Dear Future Exchange Student,
If you are chosen as an exchange student, you might have a lot of questions and thoughts about everything. That's how I was at first.
I worried about everything, especially because of my disability. There was a time when I almost gave up on everything. I was tired of thinking of all the stuff I had to do, all the forms to fill out, all the discussions I had to have with my parents, and a lot more.
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”.
His bags were packed, his passport and flight tickets were in hand, but three days before he was to fly into Beijing, Nathan Liu still didn’t have a confirmed host family on his high school study abroad program. He hadn’t considered that the delay could have something to do with his being blind until a friend raised the question: “Are some countries more accessible than others?”
After months of getting ready for his language immersion experience in China, Nathan was taken aback by the possibility that perhaps China wasn’t ready for him.
“Ensuring people with disabilities have access to health care in your communities largely depends on you.” This was Christiana Yaghr’s message, communicated in sign language, to 27 women with diverse disabilities in the small northern Ghanaian town of Wa. Representing regions throughout the country, many of the participants had traveled for hours to this workshop, the first of its kind, to learn not only about HIV/AIDS prevention but also about how to ensure that women with disabilities have access to services and information.
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.
Once he made the decision to go, traveling from the United States to the United Kingdom for graduate study in technology policy seemed fairly straightforward for Paul Monroe – until it came time to figure out how two different health systems would cover the same (expensive!) treatments he used back home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Navigating local educational institutions, health care systems, or border customs are not always easy to understand. Differences in treatments, rules about importing medications, and varying definitions of disability can compound the confusion.
In the modern world, career and social life is like a chain. Each opportunity is connected and often times followed by another, so that by missing one chance you might be losing hundreds of opportunities.
When I completed my Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) year in the United States, I became a member of an active alumni community in Georgia and gained access to a wealth of information about scholarships, exchange programs, competitions, internships, volunteer opportunities and jobs.
Dr. Jack Godwin has made international education his life mission. He is changing the assumption that it’s just about one study abroad experience as an undergraduate. Throughout his professional career as a university administrator, he has participated in the U.S. Department of State-sponsored J. William Fulbright Program to different countries every few years.
While an international experience is voluntary, he finds those who choose it to be most interesting.
One reason Dwight Richardson Kelly chose his study abroad program was to work on his writing. The writing intensive aspects of the Oxford University system were appealing, even though he knew with his learning disability he would need the right accommodations.
“I absolutely wanted a rigorous experience, but I knew that without appropriate accommodations I would spend all my time writing the required essays and wouldn’t be able to experience the other parts of the program, which is really important, like the cultural pieces and to integrate into the university.”
While Shmuel Kanner attended a presentation during his professional exchange to the United States, Naama Lerner sat with a computer next to him. She listened to the translation of the presentation from English to Hebrew, and then she simplified what was spoken and typed it on her laptop screen for Shmuel to read. The night before, he also received supplemental materials related to the presentation, so Naama could prepare him for the content being delivered. This was an accommodation for his intellectual disability.
When Courtney Thompson misplaced her train pass for the fourth time in one month, she realized her challenges with visual configuration and short-term memory were not something she could leave behind in the United States. She had planned to study Russian for four weeks that upcoming summer in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“Initially I was so flustered by scholarship applications, the development of my Russian skills, and visa processing that I neglected to sincerely consider the impact of my disability and measures that could mitigate it abroad.”
Robert Thompson returned home to the United States from his volunteer experiences in India very humbled. He noticed the contrast between poverty and luxury, between being appreciative and taking something for granted.
“I loved seeing the smiles on people’s faces after they received something that was of great value to them, whether it was our time with them or new knowledge and skills they obtained.... I have come back with a new perspective on who I am and the things that matter most in life.”