Luljeta Koshi has been recruiting students for the U.S. Department of State-sponsored Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program in Bosnia since 2008. In this interview, Koshi shares her perspective on the vital importance of disability inclusion in youth exchange programs and best practices for recruiting students with disabilities for these opportunities.
What has been your experience recruiting students with disabilities?
We have successfully recruited students with disabilities for five years in a row, mainly from the Center for Blind and Visually Impaired Children in Sarajevo. The first to be selected, Dzenana Brkic, spent the 2011-12 academic year in the United States. She is now studying English at a university in Sarajevo on a full scholarship and is actively engaged in alumni activities.
How did you first connect with the Center for Blind and Visually Impaired Children?
The EducationUSA adviser and I went to the Center to talk about the YES program, as well as other opportunities to study in the United States. Dzenana was actually one of the students who immediately said, “Well, I’m not going to make it. I’m not going to get the scholarship.”
What made her change her mind?
I believe it was the support our office provided her. I also was available to her parents. I described all aspects of the program to them, including what support she would have in the U.S., how our organization works with placement organizations, the process of finding host families, support from MIUSA, and more.
You have said that parents can be an obstacle to recruitment of students with disabilities. Were Dzenana’s parents different?
Parents tend to be more protective of their children with disabilities, even those who attend a boarding school. I think Dzenana’s mom understood that this was a really big opportunity for her. She was aware that if Dzenana stayed here and missed this opportunity, that would be it. She would finish high school and wouldn’t be able to go any further.
I also believe it helped that we didn’t treat Dzenana differently. I showed her parents that we believed she was excellent candidate for the program. Out of more than 500 applicants, she was one of ten students who received a scholarship.
What advice would you give recruitment organizations in other countries?
To recruit students with disabilities, you need to go in person to these centers, to these schools, to talk to principals and students. Unfortunately, inclusion is not encouraged in our society so students with disabilities have this, kind of, wall, and you need to break through that wall by coming in and talking to them in person.
I think it also really helped that we had the full support of the principal of the Center for Blind and Visually Impaired Children. The Center prepared program materials for the students in braille and we provided electronic copies because a lot of blind students now use screen reading software to access information.
Since then, it has helped, year after year, to have Dzenana promote the program to her peers. She gives presentations in school and talks to students to encourage them to apply. She is doing an awesome job as an alumna and as a college student. She is really a unique person.