Global Ambassadors

My Story, Kosmos in Serbia

When I received an invitation to tell my story of how I got involved in teaching and why I spread the word about Kosmos, I was greatly honored but also very apprehensive. I am a professional translator/interpreter and a language instructor and only write sporadically for a blog that some of my former students started. But, like so many other times in my life, I closed my eyes and leapt.

From 1971 to 1990, I worked as a freelance translator and conference interpreter and had permanent translator positions with the American Embassy and the Australian Embassy in Belgrade. I then did some postgraduate studies in how to teach a foreign language at universities in London and Perugia, Italy. When I returned to Belgrade in 1991, I resumed my work as a freelance specialized translator and conference interpreter and would periodically teach English to business students.

Then one day I went to sleep in a country that was known as ‘Yugoslavia’ and woke up to a new reality of civil wars and economic embargo imposed in ‘Serbia,’ where my bed happened to be. A total mental blackout followed! Most people worked without being paid. We could not enter other countries without their visas, but obtaining a visa became an indescribable ordeal—a humiliation exercise with bureaucratic sadism. The Big Quintet were exercising their power to oust One Man but, in fact, only ordinary people were punished, including thousands of children.

People were frustrated and the disdain—for both the quintet and that man—hung heavily in the air. The atmosphere reminded me of a short documentary I saw when I worked for the American Embassy. It showed a group of Nicaraguan children with red scarves around their tiny necks, marching in a schoolyard and singing: “One, two, three, kill a Yankee, one, two…” The thought of this happening to children in Serbia shocked me. The next thing I did was to invest my own money into developing a program for children ages 4-12. This is how my real teaching began. The Young Achievers Program went on until March 1999. On 24 March 1999, the air campaign called ‘Angel of Mercy’ started and went on for three months. On that day I stopped teaching because I did not know how to answer the children’s question: “Why?”

I went back to my translation work and thought that I would never teach again. But as I would go from one conference to another, I noticed that most young participants had difficulties in grasping the meaning of things that they had no experience with–equity, for example. The bright young people, educated within the communist school system, couldn’t grasp the concept of equity! It was also impossible for me to interpret tort law concepts.

Again, I felt I had to personally do something. In 2005, I established the EdinexP-S8 program (Educational Information Exchange Program—Select Eight) here in Belgrade. Civilization is a thing of the mind. It has been said that teachers are, more than any other class, the guardians of civilization. We are all teachers in our own way. Our crises—both personal and shared—present the oppor- tunity to develop ourselves to our fullest potentials as human beings.e people of my country have learned the hard way that it is not true that dogma is necessary for social coherence. I try to teach my students to release dogmatic thinking through making them aware of ideas and opinions held in different social circles. And this is where Kosmos Journal has become an important tool in my efforts to empower my students to take part in developing the new civilization.

Stanimirka Milovanovic also serves as a translator for Kosmos Journal. This article can be found in the Fall|Winter 2010 issue of Kosmos.