Tyler Clark’s interest peaked when he visited Valparaiso University in Indiana for the first time, and the campus tour guide mentioned the university’s study abroad programs. “Would I be able to study abroad?” he asked the study abroad office that day to which the reply came, “Well, when would you like to?” A year after enrolling in Valparaiso, Tyler, who has cerebral palsy, changed his major to Spanish in hopes of becoming an international interpreter. Studying abroad would let him know whether or not he enjoyed living abroad and also if he could improve his language skills.
Most mornings of her Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program in India, Esha Mehta would wake early and catch a rickshaw with her roommate to her Hindi classes. The morning she remembers most, however, happened at sunrise while on an excursion to Pushkar in Rajasthan, India. Mehta, who is blind and an avid hiker, joined others from the American group to hike to an old temple. Dressed in traditional Indian clothes, Esha trusted her feet, as she usually does, to guide her along the rocky way and up many stairs.
“When we got to the top, it was really beautiful. My friend Nicole was tracing my hand along the horizon as the sun was rising and telling me what it looked like. Then I asked everyone to stop talking and to experience nature with their eyes closed, just listening to the birds and other sounds.” For Esha this type of interpersonal exchange creates an opportunity to educate and learn; something that occurred frequently on her U.S. Department of State-sponsored CLS program.
When I was in middle school, my best friend's family hosted an international student on a summer exchange program. I was absolutely and totally engrossed by watching this student's experience in the United States, learning English and constantly being exposed to newness. I wanted very much to be in his shoes: in a new land breathing in new air and a new way of looking at the world. Since that summer, I knew that I needed to make it a priority during college to travel overseas and learn a new language.
With a deep-fried scorpion staring at me from the end of my chopsticks, I couldn't help but think how this delicacy in China would stump even my best diabetes doctors in the United States. How much insulin does my body require for a scorpion?!
In Italy, my friend Neika always did the haggling for me. Left to my own devices, the shopkeepers would have taken me for thousands. She was skilled at bargaining and probably the reason I came home with so many delightful souvenirs and jewelry from Venice.
It is not just with bargaining that I have trouble “putting myself out there.” Despite my tendency to shy away from things, I have always had very big plans for myself. Early in high school, I realized that I wanted to travel extensively, earn a PhD degree, and live an adventurous life.
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.
For Alison, Italy was all about taking the time to savor simple experiences, whether people-watching on a leisurely evening in the piazza to lingering in Italian conversation with friends over a glass of wine. As a person who is hard of hearing, Alison worked with the coordinators of her program to arrange for accommodations that would help ensure that she had the same opportunity to engage in the classroom lessons and discussions, furthering her skills and confidence in the Italian language.
Each year, thousands of American undergraduate and graduate students with and without disabilities travel abroad on international academic exchange programs. These students are brushing up on new languages, advancing their cross-cultural awareness, and building valuable independence - all skills that make a hearty resume for future employment opportunities. You can, too!
Perseus McDaniel, who is Deaf, was accepted into a study abroad program in Florence, Italy to study literature and creative writing. He planned and organized his trip, which included funding from the state of Washington for two American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters to join him.