Resource Library

Personal Stories
Senka smiles during a community garden activity.

A Stubborn Attitude Turns a Chance into an Opportunity

At first glance, Senka Mekic is polite and soft-spoken. But, spend just a few minutes talking with this U.S. Department of State-funded American Serbia and Montenegro Youth Leadership Exchange (A-SMYLE) student and you’ll realize first impressions aren’t meant to last. Senka admits, “I’m not just a bit stubborn, I’m very stubborn!”

Personal Stories
Muhammad gives two thumbs up as he gets set up on a recumbent bicycle.

Like Father, Like Son

When Muhammad, a U.S. Department of State-funded Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) student from Pakistan, first arrived in the United States, he had no idea what to expect. But, he brimmed with excitement at the opportunity to experience life in America. His exchange experience was unique because he would be experiencing true immersion in not just one, but two non-native languages: English and American Sign Language (ASL).

Tip Sheets
Exchange staff smiles with blind youth

High School Exchange Programs at the U.S. State Department

The full participation of youth with disabilities in international exchange is a critical step in increasing independent living skills, accessing post-secondary education opportunities, and pursuing competitive employment. International exchange also provides an understanding and respect for other peoples and cultures, cross-cultural competencies, including foreign language proficiency, and a true global perspective.

Books and Journals
Asian-American youth stands under potted plants in Germany

A World Awaits You - Youth with Disabilities

Welcome to the online A World Awaits You (AWAY) Journal! Focused on increasing the effective participation of youth with disabilities in international exchange, this issue introduces you to youth with disabilities who have successfully gone on international exchanges and the strategies that were influential in their success.

Personal Stories
View of the Arc de Triomphe on a bright day

Tracing the Steps of a Deaf Leader through France

As a teacher at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf, my students started a project to assist their peers who struggle with reading. Although my students are fluent English readers, the vast majority of the school’s freshmen students are English Language Learners who cannot read at the 9th grade level, which makes novels used for course curricula inaccessible to them.

Tip Sheets
Student wearing a hearing aid writing in a classroom with other students.

English Testing for High School Students with Disabilities

Before they arrive in the U.S. for a life-changing cultural immersion experience, prospective high school exchange students from around the world are expected to demonstrate their level of English ability, usually by taking a standardized test. Whichever test you use to assess your applicants, learn how to adapt it to fairly and accurately measure the skills of students with disabilities.

Personal Stories
Ivan and six other FLEX students smiling

Family Reflects on Hosting Students with Disabilities

The Pamperins first learned about Ivan, a Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) student from Russia, from a youth exchange organization, States’ 4-H, that places students in their area. “Ivan’s name was at the top of the list of incoming international exchange students and we noticed very quickly that he has cerebral palsy (CP).” They had previously hosted a Japanese student who uses a wheelchair.

Personal Stories
Marlon and several of his classmates display serious faces as they are seated on the stairs of their high school.

In a World Far from the Philippines

Flying from the Philippines to the U.S., I thought I would be learning about American traditions and pop culture as a Youth Exchange and Study (YES) student through the U.S. State Department and AFS Intercultural Programs. Surprisingly, I also learned about myself.

Of the forty-one Filipinos embarking on a journey as young ambassadors to the United States, three of us had disabilities, including me. This was the first time I met other people my age with disabilities.

Personal Stories
Screenshot of Yulia in wheelchair raising her arms outside

Video: A FLEX Student Turned Disability Rights Leader

True to its name, the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) had predicted wisely when it counted Yulia Simonova among its "future leaders" in 2001. Although over a decade has passed since Yulia spent a year in the U.S. as a high school exchange student, she claims that the experiences that shaped her there continue to serve her in her current role as a disability rights leader and founder of non-profit organization Perspektiva in Russia. Yulia, who has a physical disability and uses a wheelchair, created this video to describe how.

Tip Sheets
Two young women of color have their arms clasped and are smiling brightly for the photo.

High School Programs

It might be going abroad for a high school field trip, volunteering on a church mission trip, or participating in a State Department-sponsored program. You can find a lot of fun programs to see the world and gain new experiences!

Youth with disabilities use these international experiences to help build important skills that make them more competitive for post-secondary employment and education opportunities.

Additionally, participation in international exchange can lead to:

Personal Stories
Stella with Host Family in a park

Student with Disability is Host Family’s Shining Star

When Katharine Royal was five years old, she told her grandfather that one day she’d welcome a child from Africa into her life. Years later, her childhood dream came true as she and her husband opened their home to Stella, a high school exchange student from Kenya who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.

Katharine understood the challenges that Stella was facing. Like Stella, she, too, has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.

"Pretty much before [my friend] even fully asked me if I would consider hosting Stella, I told her we are doing this."

Personal Stories
Country flags on lockers in a school

Teen with a Disability Adds Flag to Hall of Nations

Azat Toroev jokes that he is happy if his classmates can find Kyrgyzstan on a map. Since he arrived in his host state of Colorado, he has been raising awareness of his native country while studying for a year at a U.S. high school. Toroev, who has cerebral palsy, has also increased his own self-awareness while in the United States.

Personal Stories
Tatiana gardening with another international exchange student

Deaf Student Has the Best of Both Worlds

A Deaf student from Russia, Tatiana experienced the best of both worlds by attending two schools during her Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) year in the United States.

She attended the Delaware School for the Deaf (DSD) for the first five months of her exchange program while taking pre-calculus at Christiana High School, a mainstream public high school. After five months attending DSD, she transitioned to Christiana full time. 

Personal Stories
Close up of a young man of southeast Asian origin wearing graduation cap and gown and sitting in forested setting. He wears a neutral expression.

Video: A Deaf Pioneer From Indonesia

As a child growing up in Indonesia where accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing children is lacking, Cristophorus Budidharma once believed that subjects such as science and math were out of reach for him. It wasn't until later, when he learned that many deaf and hard of hearing people succeed in the STEM fields, that he broke with these beliefs and resolved to learn English, math and science for himself as an undergraduate student at Rochester Institute of Technology in the United States. And he's not stopping there.

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