How is this real life.
I first started dreaming about studying abroad towards the end of my freshman year of high school. At that point, it was a nebulous, unclear concept. I wanted a French-speaking country, but not France; I wanted to be in Europe because it felt comfortable, safe. Maybe I’d only go for a spring semester, so as not to miss the fall musical. There were a lot of question marks. My uncertainty led me and my family down a different path that year: hosting. I’ve written about Mona and that incredible experience before, so I won’t bore you with the details but know that it was wonderful and I miss my sister every day. Throughout that year, the question of high school study abroad remained. Would I go junior year? Senior? I was adamantly against a gap year then — I would be a year behind my friends in college! Oh, how things change. Reliving my entire decision-making process would be torturous for me and even more so for you, so I’ll skip to the conclusion. After much deliberation, I determined that the gap year against which I was so firmly set was actually the best choice for me. And so began another arduous process — figuring out what the heck I was going to do. (If you want to learn more about/refresh your memory on the different options I considered, check out my post “Looking to the Future” from last year.)
Fast-forward to now: I was rejected from the NSLI-Y scholarship, forgot about CIEE and API long ago, and never completed my applications for AFS and YFU because…
I was awarded the YES Abroad scholarship for Bulgaria!
This is a scholarship run through the U.S. State Department that sends high school students and recent graduates to countries around the world with significant Muslim populations. The Bulgarian program is run through the exchange organization American Councils. Only 65 scholarships total are awarded each year across the 12 countries, and I honestly still can’t believe they were crazy enough to give me one (jkjk I’m really responsible and will be a great ambassador please let me go).
I’ll be living with a host family (TBD) in Sofia, the capital, and attending a state school taught entirely in Bulgarian. Being a gap year student comes in handy here as the high school students will be attending an English-speaking IB school and one time through IB was more than enough, thank you very much. I’ve started doing a little bit of language study already and oh my goodness. This is going to be a challenge. But hey, I didn’t apply for the program because it seemed easy! I am hoping there are language classes provided at some point though. I think there are. Please let there be.
Unsurprisingly, my knowledge of Bulgarian culture and customs is fairly limited. Luckily, the YES program runs a three-day Pre-Departure Orientation in Washington, D.C. in June where I’ll get to meet other participants, learn about my role as a YES ambassador, and take a crash course in Bulgarian life so I don’t look like an idiot when I land in Sofia at the end of the summer.
So far, that’s pretty much all I know! I’m unendingly grateful to have been given this opportunity and cannot wait to see what lies ahead. My mind still can’t process that this is reality. In five months time, I will be moving across the world to Sofia, Bulgaria. I can’t believe this is my life.
Until next time, Довиждане!