After earning a college degree in Japanese and Chinese, taking seven trips to China to work and study, and twelve trips to Japan and Korea to teach English, one might consider me an expert, but I don’t feel like one.
Although I was born in a small, rural town in southwestern Japan, growing up I had an interest in foreign affairs. However, my family could not imagine that their son could travel outside of Japan.
I liked how the U.S. university is run. A lot more interactive and the professors actually worked in the field that they are teaching about – they are not just academics that want to do research.
I used the disability services in England and the U.S. as well. Americans are more openly emotional and there’s a lot more talking about feelings, which the English don’t do.
A Deaf student from Russia, Tatiana experienced the best of both worlds by attending two schools during her Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) year in the United States.
She attended the Delaware School for the Deaf (DSD) for the first five months of her exchange program while taking pre-calculus at Christiana High School, a mainstream public high school. After five months attending DSD, she transitioned to Christiana full time.
Eight years makes a world of difference. Dr. Mona Al-Sawwaf, head of the Department of Psychiatry at the King Fahd General Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, traveled as a U.S. Department of State-sponsored Humphrey Fellow to the United States to enhance professional networks and to meet colleagues in her field at top university hospitals – eight years after surviving a car accident and healing from multiple fractures in her legs.
For Jagoda Risteska, the true measure of success is “to enrich someone else’s life in a way that you never remain the same.” From that perspective, the disability advocate reflected that her U.S. fellowship has been very successful.
I feel so lucky to have had the chance to join the five-week International Visitor Leadership Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Along the official route, which included Washington D.C., Salt Lake City, Kansas City, Charlotte, and Louisville, I visited several organizations and institutions dedicated to empowering people with disabilities to participate in many aspects of mainstream society.
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,” Katharine says.
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.
When Molly Rogers was a professor at the University of Oregon, she visited the island of Penghu, Taiwan, to present a paper on Kansei Engineering and Emotion Research, it was the first time she’d traveled solo since becoming a wheelchair user. Molly, who is a member of Mobility International USA’s board of directors, was excited to visit a new place, but also admitted to being a little nervous.
“Taiwan is a very long way from home, and I don’t read or speak the language,” she says. “I knew I would have to rely entirely on myself to solve problems or get to places I wanted to go.”
When Guida Leicester arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for a six week program through a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Summer Fellowship, one thing quickly became apparent to her. “The staff and faculty had discussed what I could and could not do, but they had failed to include me in the conversation.”
While working with partners from the Dominican Republic to promote the country’s new disability rights law, Kimberly Tissot, who is the Executive Director of Able South Carolina in the USA, found a lot in common.
“I thought the disability community there was going to be different,” said Tissot, who has a physical disability. “We all face the same barriers—just at different levels.”
For six weeks this summer, I’ll be interning at a media organization in Accra, Ghana. By night I will share a house with fourteen fellow students from the University of Oregon. By day I will likely travel solo to and from work in a densely populated African city. This will also be my first time traveling internationally by myself. Eek!
As I navigated my way through piles of paperwork and broke the news to my family, I was rather amused at others’ reactions to my summer internship.
Hannah Mann describes herself as independent, a go-getter and a risk-taker. She is also a deaf cochlear implant user who is fluent in Cued Speech and American Sign Language.
She has traveled to China three times, including a semester abroad studying Mandarin at Peking University in Beijing. Her Mandarin studies began when she signed up for a summer class at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
In many ways, Christy Smith is the ultimate survivor.
She was born premature and weighed just two months at birth. When she pulled her breathing tube out as a baby, she became deaf. Later, she became the first Deaf person on reality TV when she starred on the Amazon edition of CBS’ popular reality TV show Survivor. She lasted thirty-three out of thirty-nine days before she was ousted and finished sixth.
Christy is more than just a survivor. She’s also an adventurer, a world traveler, and an advocate for Deaf communities everywhere.