What Should I Expect in an Exchange Program?

A young American man with autism presents to a classroom of Jamaican children.
Jeremiah Swisher presents in a Jamaican classroom.
"I always thought that in order to travel to another country, I would have to live abroad for a long time," says Jeremiah Swisher, a student with autism who was looking for the right opportunity abroad.

After doing some research and talking to his college study abroad advisor, Jeremiah Swisher learned that there are many different types of international exchange opportunities to choose from. "The group trip to teach in Jamaica over spring break seemed like the best fit for me because it wouldn't interrupt my schoolwork," he says."The idea of traveling with a group of people was much more comfortable than traveling alone."

How you decide which kind of exchange program depends on you and your preferences. What type of international experience would you prefer?

  • Highly structured schedule or flexible schedule?
  • Long-term (several months to a year) or short-term (a week up to a couple of months)?
  • Academic or experiential?
  • Traveling with a group of peers or being on your own?

There is no right or wrong answer, and each choice can offer different benefits or drawbacks. Thinking through some of these qualities will be helpful as you begin researching international opportunities or when you're discussing options with your international program advisor.

Peer Advice

Consider some other international exchange program factors that autistic travelers say have made a difference in their success abroad.

  • Find a program that provides support in case disability or access-related issues arise.
  • Be placed in a host family with a host parent who is understanding or knowledgeable about autism.
  • Connect with faculty or staff at the host university who teach about autism or do autism research that you can talk to.
  • Receive a detailed itinerary in advance, to know what to expect ahead of time.
  • Choose a program with a small group of peers.
  • Arrange volunteers to accompany you on non-university outings and activities if that makes you feel more safe.

While these strategies worked for these particular people, they aren't for everyone. You might have different strategies or support systems that you would like to use for navigating your international exchange experience. As you consider your disability access needs during the overseas program. Remember to think through your needs outside of the classroom too if it is a study abroad program. Your international exchange program will likely include many excursions, field trips, and free time to explore your host country!