For Christine Bélanger and her fellow volunteers, living with, working alongside, and learning from the local people and leaders of the host community in Guatemala elevated their experience from travel to citizen diplomacy exchange.
Maegan, who is Deaf, lives by her principle of speaking out against injustices. Her first experience abroad opened up her eyes to international disability advocacy, a field that she’s dedicated herself to ever since.
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.
"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.
Dr. Anjali Forber-Pratt lives life in the fast lane - literally. But besides standing out as a competitive wheelchair racer who has competed in the Paralympic Games in Both London and Beijing, the American athlete and doctorate degree-holder gets an added rush from the travels themselves - and the opportunities they present for disability outreach.
As a citizen diplomat, Anjali has been involved with international projects in India, Bermuda, and Ghana, where she conducted wheelchair track clinics and raised the level of awareness on disability policy and education.
When my jazz quartet and I drove to New York City to audition for a U.S. Department of State Jazz Ambassadors tour, we had no idea of what to expect. Expecting the unexpected turned out to be one of the best strategies, not only for the audition, but for a successful international exchange experience we were later selected to do. We were to travel to parts of the world that none of us had ever seen. What would the people think of our music? How westernized have the countries we would be visiting become?
Rachel Garaghty, a wheelchair user, stuck to her goal of getting the overseas experience she needed for her career and to become a citizen diplomat.
As an undergraduate student with cerebral palsy, Connie Rivera knew that traveling to the developing world might present accessibility barriers. However the chance to gain a first-hand glimpse into Brazil's rise as an economic power meant accepting the challenge with gusto.
Q&A with U.S. scholar Samson "Sam" Lim, who has dystonia, and proclaims travel is part of his DNA. Most recently, he spent a year researching Education Sciences through the U.S. Department of State's Fulbright Program.
Always looking for an adventure, Antonia had previously traveled to Mexico, Uruguay, Mali, and Nicaragua to volunteer for community development projects through BuildOn, a non-profit focused on building schools in rural communities with little school structure. So when the opportunity arose to participate in study abroad during her undergraduate study in International Studies at the University of Oregon, Antonia knew she had to go. Her destination? Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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.
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.
When I arrived at Dubai International Airport, I was struck by how cosmopolitan and busy it was, despite the very early morning hour. The women in the airport were covered from head to toe in flowing black robes, and I could see the dark eyes of only a few. Among some of the younger women I encountered, however, I noticed hints of “Western wear” under their traditional dress, including jeans and designer handbags.
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.