By Stanimira Peycheva, YES 2016-2017, Bulgaria, hosted by PAX in Olympia, WA
Taking risks is not easy, but if you do not take risks, how are you going to know what awaits you in life? You cannot just sit there and wait for something to happen. I wished to have an adventure, and so I applied for YES. Despite taking this initiative, I was pessimistic at first and wondered what I was going to do on an exchange program because I was blind, and, like many disabled people in Bulgaria, I was used to having a very limited range of opportunities available to me.
Going to the U.S. and then returning to Bulgaria had a huge impact on me. Although my family at home remained skeptical of my capabilities, I knew from my experience in the U.S. that there were people out there who did believe in me, so after returning to Bulgaria, I remained connected to the YES program through the alumni community. The alumni community is so supportive. I was amazed to see everyone accepting me the way I am and not judging me.
In July 2018, I was encouraged by all the alumni to apply for the position of alumni coordinator with American Councils in Bulgaria. The alumni coordinator is someone who organizes alumni programming, supports alumni in their own projects and activities, and facilitates communication between alumni and the YES program through American Councils. I did not think I would be selected, but to my surprise, I was! And so I went on to a training for FLEX and YES alumni Coordinators organized by American Councils in Tbilisi, Georgia, in August 2018. I was so worried and scared before I went. Was everyone going to accept me? Was it going to be boring? Was it going to be difficult?
The training was not difficult at all, nor was it boring. It was amazing. Our mentors and teachers were amazing. Everyone was so helpful, assisting me in everything and making me feel accepted. There is a lot that you can learn from a training like this one, from how to write effectively on social media to how to be a successful professional. The most important thing was that we all were a huge team, and that we are still connected, although we are spread out across more than 20 countries.
So, if you ever get the chance to take on a new challenge, do not miss it. There is a lot to learn. Take the risk; be adventurous and brave. Life is all about taking risks, opening closed doors, and seeing what awaits us behind them. A try won’t cost you anything.
My motto that has kept me going, even through tough situations, is “disability is an ability.” We all are here to help each other and no matter our background, our race, or our disability, we are united, and will continue to be that way.