In the summer of 2015 I left the creature comforts of Ohio behind for a study-abroad/volunteer program in one of the developing nations in the Caribbean. Having never traveled outside the United States before, I had only a vague idea what to expect. A few things weighed heavily on my mind as I took off from the airport in Cincinnati. I knew I was the first blind student to gain acceptance into my program. Before I applied, another had been denied entry because the administrators didn't believe her orientation and mobility skills were strong enough for her to handle the trip.
Ask Brooklyn Hortenstine why she adores foreign languages so much and she will evoke the unique sensation that each language stirs in her. Of them all, German is her favorite: “It feels like cozy fall nights drinking hot chocolate in my sweaters. It feels like coming in from the cold and sitting in front of a fire. It feels like home.”
Brooklyn's definition of "home" has expanded in the last year. Although the 18-year-old hails from Clarksville, Tennessee, she has since embraced Germany as her second home.
When Kurtis Klein first arrived in Heidelberg, Germany, he quickly found that the German language he had learned in the classrooms of San Diego State University was going to need some fine-tuning in order to settle in to the host university and community where he would be spending the next twelve months.
“It was a struggle, at first, to communicate effectively, because I did not have the specialized vocabulary needed to navigate all of the technical paperwork needed to register with the city, pay rent, set up a German bank account, etc.”
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.
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.”
“There’s an undeniable vibe that moves through the air” Justice Shorter ascribes to her temporary home in northern Uganda and Rwanda. “My study abroad experience gave me the chance to encounter that time and time again.”
As a graduate student at SIT Graduate Institute, Justice chose to study on SIT’s Peace & Post Conflict Reconciliation summer program in Uganda and Rwanda to observe how inclusive development can be used to alleviate the effects of poverty while working towards her Master’s in Sustainable Development.
It was typical for Jennifer Smith* to meander through different wards of the nearby hospital in Ghana where she volunteered after the day’s classes. But on one less-than-typical day, in the children’s ward, she saw her post-college plans snap into focus where they had once been hazy.
Thanks to her self-advocacy prior to and during her travels, the potential pitfalls Paula experienced while studying abroad were manageable. She points to two challenges in particular:
One was that her Lithuanian professors would provide a list of 15 books as suggested reading and pull information from those books for tests.
"It was impossible to do all of that reading, because I’m such a slow reader. It was difficult knowing what they expected."
Smiles spread on the Japanese storekeepers' faces as Jonathon, an obvious foreigner, asks them a question in their language. Jonathon, a University of Iowa graduate student who is spending a semester abroad, loves this interaction with the locals, both for absorbing the culture and practicing his Japanese language skills.
Rebecca Berman is about to achieve a significant milestone: her one-year anniversary working with World Learning is fast approaching. Since learning about the organization's work in international education and development as well as its commitment to disability inclusion, Rebecca knew it would be a good fit for her. Over the past year, she has come to appreciate the importance of finding balance in various aspects of her work.
Working virtually out of Michigan, Juanita is a long way from her supervisor in Colorado and her colleagues operating out of Massachusetts and Texas. Yet, from Juanita's perspective, the collaborative way in which the team works together seems to diminish the distance between them.
"What I really like about my co-workers is that they connect and communicate; they can really relate to people, and honestly that's why I studied abroad with them in the first place."
In Washington, D.C., there is no shortage of international exchange organizations working to promote intercultural understanding and citizen diplomacy, but Sarah Amin was drawn to Cultural Vistas in particular, remarking on their enthusiastic staff who seemed open and flexible to creativity and fresh ideas.
Growing up as someone who is deaf, with parents who were very involved in the disability community, Seth always felt a connection with disability, and he identifies that as a significant contributing factor in his overall life trajectory. Halfway through his time at IBM working in the finance department, he moved over to work on accessibility, and appreciated the work that he and his team accomplished together.
"I think that it is just a natural progression based on my upbringing and my passion."
From her experiences in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Bushra has learned a thing or two about traveling with a physical disability. She understands that planning for medications, bathroom breaks, and navigating the airports can make the overall experience go more smoothly.
“I leave my house as early as possible. For example at the airport if I need a wheelchair, I have to get there earlier than usual just to be sure I'll get the assistance I need. Sometimes the wheelchair doesn't arrive early and I fear I may be late for my flight.”