Featured Person: Andrey Tikhonov
Meet Andrey and read about his year as a Russian language teaching assistant in the United States.
Name: Andrey Tikhonov
Program Country: United States
Program Length: 10 months
Program Type: Foreign language teaching
About Me: When I was still a student in Russia, I had a chance to visit several European countries as a participant in international student cooperation projects, music contests and festivals. During these visits, I saw how people in Europe approach disability-related issues, and how disabled students and professionals are fully involved in society. While in the U.S., I have had a chance to examine these issues even more thoroughly.
Was your international exchange experience arranged through an exchange organization? If so, what was the application process like?
I decided that the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) program, which allows teaching assistants to take non-credit courses while teaching their languages as native speakers, would be the most beneficial to my future career as an English and German teacher. The program description stated that U.S. Department of State exchange programs do not discriminate based on disability, so I made some inquiries and decided to apply.
The Moscow Fulbright staff provided me with an assistant to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), and covered the travel and hotel expenses of a sighted guide during my interview in Moscow. I was really surprised a couple of weeks later when I got a call from the Moscow Fulbright office - I had successfully passed the first step of the selecting process!
What were your concerns as you prepared to travel? What kinds of resources did you use to address these concerns (website, advisor, book, etc)?
I had a strong desire to experience a new culture and embark on a new life, but I knew that everything would be completely different from what I was used to. How fast would I be able to enhance my independent living skills in an English-speaking country? How would I adapt to my new surroundings? Would I be successful in my work and have a social life on campus?
Fortunately, before I left Russia, my future supervisor at Michigan State University and staff from the MSU Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD) emailed to ask what types of assistance and assistive technology I would need, and helped me address some of my many concerns.
What was your experience living in the host country? Please share your impressions of housing, transportation, activities, cultural attitudes towards disability, and your strategies for navigating abroad.
When I first arrived in the United States, I was a bit perplexed by American English, and it took some time before I was no longer anxious about my language skills. I have benefited from other courses while at MSU, including a course on teaching language methods and a jazz history class. Additionally, my American experience gave me so much on the way of handling my disability and improving my life independent skills.
If you used assistive devices or service animals during your exchange program, were they helpful to you in your new environment? Did you use any new assistive devices that you had never used in your home country?
I had never traveled without a sighted person before, but from the moment my plane landed in Lansing, Michigan, I was surrounded by people ready to offer assistance. I was provided with a laptop, screen reading software and access to high speed Internet, all of which allows me to work and study effectively. Over the next few weeks, I received orientation and mobility training from RCPD specialists. I learned some new techniques for using a white cane, and the staff helped me to master the most important routes around campus. For the first time in my life I could get around on my own! I could go to any university building, to a concert, to a swimming pool, or to a date independently.
What were the benefits of the experience, and how has your international experience informed your future plans?
My American experience gave me so much in the way of handling my disability and improving my life independent skills. The best part was that meeting people from different corners of the world and that I could communicate with them. I know that my experience in the United States will have a very positive impact on my future as a teacher in my home country.
While in the U.S., I have had a chance to examine disability-related issues more thoroughly.
I deeply realized that my disability is not something that can drive other people and success away from me. I plan to bring this new knowledge to my home country so that we can increase opportunities for people with disabilities in Russia and end stereotypes.
Read Andrey's full story, "Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from Russia" by clicking here. Do you have an exchange or disability-related question for Andrey? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch with him.