The humid heat in Malaysia, lack of air conditioning, and cold showers made adjusting to the first four days of her study abroad program difficult for Stephanie, a student from University of South Florida. She also had to get used to wearing long skirts and pants in the heat, as is customary for women in this predominantly Muslim country.“I have depression paired with anxiety and once I got there, it spiked. I don’t know what it was. Leaving a lot of the luxury that you take for granted played a part. It was like the realization that you are definitely not home.”
Then by the fifth day, it all changed. The experiences she had been exposed to in Malaysia began to make the journey worth it, despite some discomforts. She had put in place different strategies to make adjusting to living abroad easier: journaling her feelings, maintaining her medication, and finding a way to connect by Internet back home.
When Alahna Keil, who has cerebral palsy, enrolled in Luther College in Iowa, located an hour away from her home in Wisconsin, the idea of studying abroad seemed far from her mind. She was apprehensive about the possibility of study abroad both for academic and physical reasons. Then something changed. She learned of 3-week programs for the January term break. The length seemed manageable, the four academic credits useful, and the faculty supportive – it ended up being a perfect opportunity. By her sophomore year, Alahna was on her way to China, Hong Kong, and Japan.
This AWAY issue introduces you to U.S. college and university students with disabilities who have successfully studied abroad in other countries and the strategies that were influential in their success.
Ripple Effects: Travelers with Disabilities Abroad is our first podcast brought to you by Mobility International USA, where we listen to vivid stories from people with disabilities going abroad and the positive impact these experiences have on shifting ideas of what is possible.
Listen Now for all episodes for Season 1 on SoundCloud.
In Siberia, Russia, I teach blind and low vision people how to use a computer, so they can continue with their education. We have many different educational challenges for people with disabilities in my country. I know this situation very well because I have been blind since birth. I studied in a boarding school, and earned two higher education degrees.
From her host community of Spokane, Washington, Polina beams as she recalls the highlights of her academic year on the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program.
“I’m fully enjoying my time here! I have everything I need: a great host family, people who care about me and have been supporting me from the very first day I met them, a school with good teachers, and new friends.”
But like many high school students who consider studying abroad, Polina wasn’t always so sure her experience would be a positive one.
Whether trekking through dense jungles or scaling tall temples, traversing over tough terrain is sometimes necessary on our international adventures. Scroll through our photo slideshow to see how other intrepid travelers with mobility disabilities have forged ahead on their international paths - by tractor, by piggyback, and even by yak!
Lucas Nadólskis walked into the EducationUSA advising center in Sao Paulo, Brazil to start the process of applying to universities in the United States. This was a longtime dream for Lucas, and he was determined to make it happen.
Lucas is blind and realized that traditional universities in Brazil would not accept him because they did not have the infrastructure to support blind and low vision students.
In the United States, the vast majority of secondary students with disabilities are mainstreamed in inclusive high schools per the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). First passed in 1975, the IDEA is a powerful landmark civil rights law that guarantees access to a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) appropriate to every child with a disability.
It used to be that the majority of blind and low vision exchange students were placed in schools for the blind in the United States. That is no longer the case. Experienced exchange professionals know that there is no one size fits all approach to placing these talented students in U.S. high schools.
In the United States, the vast majority of secondary students with disabilities are mainstreamed in public high schools.
Youth with disabilities participate in high school exchange programs in the U.S. every year. Although many international students with disabilities will need few, if any, disability-related accommodations in the United States, others will need services and support to participate fully in their host schools. Students may receive services and support informally or through an IEP or 504 plan.
Luljeta Koshi has been recruiting students for the U.S. Department of State-sponsored Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program in Bosnia since 2008. In this interview, Koshi shares her perspective on the vital importance of disability inclusion in youth exchange programs and best practices for recruiting students with disabilities for these opportunities.
What has been your experience recruiting students with disabilities?
When Christie Gilson received an offer to teach at Moravian College in Pennsylvania, she was ready to make the move. “I was not at all intimidated by the thought of pulling up roots and moving far away from home by myself. After all, I had successfully done so in Hong Kong beforehand.”
Rules and regulations that work for the majority of participants may need to be adjusted slightly to foster participation by participants with disabilities. Depending on the culture, some issues that may seem inconsequential, such as "Personal assistants are the responsibility of the individual to provide," can become rigid barriers. Changing these situations takes common sense and diplomacy. Sometimes a reasonable modification of policy will allow a participant with disabilities to fully engage in the program.