The living situation for an exchange participant is not just a place to stay, but a way to learn about family, culture and language. Some participants will be better suited to living in a dormitory, while others will thrive in a homestay family. In either case, what's key is finding a place and people who will welcome a participant with a disability into many aspects of life in the new country.
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.
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.
Sitting outside on the mini terrace of my new apartment listening to the kids in my neighborhood and watching people leave church and head for lunch, I feel an ease that you can only feel in a place you call home.
Two and a half years ago I fulfilled my dream of studying abroad in France. Despite hesitation from my family and friends, and some administrators at my college, I successfully lived with a family in Rennes (in Brittany), went to school, and traveled around Europe in what became five of the best months of my life.
When images of Japan post-earthquake and tsunami bombarded us, it made it difficult for anyone familiar with Japan to remember the extreme organization and efficiency of this awe-inspiring nation. Soon after I read a Newsweek article, “Apocalypse Now?”, which said “Before now, Japan has never been pitied”.
Gohar Navasardyan is the only female athlete playing with the Pyunic Center for the Disabled’s wheelchair basketball team. She powers her chair across the court with strength and grace, as she does when she’s on the dance stage. Armenia doesn’t yet have a women’s wheelchair basketball team, but there is momentum to create new sport opportunities for people with disabilities across the nation, fueled by MIUSA’s U.S. Department of State sponsored Sports for Success professional exchange program.
Are you advising someone with a disability who is traveling abroad for your volunteer, study or professional program? Do you know what questions to ask to assist them in preparing for travel and living abroad related to their disability?
These access information forms provide starting points to learn more about what may be needed. The advisor guidelines also help know what the individual's responses may mean and what follow-up questions you could ask. Download and adapt these for your own use; it may mean asking fewer questions on the forms and more in face to face conversations.
Are you trending up or down with these changes that long-established education abroad programs are spearheading and other types of international exchanges could tap into?
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.
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.
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!”
Going overseas was something I had wanted to do since my early college days. I had always dreamed of being in the jungles of Africa or on a camel riding through a desert, but when the opportunity came to travel to Russia with Wheels for the World, I enthusiastically accepted the challenge.
The costs of international travel for just one person - whether for airfare, housing, or all the tasty local food - are harrowing enough. So if you're someone who will require the services of a personal assistant during your international exchange experience, the idea of doubling or even tripling these expenses can make it seem like international travel is out of reach.
Not so! For affordable PAS abroad, look for creative ways to reduce or share costs, raise funds, or negotiate with your exchange program provider to help defray the costs.
Simply being available to travel wasn't enough to meet U.S. student Lauren Presutti's criteria for providing personal assistance during her studies abroad to Australia. "It was crucial for me to find the right two people who I felt most comfortable with and who I could completely trust," says Lauren of what made her time abroad a success.
Promoting a sense of trust and confidence between you and your personal assistant (PA) begins with establishing clear roles and responsibilities for what is expected of each other while you're abroad. Begin now.
There are many unknowns when preparing for an exchange experience in another country, especially when it comes to figuring out how you'll get what you need to be independent. Getting from place to place, taking care of yourself, and getting assistance when needed are all part of the equation.
Not sure whether you will need personal assistance services (PAS) during your international experience or not? Ask yourself these questions to help inform your decision.