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Personal Stories
Alex, a young man in a power wheelchair and his black dog with its paws on Alex's lap. Behind them is a guard rail with brilliant blue sea in the distance

Cultivating “Amandla” for a Global Impact

As Alex stood on the stage of a dimly-lit comedy club, he smiled even wider as the laughs and cheers grew stronger. Alex never thought he would be performing stand-up comedy, and this was just one way that participating in an internship with a disability advocacy organization in South Africa altered his life and the path he chose to pursue.

Alex has cerebral palsy and has ridden a power wheelchair since he was two years old. “I was obviously disabled to everyone that saw me ever since I was very young, but I always ran away from that identity. I did not want to be labeled.”

Personal Stories
Antonia with members of a local migrant women's group during a celebration

Building a Career Through Volunteer Abroad

At day’s end, Antonia's mind floods with the Chilean people she has met who may be sleeping on that cold night on mattresses in the street or sharing a room with several family members. She thinks how there is always more to do, and wonders what her role is in it all.

When Antonia graduated with an International Studies degree, she wanted to know if the lessons contained in all those textbooks would hold any weight in the real world. She decided to join Jesuit Volunteer Corps for two years in Santiago, Chile to find out.

Personal Stories
Jake Robinson in his wheelchair talking with student on the ships deck

Why Wouldn’t You Go Abroad?

After a five hour ride in a clunky van over dirt roads, Jake Robinson and his fellow study abroad students arrived in the remote, densely forested interior of Ghana to visit a medical clinic. After lunch, the local host led the group along a dirt path – at first surrounded by children excited by Jake’s red wheelchair, then past a goat in someone’s living room, and deeper into the jungle for a good distance. Just when Jake was thinking they must be getting close, he learned his adventure was not soon to end.

To understand where he was headed, one must start nine months earlier. For Jake, like other American students with mobility disabilities, the default message he had received during college was: “Go to class, pass your courses, get your degree, and then move on. It’s easier to just not study abroad.” But Jake is different. He is not the kind of person to follow the standard path – he is adventurous and, as an undergraduate, he wanted to go places.

Personal Stories
Tyler Clark at fountain in Valencia Spain with friends

Translating the Culture and Language of Spain

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.

Personal Stories
Xuan in her wheelchair outside Buckingham Palace

Using Vocational Rehabilitation for a Personal Assistant Abroad

What if your major is International Studies or your degree requires you to take classes overseas? How can you study abroad during your college experience, and pay for your personal assistant while traveling? These questions were always lingering in the background waiting to be answered for Xuan Troung, a student at North Carolina State University who has osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. To find the answers, she turned to her Vocational Rehabilitation counselor.

Personal Stories
Alahna Keil on a sedan chair being carried

Group Dynamics and Access in Asia

When Alahna Keil, who has cerebral palsy, enrolled in Luther College in Iowa, located an hour away from her home in Wisconsin, the idea of studying abroad seemed far from her mind. She was apprehensive about the possibility of study abroad both for academic and physical reasons. Then something changed. She learned of 3-week programs for the January term break. The length seemed manageable, the four academic credits useful, and the faculty supportive – it ended up being a perfect opportunity. By her sophomore year, Alahna was on her way to China, Hong Kong, and Japan.

Tip Sheets
Camel resting

Creative Ways to Get Around Abroad

Whether trekking through dense jungles or scaling tall temples, traversing over tough terrain is sometimes necessary on our international adventures. Scroll through our photo slideshow to see how other intrepid travelers with mobility disabilities have forged ahead on their international paths - by tractor, by piggyback, and even by yak!

Personal Stories
Tour group at Japanese temple

A Well-Oiled Machine: “My” Japan

When images of Japan post-earthquake and tsunami bombarded us, it made it difficult for anyone familiar with Japan to remember the extreme organization and efficiency of this awe-inspiring nation. Soon after I read a Newsweek article, “Apocalypse Now?”, which said  “Before now, Japan has never been pitied”. 

Personal Stories
St. Basil's Cathedral

Laughing Through Russia's Barriers

Going overseas was something I had wanted to do since my early college days. I had always dreamed of being in the jungles of Africa or on a camel riding through a desert, but when the opportunity came to travel to Russia with Wheels for the World, I enthusiastically accepted the challenge.

Tip Sheets
Pushing woman in wheelchair up a ramp.

How Will I Pay for Personal Assistance Abroad?

The costs of international travel for just one person - whether for airfare, housing, or all the tasty local food - are harrowing enough. So if you're someone who will require the services of a personal assistant during your international exchange experience, the idea of doubling or even tripling these expenses can make it seem like international travel is out of reach.

Not so! For affordable PAS abroad, look for creative ways to reduce or share costs, raise funds, or negotiate with your exchange program provider to help defray the costs.

Tip Sheets
A woman is carried up stairs on someone's back, while others bring her wheelchair.

Setting Clear Expectations for Personal Assistants

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.

Tip Sheets
Woman in wheelchair gets a push from a friend.

Will I Need Personal Assistance Services Abroad?

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.

Tip Sheets
Close up of two young women smiling.

Who Can Assist Me When I Go Abroad?

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.

Tip Sheets
An African woman with a disability and her personal assistant walking.

Using Personal Assistance Services Abroad

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:

Personal Stories
John Winn with saxophone

Music Around the World

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?

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