Simply being available to travel wasn't enough to meet U.S. student Lauren Presutti's criteria for providing personal assistance during her studies abroad to Australia. "It was crucial for me to find the right two people who I felt most comfortable with and who I could completely trust," says Lauren of what made her time abroad a success.
Promoting a sense of trust and confidence between you and your personal assistant (PA) begins with establishing clear roles and responsibilities for what is expected of each other while you're abroad. Begin now.
There are many unknowns when preparing for an exchange experience in another country, especially when it comes to figuring out how you'll get what you need to be independent. Getting from place to place, taking care of yourself, and getting assistance when needed are all part of the equation.
Not sure whether you will need personal assistance services (PAS) during your international experience or not? Ask yourself these questions to help inform your decision.
Personal assistance during your international exchange can come from a wide variety of sources, whether a hired professional, a friend or family member, a fellow traveler or even a friendly local. Weigh the potential pros and cons of your options to find the best fit for you.
Denise works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service. She has been blind from birth and has always loved languages. Her study of French and Spanish began in high school and continued through college, where she was a language major. As Denise enhanced her language skills, she sought out opportunities to get involved in international exchange, but encountered barriers related to her disability.
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.
Whether at home or abroad, personal assistance services (PAS) provide a way for some people with disabilities to fully participate in all areas of community living. Sometimes called a personal care attendant (PCA), a personal assistant (PA) assists a person with a disability to do the things she would do for herself if she did not have a disability or had other ways to accomplish the task without human assistance. This could involve:
"Why not?" was the simple question that led UC Berkeley student Vicky Chen, who has low vision, to participate in a six-week Chinese language program in Taiwan.
At age ten, I watched as my older brother went on his first exchange venture to Europe. From that moment, I decided I would also go abroad. But even then, upon mentioning my dream, I encountered obstacles. The adults around me focused on the difficulties that a girl with low vision would have on her own in a foreign land, and they could not conceive of a plan to prepare for the perceived problems. But, I continued to learn the German language and study the culture. After my freshmen year of college, I just went for it.
Face to face with this man, I still feel as weak as a child before an adult. Each time I manage to plant my feet, he twists or jerks me off-balance again; his movements fluid and relaxed like those of a dancer. The men gathered around the circle shout, “Niko! Niko! Haraigoshi! Gambate Gambateee!” and I plant my right foot, turning and lifting this short, powerful man. My left foot slides up to meet the right and I sweep my opponent’s legs, throwing him over my hip and onto the mat.
You are taking the leap to go abroad and naturally you want to bring along your service animal or guide dog on this adventure. However, you may wonder what arrangements will be needed. Or, if bringing your animal companion is a good idea or not. Feral dogs in the destination country and other considerations on how to keep your guide dog or service animal healthy overseas can help when deciding.
Given that I have a hard enough time locating my own shoes, I'm not quite sure how I convinced the Study Abroad offices to drop me off halfway around the world to study in Melbourne, Australia. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a great decision, so, as an Aussie might say, "Good on them for that."
To escape Michigan's cold winter, Juanita Lillie, who is blind, sought Spanish immersion in Central America, where she found warmth not only from the sunshine, but from classmates, professors, and the community.
You need to access the same information as everyone else who is on your exchange program or when navigating your new adventures overseas. The differences from home may mean you need to learn contracted Braille or specialized symbols specific to a foreign language.
Precious Perez, a 2021 NCDE Extern, shares a webinar to speak about her study abroad journey to Valenica and is joined by people who supported her throughout her journey, including one of her professors in Spain.
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.