Robert Thompson returned home to the United States from his volunteer experiences in India very humbled. He noticed the contrast between poverty and luxury, between being appreciative and taking something for granted.
“I loved seeing the smiles on people’s faces after they received something that was of great value to them, whether it was our time with them or new knowledge and skills they obtained.... I have come back with a new perspective on who I am and the things that matter most in life.”
Alyssa Hillary, an Autistic student blogging about her study abroad experience in China, is having a successful time but the initial reaction from the overseas university would have made one think that was not possible.
“[Chinese administrators] said people like me shouldn’t go to college, and they tried to get the program to un-accept me, and they tried to have me sent home.”
During one of my fall semesters in college, I studied abroad in Rennes, France, on a program sponsored by the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). In addition to many great opportunities to develop my French language skills, I also explored many new places and activities that I had never had the chance to do before in the United States.
As a person with a disability, you have the right to participate in the same international exchange opportunities as people who do not have disabilities. You may decide that you want to participate in an exchange program that is not specifically focused on the topic of disability, such as one focused on Japanese culture, public health, or the performing arts.
If you've been to an airport before, you know that the variety of sounds, lights, and touch at the airport can result in sensory overload! Here's some tips on getting through security, and the bumps of the flight.
Getting ready to land in your final destination? Take some advice from international exchange alumni on the autism spectrum about what they did overseas to make the transition abroad more smooth - and what they wish they had done.
After doing some research and talking to his college study abroad advisor, Jeremiah Swisher learned that there are many different types of international exchange opportunities to choose from. "The group trip to teach in Jamaica over spring break seemed like the best fit for me because it wouldn't interrupt my schoolwork," he says."The idea of traveling with a group of people was much more comfortable than traveling alone."
How you decide which kind of exchange program depends on you and your preferences. What type of international experience would you prefer?
Part of the wonders of traveling include experiencing other people's cultures, including their habits, values, interests, beliefs, and preferences. It takes time for any traveler to learn and adjust to differences in the host culture, and autistic travelers may want to research some specific ways in which the local host culture might impact their routines or preferences. Think about how you might adapt if you traveled to a country that had major cultural differences related to time and punctuality, leisure and schedules, and body language.
Are you eager to get foreign language immersion and to gain new skills for problem-solving and independent living? We asked several students on the autism spectrum to talk about the benefits they gained from studying abroad. Consider the many ways in which international exchange can enrich your life.
Kathleen Coleman dreams of returning to Spain and would like others to know that having a travel companion with Asperger's can enhance an already-unique experience.
I always thought that in order to travel to another country, I would have to live abroad for a long time, or that I would have to have a lot of friends go with me. After visiting my university's Global Center, I learned that there are many different programs to choose from. The group trip to teach in Jamaica over spring break seemed like the best fit for me because it wouldn't interrupt my schoolwork, and the idea of traveling with a group of people was much more comfortable than traveling alone.
Have you ever felt like an anthropologist, having to figure out the social habits of those around you? Have you ever had to find new ways to communicate with other people, or had to interpret the slang or figures of speech used by other people? These can be common experiences for people on the autism spectrum, but they are also very common experiences for international exchange travelers! Why not be both?
Yet simply spending time in another country might not be enough. Use these tips to get started on planning for an international exchange program, so that you can get the most out of the experience.
The first time flying by myself was during my senior year at Clark University, when I embarked on a semester abroad at the University of Stirling. I remember talking to friends about feeling very nervous about the upcoming semester, and they said that it is normal to be nervous about something unknown. They advised me to embrace the uncertainty. This concept was new to me, but it helped to create a wonderful experience in Scotland.
When I got to Stirling, I moved into a dorm with most of the other exchange students.