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Personal Story
Ana smiling in front of bookshelves at school library

Flying High to Study in the United States

At just 16 years old, Ana was so confident that she and her wheelchair would soon be on their way to the U.S., she told practically everyone she knew that she had applied to the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

Although Ana didn’t make the final selection pool the first time, she tried again a year later.

"When I applied the second time, I didn’t tell anybody except my mom. Most of my family found out that I was going to fly two days before my flight when we had my farewell party. They were shocked!"

Personal Story
Wheelchair user on path to white stucco church in Mexico

Access on a High School Tour in Mexico

The humidity in Mexico's night air wrapped itself around Robin Sutherby as she joined her teacher and classmates to stroll slowly down the road. In town, they headed into a piano club tucked away under the brewing clouds. Having visited the beaches of Acapulco and browsed the silver crafts in the city of Taxco by day, this break in their two week Spanish class tour abroad seemed just right.

“There was a musician playing a fast, hot sound. It started thundering and lightning outside, and rain poured down as we were sitting listening to this piano music playing.”

Personal Story
Lintang sits in an adaptive bicycle

An Extraordinary Ordinary Year

On a September evening in Jakarta, Indonesia, Lintang Kirana took center stage as part of a celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the achievements of people with disabilities around the world. Surrounded by MIUSA’s Brilliant and Resilient photo exhibit, a touring exhibit highlighting the work of thirty women leaders with disabilities, Lintang transported the audience to her Wisconsin host community through stories of her year in the United States.

Best Practice
Batuhan, Nikita, and a third student stand and smile in an outdoor setting.

Cluster Leader Shares Best Practices for Inclusion

My role as a CIEE cluster leader is to organize enhancement activities that build the leadership and teamwork skills of my students. Last year I had sixteen students in my cluster, two of whom were students with disabilities. Both were studying in the United States on programs sponsored by the U.S Department of State.

There are certain activities that we do every year as a cluster. One of the most memorable of those activities took place in the winter. All sixteen of my students went up to our little cabin, which is what we do every year, to go cross-country skiing.

Personal Story
Two female exchange students smile at the camera in an outdoor setting.

A Year of New Experiences

From her host community of Spokane, Washington, Polina beams as she recalls the highlights of her academic year on the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program.

“I’m fully enjoying my time here! I have everything I need: a great host family, people who care about me and have been supporting me from the very first day I met them, a school with good teachers, and new friends.”

But like many high school students who consider studying abroad, Polina wasn’t always so sure her experience would be a positive one.

Personal Story
Senka and fellow student

Reflections on Return Home to Serbia

When MIUSA interviewed Senka Mekic for our AWAY journal, she was preparing to say good-bye to her host family after nine months in the United States on the American Serbia and Montenegro Youth Leadership Exchange (A-SMYLE) program. Back home in Serbia, Senka is completing her senior year in high school and preparing to apply to college; she plans to study at a university in Turkey.

Reflecting back on her exchange experience, Senka says her time in the U.S. made her more aware of her abilities. Her parents agree and feel that she is more independent as well.

Personal Story
Karine and Aram meeting in Oregon

Disability Inclusion in Youth Exchange

When she isn’t traveling the world, Karine Grigoryan is a tireless advocate for the inclusion of students with disabilities in youth exchange programs in her home country of Armenia.

As a disability rights activist, Karine first experienced the impact of international exchange as a participant on MIUSA’s Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability (WILD) program. Several years later, she returned to the United States as the leader of a MIUSA delegation of professionals with and without disabilities committed to expanding access to sports for youth with disabilities.

Personal Story
Michelle She in Germany

Why Parents Can Be Persuaded

When Michelle She started her first year of college in Tennessee far from her home in Maryland, her parents weren’t concerned about the distance or her year delay in starting. At least not in comparison to where she went the year before, and what she gained in return.

Personal Story
Azat wearing a t-shirt that says "Kyrgyzstan"

A New Commitment to Social Justice

Azat Toroev, a U.S. Department of State-funded Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) participant from Kyrgyzstan who has a physical disability, came to the United States driven by his interests in film, volunteering, and journalism. Azat quickly became an active presence in his host community of Fort Collins, Colorado.

Personal Story
Senka smiles during a community garden activity.

A Stubborn Attitude Turns a Chance into an Opportunity

At first glance, Senka Mekic is polite and soft-spoken. But, spend just a few minutes talking with this U.S. Department of State-funded American Serbia and Montenegro Youth Leadership Exchange (A-SMYLE) student and you’ll realize first impressions aren’t meant to last. Senka admits, “I’m not just a bit stubborn, I’m very stubborn!”

Personal Story
Ivan and six other FLEX students smiling

Family Reflects on Hosting Students with Disabilities

The Pamperins first learned about Ivan, a Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) student from Russia, from a youth exchange organization, States’ 4-H, that places students in their area. “Ivan’s name was at the top of the list of incoming international exchange students and we noticed very quickly that he has cerebral palsy (CP).” They had previously hosted a Japanese student who uses a wheelchair.

Personal Story
Marlon and several of his classmates display serious faces as they are seated on the stairs of their high school.

In a World Far from the Philippines

Flying from the Philippines to the U.S., I thought I would be learning about American traditions and pop culture as a Youth Exchange and Study (YES) student through the U.S. State Department and AFS Intercultural Programs. Surprisingly, I also learned about myself.

Of the forty-one Filipinos embarking on a journey as young ambassadors to the United States, three of us had disabilities, including me. This was the first time I met other people my age with disabilities.

Personal Story
Screenshot of Yulia in wheelchair raising her arms outside

Video: A FLEX Student Turned Disability Rights Leader

True to its name, the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) had predicted wisely when it counted Yulia Simonova among its "future leaders" in 2001. Although over a decade has passed since Yulia spent a year in the U.S. as a high school exchange student, she claims that the experiences that shaped her there continue to serve her in her current role as a disability rights leader and founder of non-profit organization Perspektiva in Russia. Yulia, who has a physical disability and uses a wheelchair, created this video to describe how.

Personal Story
Stella with Host Family in a park

Student with Disability is Host Family’s Shining Star

When Katharine Royal was five years old, she told her grandfather that one day she’d welcome a child from Africa into her life. Years later, her childhood dream came true as she and her husband opened their home to Stella, a high school exchange student from Kenya who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.

Katharine understood the challenges that Stella was facing. Like Stella, she, too, has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.

"Pretty much before [my friend] even fully asked me if I would consider hosting Stella, I told her we are doing this."

Personal Story
Country flags on lockers in a school

Teen with a Disability Adds Flag to Hall of Nations

Azat Toroev jokes that he is happy if his classmates can find Kyrgyzstan on a map. Since he arrived in his host state of Colorado, he has been raising awareness of his native country while studying for a year at a U.S. high school. Toroev, who has cerebral palsy, has also increased his own self-awareness while in the United States.