives”, using the skills she learned at the American Corner.

Cultural exchange remains central to the American Corner’s programming. They celebrate international and US holidays with cultural activities. Conversation clubs, movie nights and book groups further these exchanges.

For Anes Demirović, 16, participating in the American Corner Prishtina’s Digital Pen Pals Program was “one of the most meaningful experiences of [his] entire life”.

He was one of nine Kosovar students selected for the program, which brought together teenagers from Kosovo and Maryland via virtual exchange. Demirović, who plans to attend university in the United States, enjoyed learning more about American culture and practising his English with native speakers.

The program allowed him to “bridge new cultures to make new friendships.” Demirović finished the Digital Pen Pals program with new American and Kosovar friends, many of whom he is still in regular contact with.

Youngsters are not the only ones who benefit from workshops at the American Corners. Seven of the 11 women who participated in the American Corner Prishtina’s DreamBuilder: Empowering Women Entrepreneurs Program now lead successful businesses.

Modesta Luta, who runs Creative Thunder, a marketing agency in Peja, said: “I couldn’t have started this journey if it wasn’t for the ‘DreamBuilder: Empowering Women Entrepreneurs’ program.”

Pandemic forced Corners to adapt

Photo courtesy of The American Corner in Prizren.

New technology and supplies are not the only things that affected the American Corners’ programs over the last 20 years. Like many organizations, the American Corners had to adapt during the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the American Corner Prizren, Besart Osmani and volunteers Durim Kolukaj and Fikret Kastrioti used their 3D printers to produce face visors for healthcare workers. 

All other American Corner programs were moved online or postponed. Some participants continued online, but in far lower numbers. However, even when in-person programs began again, the number of attendees was drastically lower.

Before the pandemic, the American Corner Prizren had about 30,000 visitors a year. In 2022, it had only 6,000 to 8,000, about one-quarter of their pre-pandemic visitors. The American Corner Mitrovica and the American Corner Prishtina also saw dramatic decreases in attendance after the pandemic.

Still, staff at the American Corners are striving to provide quality programming that meet the needs of Kosovo’s communities. Participants are welcome to suggest programs and activities they would like to see at the American Corners.

Today, the American Corners are focused on equipping young people with the skills they need to get decent jobs. Computer programming and coding workshops are the most requested.

“We are going to offer other programs like entrepreneurship, tourism, leadership, and other activities,” says Besart Osmani, who works at the American Corner Prizren, “but the focus will be in STEM programs.”

Osmani, who teaches three computer programming classes per week, is proud of his students like Argesa Hereni, who can create basic apps without hesitation. He is confident that “when they grow up, some of them will be very successful in the STEM field”.

The American Corners’ programs will continue to evolve based on new technology and the requests from participants. But its mission to “build and strengthen relationships between the U.S. and Kosovo, showcase American culture and values, promote English language learning, encourage study in the United States, and foster goodwill and mutual understanding” will remain.

Staff at the American Corner Mitrovica say that, in future, they “hope that the Corner will be a place like it is now, the place that people can come and learn new things but also have a great time”.

All of the American Corners use Facebook to publicize their events and programs, which you can find more about here: American Corner Pristina, American Corner Prizren, and American Corner Mitrovica. Programs offered by the American Corners are free to attend. 

Kylie Henry is a U.S. Fulbrighter living in Prishtina, Kosovo. She is currently an intern at Prishtina Insight and an English teacher at the American Advising Center. She graduated from George Washington University with a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs in May 2022.


19 April 2023 - 13:02

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