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Personal Stories
Practicing Tai Chi

Ready or Not, Here I Come!

His bags were packed, his passport and flight tickets were in hand, but three days before he was to fly into Beijing, Nathan Liu still didn’t have a confirmed host family on his high school study abroad program. He hadn’t considered that the delay could have something to do with his being blind until a friend raised the question: “Are some countries more accessible than others?”

After months of getting ready for his language immersion experience in China, Nathan was taken aback by the possibility that perhaps China wasn’t ready for him.

Personal Stories
Gumberidze sits at a table in a coffee shop in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Exchange Experience Sparks New Opportunities

In the modern world, career and social life is like a chain. Each opportunity is connected and often times followed by another, so that by missing one chance you might be losing hundreds of opportunities.

When I completed my Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) year in the United States, I became a member of an active alumni community in Georgia and gained access to a wealth of information about scholarships, exchange programs, competitions, internships, volunteer opportunities and jobs.

Personal Stories
Michelle She in Germany

Why Parents Can Be Persuaded

When Michelle She started her first year of college in Tennessee far from her home in Maryland, her parents weren’t concerned about the distance or her year delay in starting. At least not in comparison to where she went the year before, and what she gained in return.

Personal Stories
Azat wearing a t-shirt that says "Kyrgyzstan"

A New Commitment to Social Justice

Azat Toroev, a U.S. Department of State-funded Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) participant from Kyrgyzstan who has a physical disability, came to the United States driven by his interests in film, volunteering, and journalism. Azat quickly became an active presence in his host community of Fort Collins, Colorado.

Personal Stories
Haben Grima with friends

Building a Foundation for Future Excellence

Growing up, Haben Girma knew that international exchange was bound to be in her future. She had visited Eritrea and Ethiopia, places her parents called home before immigrating to the United States. So when Haben learned about BuildOn (www.buildon.org) as a teenager, she was determined to go. She was excited about BuildOn’s mission of empowering and educating youth by building schools in some of the world’s poorest remote communities and knew first-hand the importance of access to education.

Personal Stories
Senka smiles during a community garden activity.

A Stubborn Attitude Turns a Chance into an Opportunity

At first glance, Senka Mekic is polite and soft-spoken. But, spend just a few minutes talking with this U.S. Department of State-funded American Serbia and Montenegro Youth Leadership Exchange (A-SMYLE) student and you’ll realize first impressions aren’t meant to last. Senka admits, “I’m not just a bit stubborn, I’m very stubborn!”

Personal Stories
Muhammad gives two thumbs up as he gets set up on a recumbent bicycle.

Like Father, Like Son

When Muhammad, a U.S. Department of State-funded Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) student from Pakistan, first arrived in the United States, he had no idea what to expect. But, he brimmed with excitement at the opportunity to experience life in America. His exchange experience was unique because he would be experiencing true immersion in not just one, but two non-native languages: English and American Sign Language (ASL).

Personal Stories
View of the Arc de Triomphe on a bright day

Tracing the Steps of a Deaf Leader through France

As a teacher at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf, my students started a project to assist their peers who struggle with reading. Although my students are fluent English readers, the vast majority of the school’s freshmen students are English Language Learners who cannot read at the 9th grade level, which makes novels used for course curricula inaccessible to them.

Personal Stories
Ivan and six other FLEX students smiling

Family Reflects on Hosting Students with Disabilities

The Pamperins first learned about Ivan, a Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) student from Russia, from a youth exchange organization, States’ 4-H, that places students in their area. “Ivan’s name was at the top of the list of incoming international exchange students and we noticed very quickly that he has cerebral palsy (CP).” They had previously hosted a Japanese student who uses a wheelchair.

Personal Stories
Marlon and several of his classmates display serious faces as they are seated on the stairs of their high school.

In a World Far from the Philippines

Flying from the Philippines to the U.S., I thought I would be learning about American traditions and pop culture as a Youth Exchange and Study (YES) student through the U.S. State Department and AFS Intercultural Programs. Surprisingly, I also learned about myself.

Of the forty-one Filipinos embarking on a journey as young ambassadors to the United States, three of us had disabilities, including me. This was the first time I met other people my age with disabilities.

Personal Stories
Screenshot of Yulia in wheelchair raising her arms outside

Video: A FLEX Student Turned Disability Rights Leader

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.

Personal Stories
Stella with Host Family in a park

Student with Disability is Host Family’s Shining Star

When Katharine Royal was five years old, she told her grandfather that one day she’d welcome a child from Africa into her life. Years later, her childhood dream came true as she and her husband opened their home to Stella, a high school exchange student from Kenya who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.

Katharine understood the challenges that Stella was facing. Like Stella, she, too, has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.

"Pretty much before [my friend] even fully asked me if I would consider hosting Stella, I told her we are doing this."

Personal Stories
Country flags on lockers in a school

Teen with a Disability Adds Flag to Hall of Nations

Azat Toroev jokes that he is happy if his classmates can find Kyrgyzstan on a map. Since he arrived in his host state of Colorado, he has been raising awareness of his native country while studying for a year at a U.S. high school. Toroev, who has cerebral palsy, has also increased his own self-awareness while in the United States.

Personal Stories
Tatiana gardening with another international exchange student

Deaf Student Has the Best of Both Worlds

A Deaf student from Russia, Tatiana experienced the best of both worlds by attending two schools during her Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) year in the United States.

She attended the Delaware School for the Deaf (DSD) for the first five months of her exchange program while taking pre-calculus at Christiana High School, a mainstream public high school. After five months attending DSD, she transitioned to Christiana full time. 

Personal Stories
Close up of a young man of southeast Asian origin wearing graduation cap and gown and sitting in forested setting. He wears a neutral expression.

Video: A Deaf Pioneer From Indonesia

As a child growing up in Indonesia where accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing children is lacking, Cristophorus Budidharma once believed that subjects such as science and math were out of reach for him. It wasn't until later, when he learned that many deaf and hard of hearing people succeed in the STEM fields, that he broke with these beliefs and resolved to learn English, math and science for himself as an undergraduate student at Rochester Institute of Technology in the United States. And he's not stopping there.

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