Above photo: Ilkay (right) with her host sister, Chloe.
We are happy to announce the April 2020 YES Student of the Month, Ilkay Osman from Bulgaria! Ilkay is placed by PAX and hosted in Kent, WA, where she attends Washington State School for the Blind.
Ilkay is having a great exchange year, despite the current challenges of the global pandemic.
Before the pandemic, Ilkay excelled in school and walked to the local public high school, where she took drum, drama, and music classes, for which she wrote blues songs; and she immersed herself in sports. While she arrived in the United States without knowing how to swim, she ultimately won a medal in a swimming race. Although she had never played on a Goalball team—a sport similar to soccer, designed specifically for people with visual impairments—she became the first international exchange student at her school to be invited to the Annual Goalball Tournament in Tacoma, Washington. Her team took bronze. In addition, she won the annual WSSB Cross Country Ski event and joined the hockey team with her host sister, who is also blind. Ilkay also contributed to her host community by volunteering in the daycare classrooms at school and her host family’s church.
Though Ilkay can no longer participate in activities in-person, due to social distancing, she remains dedicated to fulfilling the goals of her exchange. On top of keeping up with her school’s distance learning program, Ilkay is keeping busy in many different ways. To entertain other students in her area exchange cluster, she designed a series of activities for sighted kids to try doing blindfolded. The students enjoyed these “blind challenge” activities so much that they have been conducting them at home with their host families. For Easter, since the family wasn’t able to attend the yearly “beeping” egg hunt due to social distancing restrictions, her host family hid Easter eggs and stood close by, making a beeping sound louder and louder as she got closer to the egg. To thank her host parents for giving her such a wonderful hosting experience, particularly during the pandemic, Ilkay and her host sister, with whom she instantly bonded and is now best friends, surprised her host parents by making a full dinner and even cleaned up afterward. With her extra time at home, Ilkay is teaching her host sister Bulgarian and learning to work with her host sister’s dog, who is training to become a certified guide dog. Ilkay’s host sister helped her learn grade 2 Braille, which has opened up a whole new world to her, and she now loves to read. Ilkay says that she has “a lot of things to do during the pandemic thanks to my host family and school who do everything for us, students, to keep learning. I really appreciate it all!”
Ilkay’s ambition to fully immerse herself in her American life has made her a wonderful ambassador for Bulgaria and the YES Program. Her host mom, reflecting on the experience, said, “Ilkay was a pleasure to host, and her spirits remain high even with the unprecedented events occurring around us. Thank you for this hosting opportunity. We will never forget it!”