Dear Future Exchange Student

Jenny (right) with another exchange student
Following an eventful year at a U.S. high school, Dzenana "Jenny" Brkic wrote an open letter to other exchange students with disabilities all over the world. Jenny, who is blind, came to Indiana from Bosnia as a YES student.

Dear Future Exchange Student,

If you are chosen as an exchange student, you might have a lot of questions and thoughts about everything. That's how I was at first.

I worried about everything, especially because of my disability. There was a time when I almost gave up on everything. I was tired of thinking of all the stuff I had to do, all the forms to fill out, all the discussions I had to have with my parents, and a lot more.

I arrived in the United States, but with a lack of self-confidence. In the beginning, it was hard to adjust to everything. I had a new host family, which never had any contact with blind people, so the experience was as new for them as it was for me. The new school was huge, I didn't know anybody or anything in there, and I felt self-conscious.

I met with the principal and it was a good thing because I got to choose my own school subjects for the semeseter. After that, it was time for the principal to show me all my classrooms and introduce me to all my teachers. I was really overwhelmed that first day and came home that day crying uncontrollably.

But the next day was better, and the next was even better than that. As time passed, I started to meet more people, and I learned my way around the school. I also started learning contracted Braille, which I didn't know. That was really hard at the beginning too.

Fortunately, I had a really great teacher who patiently taught me contracted Braille and how to read with two hands. I was so happy when I was able to read a book without any difficulty.

But what I really want to talk to you about is how I found a new purpose.

I am the kind of person who is really stubborn, and sometimes it's really hard for me to ask for help, even though having a disability means I have to do it more often than people without a disability.

For example, whenever I wanted to do my laundry, I had to ask someone to turn on the washing machine and the dryer for me. It went on like that for about three months, and everybody was always willing to help. But finally, I was not willing to ask anymore.

One day, while I was sitting in my room, I asked myself whether I could keep asking others to do it for me for the next seven months. It was inconceivable for me. I couldn't imagine doing it for the rest of my stay here, so I decided to do something about it.

A teacher at my school has a machine that lets you put Braille on tape and stick it onto something. I asked her politely if she would loan it to me so I could add Braille on the washing machine and dryer at home. She was happy to see me doing that for my own sake.

One day, when it wasn't busy, I asked my host mom to help me label the washer and dryer with the Braille tape. We did, and from that moment, it seemed that I was the happiest person in the world.

I discovered that I could do my own thing, all by myself. I was happy to know that there is a way to solve almost everything that occurs in life.

When you're blind, sometimes you think you are useless and that you can't do anything, but if we make one small step at a time, we move closer to achieve the big things for us.

I am so thankful for all the equipment we have today in our society. A few months ago, I got a BrailleNote from my school to use for school activities, homework and reading books. It helped me more than you could ever know. It's way too expensive for me to buy it in my country. Still, I am happy I got the opportunity to use it here.

After eight months, I learned a million new things and met a lot of new people. Even in school I have friends, lots of them. They love to hear me talk because they like my accent, and they always say I make them smile every time I say something funny.

So, dear exchange student with any disability, be open-minded and open-hearted and come to the United States if you get a chance. It will be the best lesson in your life and one of the best experiences you will ever have.

Your friend,

Jenny

The Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program provides scholarships for high school students from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend a semester or academic year in the United States. YES supports students with disabilities and encourages their participation.

 

Author: 

Dzenana "Jenny" Brkic