Advancing disability rights and leadership globally®

Asia-Pacific Spotlight: Stories from Exchange Alumni with Disabilities


Here at National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange, we love travel stories! In honor of our 2024 focus on East Asia and the Pacific, and launching during Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we are excited to share with you select stories of international exchange participants with disabilities with a focus on the region, including:

  • Exchange participants from the United States who traveled to Asia-Pacific, including people with Asian American or Pacific Islander American heritage.
  • Exchange participants with Asian American or Pacific Islander American heritage who traveled anywhere in the world!
  • Exchange participants from Asia-Pacific who traveled to the United States.


If you’re a lover of travel stories too, be sure to visit the NCDE Resource Library; there, browse hundreds of stories by country or region, exchange program type, and even by disability type so that you can find the stories that speak to you!

Browse more Asia Pacific stories in the NCDE Resource Library.

This page is part of NCDE’s Spotlight on East Asia and the Pacific. Learn more!

A row of illustrations of small flowers including pink lotus and cherry blossom and a blue flower

Exchange Alumni from the United States Traveling to Asia-Pacific

AAPI Heritage Month Highlight: Geraldine Dang

Geraldine is a young woman with Asian heritage. She stands in front of a blooming cherry blossom tree smiling at camera.Born in London and raised in Texas, Geraldine Dang felt she had few connections to her Asian heritage. An offer to study abroad in Japan and later intern abroad in Singapore presented an opportunity to explore this side of herself – all while broadening her global Deaf community.

“The term ‘Asian-American’ felt like such a general concept until I traveled to new countries and learned to accept who and what I am through my own eyes. The process was difficult, and I still don’t know everything. I am still growing, but I think that learning about my identities helped me feel more confident in myself.”
Read Geraldine’s story

AAPI Heritage Month Highlight: Kevin Messner

Three people stand with arms around shoulders facing camera. They wear face masks. Kevin, who is a young man with Asian heritage, stands in center in ASU logo shirt. Behind them is a banner of a world map that says Change the World
Kevin Messner (center) with others at the ASU campus

Peace Corps Volunteer Kevin Messner was born in China and grew up in Arizona with his adopted family. He also uses a prosthetic leg, and is an athlete with a passion for many different sports. Sharing about these and other aspects of his identity will be one way that Kevin intends to form bonds and friendships in his host community in Colombia throughout his service.

“I want to engage in good conversations with people, whether it’s around my disability or the fact that I am an American with Chinese ancestry.”
Read Kevin’s story

“I Found My Tribe”

Michelle is a young black woman smiling at camera surrounded by a group of Korean friends
Michelle (center) with friends in South Korea

When she arrived to start her internship with the Seoul Deaf Korean Association, Michelle Morris quickly found that her expectations and reality didn’t quite line up. Michelle reflects on finding purpose, finding one’s tribe, preserving self-esteem, and navigating South Korea as a black deaf woman.

“My deaf community there was very supportive to me and I was able to make my way between the two different experiences, and that allowed me to keep myself going.”
Video: Watch Michelle present her story in ASL!
Read Michelle’s story

“Studying Abroad Has Been Indispensable”

Kenny, a white middle aged man, looks over his shoulder smiling while beneath cherry blossom tree wearing winter coat“[In Japan] I also got involved in things I never thought of before. There was a conference I was invited to on international development and disability, and it was only because I was invited to give a talk there while I was in Japan that I was able to learn about the issues about international development and how it affects disabled people… Studying abroad has been indispensable to so many aspects of my life.”

– Kenny Fries, Fulbright researcher and award-winning author whose work often centers around his intersecting identities as being gay, Jewish and disabled.
Listen to a podcast interview with Kenny (transcript available)

AAPI Heritage Month Highlight: Nathan Liu

Nathan is a young white man with Asian heritage who stands in a classroom speaking to a group of Asian teachers and students. He bows his head and has his hands in a prayer shape. A banner has Chinese text and reads AFS NSLI-Y

Nathan’s childhood growing up abroad had instilled in him a passion for international travel and cultures, while a desire to explore his family’s Chinese-American heritage compelled him to seek out opportunities to be immersed in China. The U.S. Department of State-funded National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) study abroad program offered all of that!

