By Viktoria Panayotova (YES 2018-2019, Bulgaria, placed by Ayusa in Stewartstown, PA)
My experience as a YES alumna has been rewarding and beneficial, not only because of the service projects that I have implemented but also because of the connections and valuable friendships that I’ve been able to create with the alumni community in Bulgaria.
I became the Alumni Coordinator in 2019. This position gave me the opportunity to see how the alumni association in Bulgaria works from the inside and how I can contribute to the alumni community even more. One of my favorite projects that I was able to implement happened soon after the global COVID-19 pandemic impacted Bulgaria. All of us had to stay home and adapt to the new normal, so I organized a webinar on the following theme: “What Does Diversity Mean in Today’s World.” I invited Megan Lysaght, Academic Exchange Specialist at the U.S. Department of State, and YES alumna Ghizlane Akourim (YES 2015-2016, Morocco, placed by FLAG in Indianapolis, IN), professional trainer and ASHOKA Changemaker, to lead the event. I had the chance to meet both of these women during my exchange year and they had a great influence on me. One hundred people from all over the world registered for the event.
Another favorite activity that I initiated with the YES alumni community was called Bedtime Stories. I developed this project during quarantine as well, when children were struggling to stay home during the pandemic. My fellow YES alumni and I created a YouTube channel where we posted recordings of alumni reading traditional fairy tales out loud in Bulgarian and English. I created the promotional material and backgrounds for every story and also edited the recording—skills that I learned during my exchange year when I took classes in multimedia.
During my time as Alumni Coordinator, I have seen a great increase in alumni of many different generations becoming more active and engaged in the alumni community. During the pandemic, we started organizing monthly online meetings, which gave me an opportunity to meet new alumni. I believe that consistently holding meetings and implementing service projects are some of the most important things that bring the alumni community together.
To me, service projects are very invaluable. Service projects bring many different people together, which makes them so special. I am inspired to organize and participate in service projects because I am able to see how they positively change me and the people around me. I cannot deny that my experience in the U.S. made me more open to participating in and leading service projects. In the U.S. I was able to see how the whole community comes together, completely altruistically, united by one cause that they aim to achieve. This is my inspiration.
I am proud of the contributions I have made to my home community since becoming a YES alumna. All of the projects that I have participated in have broadened my horizons. From volunteering with the Big Brother Big Sister Association in my town to tutoring elementary students in English, I have met wonderful people in my country who give me hope and inspiration for the future.