I always loved traveling around the United States with my family, but I decided that I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and travel abroad.
True to its name, the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) had predicted wisely when it counted Yulia Simonova among its "future leaders" in 2001. Although over a decade has passed since Yulia spent a year in the U.S. as a high school exchange student, she claims that the experiences that shaped her there continue to serve her in her current role as a disability rights leader and founder of non-profit organization Perspektiva in Russia. Yulia, who has a physical disability and uses a wheelchair, created this video to describe how.
For Jagoda Risteska, the true measure of success is “to enrich someone else’s life in a way that you never remain the same.” From that perspective, the disability advocate reflected that her U.S. fellowship has been very successful.
MIUSA: How did you become interested in learning English?
Shuhei: When I was a high school student in Japan, I was very interested in English because I love chatting. I felt that if I could speak English, I would be able to talk with more people.
What drew you to studying at a community college in Hawaii?
I feel so lucky to have had the chance to join the five-week International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Along the official route, which included Washington D.C., Salt Lake City, Kansas City, Charlotte, and Louisville, I visited several organizations and institutions dedicated to empowering people with disabilities to participate in many aspects of mainstream society.
The experience of being in a completely new environment, disability or not, can be very challenging. As a Deaf or Hard of Hearing person, these new environments may present communication challenges that you haven’t experienced before.
Applying to study, learn English, or get professional experience in the U.S.? You may be required to provide test scores as part of your application. Find out what kinds of disability-accommodations you may be able to receive when you take the TOEFL, SAT, GRE, and other tests.
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.
Participants who receive funding for a personal assistant through Medicaid or other government support are not able to use that funding once outside their home country. Travel insurance companies typically do not pay for personal assistants for daily care overseas or durable medical equipment that is not related to a first occurrence of an illness or injury overseas.
Since these costs are unlikely to be covered for people with existing needs, exchange programs or institutions should work with a participant to cover the costs.
By removing health insurance barriers, you can support diverse students to safely participate in your international exchange programs.With these options in place, it shouldn’t prevent qualified individuals from participating in exchanges and alleviate some of the difficult health cost issues that exchange staff and students need to deal with during the program.
If you are a Medicaid recipient, you may be dropped from enrollment in the medical plans if you do not keep a U.S. state residence or address or if you lose your SSI eligibility (see our tipsheet on "SSI, SSDI & International Exchange" for more). Loss of enrollment creates a gap of coverage upon return home from traveling abroad, especially if the travel health insurance does not cover you in your home country.
Plans offered to international exchange participants for less than a year of coverage are not fully licensed products so changes to U.S. health laws through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) do not apply. These plans can increase costs, have pre-existing condition exclusions, or deny enrollment to an individual based on health status.
Having a disability does not exempt participants from the terms of the code of conduct (sometimes called behavior agreements) or from experiencing consequences for violating the code.
Providing all participants with site-specific information about the services and support available abroad can reduce the likelihood that a participant with a disability will violate a code of conduct.
Remember that you are your own expert on your disability and how it might impact your participation in international exchange! Recognize that the exchange professionals you are working with may not already be familiar with certain types of accommodations, disability resources, or a country’s level of accessibility. Help in doing thorough research and build effective communication on what access you need.