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Spotlight: Yumer Mestan, a story of access and inclusion

Yumer Mestan is like most students interested in the Work & Travel USA program.  On paper, his resume looks similar to other participants: he enjoys drawing, reading books, and is eager to experience living and working in the United States. But there is one difference:  Yumer is deaf.  Yumer applied for the program having strong written and reading English language abilities. However, having never been in an English-speaking environment, his learning curve was reading lips in English, a unique challenge that most participants do not face.  Despite this, Yumer was determined to make this program experience a reality.  Thanks to Atlantic Management Holiday Inn Express in Bethany Beach, Delaware, he was able to!  Through his Work & Travel USA job placement, Yumer got to experience the American way of life:  from his first Pride Parade in D.C., to seeing the Washington Monument, to a job opportunity that allowed him to feel proud and independent.  Below, we hear from his host employer on why their participation in the program means opening their doors to students from different backgrounds and cultures…and disabilities.

Yumer and friends

Atlantic Management Holiday Inn Express Bethany Beach:
Why Work & Travel USA?
We get to bring students from different backgrounds, makes us more culturally aware, I believe it’s something that our guests accept and enjoy.  We get to learn about other countries and they get to learn about the United States before they go onto their other careers.

Can we explore the positives for hiring a participant with a disability such as Yumer?
With Yumer’s situation, he was here earlier than other students, so I got to know him better and he was very open and gave me a lot of background information about how he has been disowned by his family because of being deaf and his sexuality.  We gave him the weekend off and he got to go to DC to experience Pride weekend. He told me that was the happiest he has ever been in his whole life.  He brought back pictures and he brought me back a bracelet.  He has pictures in front of the Washington Monument and he told me that was the moment that he finally found his sense of self.  I was so happy for him and he literally smiled for two days straight and told me he had never been able to experience somewhere where everyone was like him and no one judged him because of his disability.  He said that he also might have never been able to experience that at home and it took coming to the United States to have that life changing opportunity.  It’s not the normal there and it is the normal and accepted here.

Where there any challenges you have faced?
Yes, with employees and guests.  There was one situation with a guest that was trying to get his attention in the hallway and didn’t even realize he was deaf. She complained to me and I explained to her why he did not respond.  The guest did feel bad about it because she was being very rude but understood.  I had to tweak his employment then because he was in housekeeping. I thought maybe he would be better in laundry.  He still had a lot of interaction because our laundry department is centralized, and everyone comes in and out through the department. That was a good fit for him and he still gets to go upstairs and do his thing but has less pressure of rude guests.

What does it feel like to have Yumer on your team?
I am proud of it and I feel he is a good fit for us.  He comes every day with a positive attitude and a huge smile on his face, works very hard and that is what I need on my team. He is a team player and there is no negative to having Yumer as part of my team.

Any general statement that you want to say about the program?
I am a true advocate of the program. We do have some negativity from guest utilizing the students, but I don’t pay attention to the guests. These guest regardless…some people you just can’t make happy.  I explain to them that unfortunately sometimes there are language barriers, but they are not trying to ignore you or being rude, but they can come down and ask us to get done whatever they need.  We communicate with the students daily, so we will get done what the guest needs.

Yumer returned home, after a busy travel period (he told us he enjoyed New York City)!  He now has great stories to tell about inclusion and opportunity for all in America.  People with disabilities face hurdles in Bulgaria but, according to Yumer, “…In the United States, people accept me for who I am and do not look down on me. …I had the opportunity to do this by myself, I feel proud and independent.  The advice I would give would be for people to not be afraid, it is an experience that you have to try.” Be on the lookout for more of Yumer’s story on CIEE’s Exchanges blog.

It’s participants like Yumer that remind us how access to this program is so vital towards our mission of inclusion, diversity and access to exchange to achieve public diplomacy.  This is one of the reasons why CIEE is proud to continue our CIEE Access Scholarships. Generous donations from employers and individuals like you make this program possible. Please consider donating so that Access Scholars – high achieving international students from all over the world – have the opportunity to gain skills, competencies, and the experience necessary to contribute positively to our global community.

If you have a story to tell, we want to hear it. Different perspectives are so important – a participant, a supervisor, a guest or a community member. We know the impact of this program has a ripple effect and we cannot capture a full story without hearing from our host employers. Please share your stories with us! You can reply directly to the email or contact your International Recruitment Consultant. We look forward to hearing from you.

By Lauren Kelly, Manager, Participant Experience and Sandi Taylor, International Recruitment Consultant