International high school and university exchange students with diverse disabilities travel to Eugene, Oregon each July and August, for an orientation prior to the start of their academic year in host communities across the United States. The students are all recipients of prestigious scholarships from 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.
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.
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.
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.”
This experience might have seemed far-fetched to Sheila Xu at the beginning of her freshman year. Up to that point, she had limited experience connecting with other deaf people, and most of her friends were hearing. A friend connected her to ASL and Deaf culture, and Sheila took it from there.
She then became interested in Italy after taking an Italian cooking course in the last semester of her senior year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in which she and a group of students learned traditional Italian recipes along with basic Italian vocabulary.
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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.”
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.”