Featured Person: Michelle Wang
During a service learning exchange in the U.S., Michelle Wang observed people with disabilities participating in a range of life activities. Michelle is a student from China who has a physical disability.
Name: Michelle Wang
Disability: Physical disability. My left leg wears artificial limb.
Home: Guangdong, China
Host Country: United States
Program Length: 5 weeks
Exchange Type: Volunteer abroad through the Asia-U.S. Service-Learning (AUSL) Program
About Me: I am a student from Guangzhou English Training Center for the Handicapped (GETCH) in China. Before my exchange, I have not traveled before, but I really wanted to know why so many people helped me even though they do not know who I am, and I do not know who they are. I thought I would find out the answer if I did community service, so I decided that I would volunteer. I had taken part in some volunteer activities in China, but at that time, I was just a participant, so the things I learned were small.
Describe your international exchange program.
To participate in AUSL, I first needed to submit my application to VIA [the organization that administers the program]. After that, I had to pass an interview with VIA's staff.
After I was accepted to AUSL, I had a lot of opportunities to organize activities and talk with AUSL staff and directors. In this way, I put myself in their shoes, and now I really know about what we do, why we do it and how we do it. I am not just a participant anymore. It is so useful for me to understand the meaning of service.
How did you fund your exchange? Did you receive financial aid?
I received a scholarship through GETCH and VIA, and many generous people made donations to help me raise the money.
How did you prepare for your international experience?
Surfing websites was one the most important resources, because I needed to find most of my information from the Internet. The AUSL staff and coordinators also gave me great help.
What was your experience living in the host country?
When I arrived at airport, I was so surprised by how many people using wheelchairs were there. Because people with disabilities in China often stay at home and few of them travel abroad, it left a strong impression on me. After I lived in the host country, I found out that housing, transportation, and public establishments are so convenient for people with disabilities, and they do not need to worry about anything if they want to go out by themselves. In China, many people with disabilities just watch the world through windows. It does not mean that they do not want to go out the door; it is because that their wheelchair cannot work well outside.
On the other hand, people with disabilities are so independent and confident in America. They do what they want independently, and with some [reasonable accommodations], they live like people without disabilities. One of the most important things is that people without disabilities treat people with disabilities as equal. This causes people with disabilities to become brave. When I was young, I felt so sad, afraid, and embarrassed when people regarded made fun of me, so I would not go out. It made a frightening and strong impact on my mind.
When I read some children's books in the U.S. libraries, I saw that people with wheelchairs or crutches always appeared in the pictures when the book taught children about making friends with others. To tell the truth, I was so touched by that message. In this way, children are taught to treat people with disabilities like everyone else. In children's minds, it will become a natural thought that a disabled person is just one of their friends who needs a wheelchair or a pair of crutches.
How did you document your experiences?
I wrote and posted photos in an online travel diary.
What were the benefits of the experience, and how has your international experience informed your future plans?
After AUSL, I felt that my life was at a new beginning, and I was at the gate of a new world. I saw, met and touched a lot of new and wonderful things that were so different from the things I have experienced before. I bettered myself, gained knowledge, broadened my horizons, acquired more experience, made more friends, and let my life become more meaningful and colorful.
What's more, I established the ideal of my life. I become more positive, confident and independent. I will initiate a conversation with others, and be more friendly with all people. AUSL also changed my attitude of life. I now begin to pursue the lifestyle that I want, so I hope I can take responsibility for the development of our society, provide help for people who are in need, and make people pay more attention to service for society.
Do you have an exchange or disability-related question for Michelle? Emailto contact her.