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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
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
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
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.

Personal Story
Chart in graduation regalia

Accessing U.S. Studies to Advance Disability Rights in Thailand

Chart traveled to the United States from Thailand to get a Master's Degree in International Public Policy and Management from the University of Southern California (USC) with the support of the Ford Foundation’s International Fellowships Program (IFP). At the time, he just wanted to get the top-notch education that the American system would open up for him. Just what he would do with that master’s degree would come later.

Having grown up as a blind man in a small town about three hours from Bangkok, Chart knew what it was like to live in a place with limited resources.

Personal Story
A girl in library looks down at a book in her lap

Hitting the Books in Lithuania

Thanks to her self-advocacy prior to and during her travels, the potential pitfalls Paula experienced while studying abroad were manageable. She points to two challenges in particular:

One was that her Lithuanian professors would provide a list of 15 books as suggested reading and pull information from those books for tests.

"It was impossible to do all of that reading, because I’m such a slow reader. It was difficult knowing what they expected."

Personal Story
View of a Japanese classroom through a window; a teacher at a chalkboard

In and Out of the Japanese Classroom

Smiles spread on the Japanese storekeepers' faces as Jonathon, an obvious foreigner, asks them a question in their language. Jonathon, a University of Iowa graduate student who is spending a semester abroad, loves this interaction with the locals, both for absorbing the culture and practicing his Japanese language skills.

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
Pinar smiling in front of the New York City skyline

One Dream Leads to Another

Pinar, a Turkish high school student who is blind, received a full scholarship to study abroad on the U.S. Department of State’s Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program. “Of course, my parents were really worried because my safety is important to them. Probably the most important thing!” says Pinar, reflecting on her experience. She lived with an American host family on weekends and stayed on campus at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind during the week.

Personal Story
Seated at a kitchen table, exchange student Pinar holds a bouquet of flowers in one hand while supporting a sign that reads "Welcome" with her other. She is smiling and wearing a bright yellow tank top.

Last Minute Decision Leads to Unforgettable Hosting Experience

Melissa Gulledge, CIEE Regional Director from South Carolina, has years of experience placing international exchange students from all over the world with American families, but a last minute decision to host a teenager with a disability led to one of her own family’s most meaningful hosting experiences.

The clock was ticking to match Pinar, a young woman from Turkey who is blind, with a host family and school.

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