Pinar, a Turkish high school student who is blind, received a full scholarship to study abroad on the U.S. Department of State’s Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program. “Of course, my parents were really worried because my safety is important to them. Probably the most important thing!” says Pinar, reflecting on her experience. She lived with an American host family on weekends and stayed on campus at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind during the week.
It wasn’t long before Pinar made a best friend at school, and the services available to her as a blind student, such as braille textbooks, orientation guides, assistive technology, and more, expanded her independence.
“It was challenging sometimes because I had never stayed in a dormitory before and I didn’t know about residential life. But I really tried, and I am glad I did because I made really good friends there, and had really good residential advisors and teachers.”
By opening her mind to every new opportunity, Pinar quickly found herself realizing dream after dream. “For Halloween, I dressed in a witch costume and went trick-or-treating with my host brother. I haven’t done that before, so it was really fun!” When the North American holiday, Thanksgiving, came in November, she enjoyed the cultural feast surrounded by family. Pinar had a year of many ‘firsts’ including a surprise birthday party with 15 of her friends, and cheering at her first college football game in a crowded stadium.
“I really wanted to go to New York and see the Statue of Liberty because it reminds me of freedom, independence and hope. I was really impressed because my host mom helped me to make my dream come true!” Over three days in New York City, they explored every item on Pinar’s bucket list.
Pinar has advice for others thinking about studying in the U.S. “Yes, it’s a new country. It won’t be easy, but in the U.S., you will have really good support and really good accommodations and it will be really helpful for your life. When you experience opportunity, it makes you so happy and so confident!”
A year after studying in the U.S., Pinar eagerly reconnected with her family back in Turkey but it wasn’t long before a new dream began to take shape. Once again she said good-bye to her sunny seaside home in Izmir to finish her high school degree in Ontario, Canada. “I would like to be a French-English translator. Actually that’s why I decided to come to Canada. I want to get into a Bachelor of Arts in linguistics, and then after finishing my degree, I want to work for the United Nations as a translator. It could be anywhere in the world!”
Making dreams a reality started with saying yes to her teacher’s encouragement to study in the U.S. Now, dreams turned to reality is a way of life for Pinar.