I first got involved as a homestay host in my city of Akron, Ohio when a fellow member of the National Association of the Physically Handicapped (NAPH) contacted my housemate and asked if we would be interested in hosting someone through Global Ties Akron.
In the past, I have hosted international guests for dinner. Although those occasions were only a couple of hours, our time together was very worthwhile. It was very interesting to talk to doctors from Vietnam and a delegation from Kyrgyzstan, who told us about the services for people with disabilities in their countries.
While I was excited about the opportunity to go abroad to Costa Rica on an exchange program, as a disabled person I worried about how my experience getting on and off the plane would be.
I learned quickly that airline personnel don’t always know what to do when it comes to helping to transfer a person with a disability. Although they may have received formal training, it is different having to help in a real situation. Each person with a disability is different, and what may work for one person doesn’t mean it will work for another. Here are four tips that have worked for me:
At some point in your international travels, you may come upon a flight of stairs that need scaling, whether out of necessity (e.g. exiting a Parisian metro stop with a broken lift) or sheer desire (mounting the last bit of the Eiffel Tower for an incredible view). If you will need assistance from others to lift you and your wheelchair, there are some ways to make this tricky situation a little less harrowing.
You need to access the same information as everyone else who is on your exchange program or when navigating your new adventures overseas. The differences from home may mean you need to learn contracted Braille or specialized symbols specific to a foreign language.
I’ve gone in a shed, I’ve gone in the forest and I’ve gone in the middle of the desert. I’ve gone on top of a mountain, and yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have gone behind a bus.
You know your own medication dosages and medical history the best. So, it's up to you to research how to manage your medications when traveling outside your country. Talk with your home doctor and insurance company who can answer questions. In some cases, you may have an international travel clinic or travel insurance providers to consult.
Talking through her concerns with others helped study abroad student Amanda let go of her anxieties over the summer she spent in Florence, Italy.
Studying or volunteering abroad can open not just new adventures and cultures to you, but lessons that give you new perspectives even after returning home. Appreciating the moment. Accepting new ways of doing things. Finding your personal drive or independence. These are all what exchange alumni living with mental health conditions say are ways they grew while abroad.
Get everything you need in place so you can start your adventure right as soon as you land. This includes finding solutions to inaccessible places, learning new strategies, and preparing for differences.
I have always considered India to be one of the most vibrant and fascinating areas of the world. The idea that I could study in Bangalore seemed like a remote dream to me until I received the Gilman Scholarship. In India, I observed how people deal with poverty and adversity and am attempting to incorporate my findings into conquering my own personal struggles.
It’s a really big transition to go from high school to college, and I really needed a year off from academics to go out and see the world. In high school or college, you are expected to do what people tell you to do; I was suffocating in high school and just needed to get away.
With a gap year it was more about advocating for myself on what I wanted to do based on my needs and what I felt comfortable with. I enjoyed the independence I got during my gap year, and by doing volunteer work, I was accomplishing something and being helpful to those who needed it.
Reputable exchange programs should have health, safety, security and risk management plans in place. When deciding on a program or assessing it after you are accepted, ask questions about plans for crises or emergencies abroad and how information about your disability will be shared and accommodated in a crisis event.
Tough situations come up abroad, but knowing that there are study abroad staff, faculty and other exchange students around can be a big comfort in knowing you don’t have to figure them out alone. Nonetheless, you need to do your homework beforehand.
Here are 15 ways to get mentally and emotionally prepared when you know you'll soon be far from home and your usual support systems.
Managing your mental health while studying abroad – whether or not you have a history of anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions – is something every person must think about when going abroad.
Being away from usual stress at home can sometimes be a relief when abroad; experiencing new adventures can be a useful distraction. You will also have times when you feel confused, uncomfortable, annoyed, and many of the same emotions that you manage in your daily life at home.
It’s ten at night and I am sitting on the Seawall in Galway, Ireland. With my knees to my chest and my arms wrapped tight around my legs, I crouch on a low stone bench watching the last of the day’s fishermen pack up their coolers and head home. My gaze follows their slow procession as they vanish into the damp night. Then I feel the rain begin to fall.