Welcome to the online A World Awaits You (AWAY) journal on people with disabilities traveling with a purpose.
This issue introduces you to people with disabilities from the U.S. who have participated in experiential programs abroad. They are volunteers, interns, performers, athletes, and citizen diplomats. Stories and best practices include the strategies that were influential in their success.
Erinn Snoeyink, who is blind, majored in Spanish at Hope College and was anxious to find opportunities to immerse herself in the language and become more proficient. She quickly found the first opportunity by studying abroad in Seville, Spain, but this was definitely not her last. The food, culture, language, and overall experience kept her wanting to return for more.
If you travel more than once, this will help you be more independent the second time.
Elizabeth Sammons did not know when she initially applied to the Peace Corps years ago that only 1 of 4 applicants was accepted and it was rare for a blind person to apply, but knowing that would not have stopped her. "I'm blind - so what? I have a lot to give, and I want to do it in the Peace Corps."
Surfing the internet, trying to find other career options, landed Frank Lester on the Peace Corps website and led him to its Deaf Program in Kenya. This immediately sparked Frank’s interest.
He always enjoyed teaching and working with Deaf youth, and this seemed like an exciting international experience, which still allowed him to apply his existing skills. That was all Frank needed to see. He applied, got accepted, and was ready for his flight to Africa, but little did he realize the impact this would have on his life and others.
Carla Valpeoz wouldn’t take no for an answer. When her application for the Peace Corps was unsuccessful, she decided to contact a friend in Yemen to brainstorm other ideas for an international exchange.
“I asked him if he knew of any job I could do for six months that was social justice based. He then emailed me and said he had something waiting, so I went."
Sitting outside on the mini terrace of my new apartment listening to the kids in my neighborhood and watching people leave church and head for lunch, I feel an ease that you can only feel in a place you call home.
Two and a half years ago I fulfilled my dream of studying abroad in France. Despite hesitation from my family and friends, and some administrators at my college, I successfully lived with a family in Rennes (in Brittany), went to school, and traveled around Europe in what became five of the best months of my life.
In the cafeteria lunch line of the Cité Scolaire Albert Camus, I stood between two high school teachers and a small group of giggling junior high girls who recognized me as “elle,” or “her”— the American girl who was spending a year as an English language assistant. Shyly, one of the girls dared to test out her English skills, and tentatively offered a greeting, “Hello?”
One day while teaching as usual, I noticed new parents appeared with their Deaf daughter. After my colleagues and I met with the parents, I was shocked to discover that their daughter never had been to school or learned sign language. Instead, she stayed at home and worked on the farm. She was already 18 years old. It was heartbreaking for me.
His travels for foreign language study have landed him in Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France, England and Scotland, where he’s been able to communicate directly with Deaf Europeans about their experiences. Steven is Deaf, has partial vision loss and uses a cochlear implant for access.
While pursuing her Master’s degree in Deaf Education at the University of Arizona, Mallory Watts sought an opportunity to expand her professional knowledge by teaching abroad.
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.
After earning a college degree in Japanese and Chinese, taking seven trips to China to work and study, and twelve trips to Japan and Korea to teach English, one might consider me an expert, but I don’t feel like one.