20 Truths that Every Exchange Participant with a Disability Should Know

Close up of black and white butterfly
Yes, you CAN go abroad! Embrace these 20 "truths" to boost your travel confidence.
  1. Remember the benefits: This experience is an incredible opportunity to gain invaluable knowledge and for personal growth. 
  2. Many of your fears will fade away as the unknown becomes known and you become surrounded by new exciting places, tastes, and friends. 
  3. Know that many people with disabilities have successfully traveled to all parts of the world to study or volunteer and more. Learn from their stories in our Resource Library.
  4. Be realistic about the challenges you may face, as well as open to the possibilities. 
  5. Make a list of your past successes, and the skills and attributes you called upon to accomplish them. Look back at that list to encourage yourself when you feel overwhelmed. 
  6. In order to take advantage of new experiences, you sometimes have to accept more assistance in your host community than you are used to. It's a trade-off. Where will you draw the line?
  7. You may find, especially if you have a non-apparent disability, that your disability is not recognized or understood in the host country. Think through different responses that you will use to counter misinformation and assumptions. 
  8. Some words and concepts, such as “confidentiality” and “independence,” are interpreted and addressed very differently in your host culture. 
  9. Depending on the culture, some of the differences in other countries make things easier for people with disabilities: slower-paced lifestyles, host family households which take care of the cooking and cleaning, etc. 
  10. Before you assume that the host country doesn't have the services or resources that you need, consider that you may simply not know where to look. Ask people with disabilities in the host country how they do things. Research disability organizations in the area for referrals.
  11. In many cultures around the world, disability support services are seen as the responsibility of the family, friends and perhaps religious organizations, not the government or educational institutions.   
  12. Find out what documentation will be required in the host country to receive disability-related services and support once there. 
  13. If you are not fluent in the language of the host country, learn key words and phrases that would be useful in asking for the kind of assistance that you are likely to need. 
  14. Think through responses you might use for questions that are uncomfortable for you or that seem inappropriate. 
  15. Research anti-discrimination disability laws in the host country and how they are enforced. See the Related Links below.
  16. Besides making new friends in general, take advantage of opportunities to meet people with disabilities in the host community. You might learn a lot from each other!
  17. Don’t get discouraged by setbacks. Persistence usually proves useful, and it is a skill worth developing for the rest of your life. 
  18. Recognize that your feelings may be similar to what other travelers, with and without disabilities, are experiencing. Adjusting to a new culture typically has ups and downs.
  19. Remember, you are paving the way for others with disabilities who come after you, just as other travelers with disabilities have smoothed the way for you. 

20. Finally, appreciate this amazing opportunity while you are abroad. The rewards will often far outweigh the challenges.