Living in China, and experiencing support from his Chinese teachers, host family, and new friends, taught Nathan that despite a country’s laws regarding disability access (or lack thereof), it’s ultimately the people in the country who have the power to be inclusive. “Regardless of where they come from, I believe that human beings really just want to help each other.”
Read Nathan’s story

Group Dynamics and Access in Asia

Alahna is a young woman with Asian heritage who sits in a wheelchair wearing red coat in front of a pool of a body of water out of which emerges a Japanese gateAs a sophomore at Luther College in Iowa, study abroad seemed very far away in the mind of Alahna Keil, who has cerebral palsy and was apprehensive about accessibility abroad. So what was the secret to Alahna’s success when she studied for three weeks in China, Hong Kong, and Japan?

“In my attitude I’m pretty flexible and can make things work that people think I can’t. I had a lot of support from my disability services, the professor, and the director of global learning at Luther to help prepare in this trip, and it made it a smooth and enjoyable experience.”
Read Alahna’s story

Into Unknown Territory

Kevin is a young white man who stands in front of a rail where behind him is a beach with large rocks emerging from the wavesThrough his “high-strength lens,” Kevin Cosgrove recounts the struggles and successes of navigating Australia independently, plus his encounters with the local blind community, cheeky surf instructors, and Aussie slang along the way.

“My time in Australia still ranks highly as an important period of my life. I established that independent long-distance travel for an extended time is well within my grasp.”
Read Kevin’s story

Exchange Alumni from Asia-Pacific Traveling to the United States

Beyond Stereotyping

Yasushi is a young Japanese man who smiles at camera, leaning over a desk with hands claspedYasushi Miyazaki, an autistic student from Japan, surprised himself and others by not only achieving his dream to study abroad in the United States but also by disproving stereotypical beliefs about autism.

“The United States still has a lot of problems regarding services and accommodations for persons with disabilities; however… I would like to bring the American people’s strong enthusiasm and strategies for changing situations to Japan. In more ways than one, I have learned through my experiences that patience and effort pay off.”
Read Yasushi’s story

An Extraordinary Ordinary Year

Lintang is a teen girl of southeast asian heritage. She wears a helmet over her headscarf and sits in a three-wheeled adaptive bicycle on a sidewalk with people behind her.Lintang Kirana, a university student from Indonesia who has spina bifida, lived with a host family and attended high school in Kansasville, Wisconsin, as part of the U.S. Department of State-sponsored Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program.

“After I returned to Indonesia, I realized I could do everything that I never thought I could do before and just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t do everything.”
Read Lintang’s story

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

Chart is a middle-aged southeast Asian man who wears graduation regalia and dark sunglasses and an older woman with long white hair leans against him smiling.
Chart (left) on graduation day

“There are many benefits to study in the States including learning a new environment, gaining confidence, independence, life skills, improving English language, having more friends and connections, bright future, good facilities and accommodations for people with disabilities. International students, especially students with disabilities, should take advantage of these opportunities in order to have bright future, not only for their lives but also for their communities and countries.”

– Surachart “Chart” Ratchajanda, international student from Thailand who is blind and who pursued a Master’s degree from the University of Southern California
Read Chart’s story

From Mongolia to Arizona

Young Mongolian woman with long black hair standing in front of a tall cactus. She holds her hand above her eyes, blocking the sun
Azzaya, FLEX alumna from Mongolia, stands in front of a cactus in her host state of Arizona.

“By participating in this program, I would be able to test my adaptability, resilience, and openness to new experiences. Finally, the program aligned with my goal of becoming a global citizen and making a positive impact on the world.”

Read our Q&A with Azzaya, an exchange student from Mongolia who is Deaf, about studying at a U.S. high school on the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program!
Read Azzaya’s story

Succeeding at Your Own Pace

Mayuko, a Japanese woman, in science lab putting liquids from a syringe into a tube. Mayuko Abe arrived to the United States from Japan to pursue Neuroscience and African American Studies at Temple University. It wasn’t until after sustaining a traumatic brain injury that she discovered the therapeutic outlet of art, which, when combined with support from the Disability Services Office, provided her with a pathway for self-reflection and a new appreciation for taking things slow.

“Your life process is like a turtle, not a panther… Have your own goals, and keep going forward!”
Read Mayuko’s story

Share YOUR Story!

Are you a person with a disability who participated in international exchange between the U.S. and another country (including but not limited to countries in East Asia and the Pacific)? Share your story, travel photos, and more with NCDE!
Be our next featured traveler!

Author: Ashley H

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