YES Programs



Blind Bosnian YES student reflects on her exchange experience

YES student in a pool with a dolphin

Following an eventful year at a U.S. high school, Dzenana "Jenny" Brkic wrote an open letter to other exchange students with disabilities all over the world that are coming to the U.S. in the following years. Jenny, who is blind, came to Indiana from Bosnia as a YES student.

By Dzenana "Jenny" Brkic

"Dear Future Exchange Student",

If you are chosen as an exchange student, you might have a lot of questions and thoughts about everything. That's how I was at first.

I worried about everything, especially because of my disability. There was a time when I almost gave up on everything. I was tired of thinking of all the stuff I had to do, all the forms to fill out, all the discussions I had to have with my parents, and a lot more.

I arrived in the United States, but with a lack of self-confidence. In the begining, it was hard to adjust to everything. I had a new host family, which never had any contact with blind people, so the experience was as new for them as it was for me. I also had a new environment and a new school. When I think about it now, I think the first day at my new school was the worst. The school was huge, I didn't know anybody or anything in there, and I felt self-conscious.

"Fortunately, I had a really great teacher who patiently taught me contracted Braille and how to read with two hands. I was so happy when I was able to read a book without any difficulty."

I met with the principal and we chose my school subjects for the semester. It was a good thing, though, because I got to choose my own subjects, the ones that I would have every day. After that, it was time for the principal to show me all my classrooms and introduce me to all my teachers.

I remember being alone at lunch until three girls came to my table and talked to me. Unfortunately, because of their behavior, I would not hang out with those girls again. I was really overwhelmed that first day and came home that day crying uncontrollably.

But the next day was better, and the next was even better than that. As time passed, I started to meet more people, and I learned my way around the school. I also started learning contracted Braille, which I didn't know. That was really hard at the beginning too. Fortunately, I had a really great teacher who patiently taught me contracted Braille and how to read with two hands. I was so happy when I was able to read a book without any difficulty.

But what I really want to talk to you about is how I found a new purpose.

I am the kind of person, who is really stubborn, and sometimes it's really hard for me to ask for help, even though having a disability means I have to do it more often than people without a disability. For example, whenever I wanted to do my laundry, I had to ask someone to turn on the washing machine and the dryer for me. It went on like that for about three months, and everybody was always willing to help. But finally, I was not willing to ask anymore. One day, while I was sitting in my room, I asked myself whether I could keep asking others to do it for me for the next seven months. It was inconceivable for me. I couldn't imagine doing it for the rest of my stay here, so I decided to do something about it.

"I discovered that I could do my own thing, all by myself. I was happy to know that there is a way to solve almost everything that occurs in life."

A teacher at my school has a machine that lets you put Braille on tape and stick it onto something. I asked her politely if she would loan it to me so I could add Braille on the washing machine and dryer at home. She was happy to see me doing that for my own sake.

One day, when it wasn't busy, I asked my host mom to help me label the washer and dryer with the Braille tape. We did, and from that moment, it seemed that I was the happiest person in the world. I discovered that I could do my own thing, all by myself. I was happy to know that there is a way to solve almost everything that occurs in life.

When you're blind, sometimes you think you are useless and that you can't do anything, but if we make one small step at a time, we move closer to achieve the big things for us. Even though it may seem like a small thing to the world, we make ourselves happy and grateful to God and to everyone for the help. I am so thankful for all the equipment we have today in our society.

A few months ago, I got a BrailleNote from my school to use for school activities, homework and reading books. It helped me more than you could ever know. A BrailleNote is something I would really like to have back home, but unfortunately, it is way too expensive for me to buy it in my country. Still, I am happy I got the opportunity to use it here, at least.

By now, it's been eight months since I came to the U.S. My experience so far has been great and I've learned a million new things and met a lot of new people. Even in school I have friends, lots of them. People like me in there. They love to hear me talk because they like my accent, and they always say I make them smile every time I say something funny.

So, dear exchange student with any disability, be open-minded and open-hearted and come to the United States if you get a chance. It will be the best lesson in your life and one of the best experiences you will ever have.

I wish the best of luck to all of you future exchange students with disabilities, and may you make the best choices in your lives!

Your friend,


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