In the summer of 2015 I left the creature comforts of Ohio behind for a study-abroad/volunteer program in one of the developing nations in the Caribbean. Having never traveled outside the United States before, I had only a vague idea what to expect. A few things weighed heavily on my mind as I took off from the airport in Cincinnati. I knew I was the first blind student to gain acceptance into my program. Before I applied, another had been denied entry because the administrators didn't believe her orientation and mobility skills were strong enough for her to handle the trip.
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.
Alexandra Futty has always been determined to not lead a “small life.” As a senior in high school she raised $10,000 and convinced her parents and Catholic school to allow her take a half year to go on a cultural exchange to India. “I grew up in a small town in Ohio that was very homogenous, very working class, very white, very Christian. And my whole life I have straddled the place between the sighted and non-sighted. I always felt this strong sensation that there was a larger world than what I experienced.”
Alexandra’s explorations continued as a senior in college when she went to Trinidad for two months to do independent research for her undergraduate thesis. After graduation, she spent a year in Trinidad on a Fulbright Student scholarship, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.
When Christie Gilson received an offer to teach at Moravian College in Pennsylvania, she was ready to make the move. “I was not at all intimidated by the thought of pulling up roots and moving far away from home by myself. After all, I had successfully done so in Hong Kong beforehand.”
Carla Valpeoz wouldn’t take no for an answer. When her application for the Peace Corps was unsuccessful, she decided to contact a friend in Yemen to brainstorm other ideas for an international exchange.
“I asked him if he knew of any job I could do for six months that was social justice based. He then emailed me and said he had something waiting, so I went."
Given Kathryn Carroll's strong negotiation skills and ability to find creative solutions, which helped her strategize accommodations overseas, it is easy to imagine why she would be drawn to international relations, management, and other such subjects. In this interview we learn more about the months she spent a universities 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
"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.
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.
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.