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Personal Story
Two young women walk together along a jungle path parallel to a beach. One woman is carrying a white cane.

The Right to Fall

In the summer of 2015 I left the creature comforts of Ohio behind for a study-abroad/volunteer program in one of the developing nations in the Caribbean. Having never traveled outside the United States before, I had only a vague idea what to expect. A few things weighed heavily on my mind as I took off from the airport in Cincinnati. I knew I was the first blind student to gain acceptance into my program. Before I applied, another had been denied entry because the administrators didn't believe her orientation and mobility skills were strong enough for her to handle the trip.

Personal Story
Brooklyn, seated in an electric wheelchair on a gravel path, faces a narrow river and German house

A German Lesson

Ask Brooklyn Hortenstine why she adores foreign languages so much and she will evoke the unique sensation that each language stirs in her. Of them all, German is her favorite: “It feels like cozy fall nights drinking hot chocolate in my sweaters. It feels like coming in from the cold and sitting in front of a fire. It feels like home.”

Brooklyn's definition of "home" has expanded in the last year. Although the 18-year-old hails from Clarksville, Tennessee, she has since embraced Germany as her second home.

Personal Story
Tall greenhouse-like structure with a shallow pyramid roof

Notes from Germany: "Let Life Happen!"

When Kurtis Klein first arrived in Heidelberg, Germany, he quickly found that the German language he had learned in the classrooms of San Diego State University was going to need some fine-tuning in order to settle in to the host university and community where he would be spending the next twelve months.

“It was a struggle, at first, to communicate effectively, because I did not have the specialized vocabulary needed to navigate all of the technical paperwork needed to register with the city, pay rent, set up a German bank account, etc.”

Personal Story
A smiling woman looks off in the distance. Behind her is a sign that says "We all smile in the same language" with images of children with and without disabilities.

The Value of Student Exchanges to Developing Countries — and the U.S.

When students travel to another country to study as part of an exchange program, the benefits don’t just accrue to the individual student — communities across borders gain from the experience.

USAID funds student exchanges between institutions in developing countries and U.S. colleges and universities. The students who come to the U.S. gain knowledge and skills they can use back home, which in the long run can result in higher employment, enhanced productivity and a stronger economy in their home country.

Personal Story
Group of wheelchair athletes

When Sports Spark Social Change, Everyone Wins

Organized sports can be much more than a pastime. They can also be a way to teach leadership skills, encourage inclusiveness, and build confidence. In the right situation, sports can even be a tool for social change.

It was with that mindset that Trooper Johnson and Carlie Cook traveled to Morocco and Algeria as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Sports Envoy program to promote inclusion and transform attitudes that marginalize people with disabilities.

Personal Story
Cheng sitting on a mountain top overlooking view of trees and blue skies.

Counting Opportunities: Lessons in an ESL Classroom

Because he studied ESL, Cheng got a Psychology degree at the University of Oregon. He served as a research assistant, and now has the possibility of going on to graduate school.

He also gained a lot of personal benefits from ESL. He made lots of new friends both from the United States and around the world. He now can access knowledge, which otherwise would have been inaccessible, and he has a much broader outlook on the world.

Personal Story
Ahmed standing with a large group of friends in a cowboy store all wearing cowboy hats.

Finding New Paths in Special Education through ESL

Two years ago, Ahmed Alqahtani, a legally blind student from Saudi Arabia, did just that. He wanted to become proficient in English as a Second Language (ESL), meet new people, and complete academic graduate studies in the United States. At the time, those goals might have seemed quite ambitious.

“To be honest with you I didn't imagine that I could speak English like this. Because it's not my native language and I would hear the radio two years ago and I couldn't understand anything.”

Personal Story
Alex, a young man in a power wheelchair and his black dog with its paws on Alex's lap. Behind them is a guard rail with brilliant blue sea in the distance

Cultivating “Amandla” for a Global Impact

As Alex stood on the stage of a dimly-lit comedy club, he smiled even wider as the laughs and cheers grew stronger. Alex never thought he would be performing stand-up comedy, and this was just one way that participating in an internship with a disability advocacy organization in South Africa altered his life and the path he chose to pursue.

Alex has cerebral palsy and has ridden a power wheelchair since he was two years old. “I was obviously disabled to everyone that saw me ever since I was very young, but I always ran away from that identity. I did not want to be labeled.”

Personal Story
Stephanie stands at the Great Wall of China path holding her white cane.

A Ripple Starts in China

Later, the two ran into one of her partner’s friends. Stephanie was walking with her cane, and her partner explained to the friend how and why Stephanie used it. Stephanie was delighted to let her partner do the talking.

“She repeated everything I had just told her. I was so excited—the ripple had started.”

Personal Story
Justice (left) holds the arm of a young man as they walk through a lush green field

Experiential Learning at the Nexus of Theory and Practice

“There’s an undeniable vibe that moves through the air” Justice Shorter ascribes to her temporary home in northern Uganda and Rwanda. “My study abroad experience gave me the chance to encounter that time and time again.”

As a graduate student at SIT Graduate Institute, Justice chose to study on SIT’s Peace & Post Conflict Reconciliation summer program in Uganda and Rwanda to observe how inclusive development can be used to alleviate the effects of poverty while working towards her Master’s in Sustainable Development.

Personal Story
Chris standing next to a man playing a guitar in an open market

Never Too Advanced for Language Study

No one knows this better than Christopher Ortega, who, despite growing up speaking the language with his family of Mexican immigrants, benefited from participating in a Spanish immersion and traveling with new-made friends in Cuba.

Christopher, who is blind, originally found the Cuban program through the University at Albany where he was completing his undergraduate work. Looking through the program offerings, Cuba seemed like the most interesting option, given his fascination with recent political history between the Castro government and the United States.

Personal Story
Jameyanne speaking with a priest in front of the arch of an old cathedral with her guide dog by her side.

Natural Born Advocate Goes Abroad

“I said, ‘I’m not waiting here.’ And I pushed, until the person let me go in. I was going to be independent, and I was going to push back against people who told me I couldn’t do things.”

Jameyanne has lived a very active life as a blind person. Her family always supported her in whatever she wanted to do.

Personal Story
Keilah (left) and two friends stand with backs to camera, facing mountainous view

A Semester of Discovery in Ghana

It was typical for Keilah Allen to meander through different wards of the nearby hospital in Ghana where she volunteered after the day’s classes. But on one less-than-typical day, in the children’s ward, she saw her post-college plans snap into focus where they had once been hazy.

Personal Story
Ming sitting in wheelchair in front of classroom as students behind her have their heads down writing.

Turning a Corner: Reflections on China from a Language Student

Yet her experience studying Chinese started much earlier. She was raised in a Chinese orphanage. As a child with scoliosis who used a wheelchair, her future prospects were limited. That all changed after getting adopted by an American family and coming to the United States at the age of eleven. At that point much of her Chinese was lost and replaced with English. 

When Ming began to study Chinese independently as a teenager, it was her way of reconnecting with that country that she had left behind.

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