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Personal Stories
Stephanie stands at the Great Wall of China path holding her white cane.

A Ripple Starts in China

Later, the two ran into one of her partner’s friends. Stephanie was walking with her cane, and her partner explained to the friend how and why Stephanie used it. Stephanie was delighted to let her partner do the talking.

“She repeated everything I had just told her. I was so excited—the ripple had started.”

Personal Stories
Chris standing next to a man playing a guitar in an open market

Never Too Advanced for Language Study

No one knows this better than Christopher Ortega, who, despite growing up speaking the language with his family of Mexican immigrants, benefited from participating in a Spanish immersion and traveling with new-made friends in Cuba.

Christopher, who is blind, originally found the Cuban program through the University at Albany where he was completing his undergraduate work. Looking through the program offerings, Cuba seemed like the most interesting option, given his fascination with recent political history between the Castro government and the United States.

Personal Stories
Ming sitting in wheelchair in front of classroom as students behind her have their heads down writing.

Turning a Corner: Reflections on China from a Language Student

Yet her experience studying Chinese started much earlier. She was raised in a Chinese orphanage. As a child with scoliosis who used a wheelchair, her future prospects were limited. That all changed after getting adopted by an American family and coming to the United States at the age of eleven. At that point much of her Chinese was lost and replaced with English. 

When Ming began to study Chinese independently as a teenager, it was her way of reconnecting with that country that she had left behind.

Personal Stories
Picture of Bushra with a mosque in the background

Enriched through International Travel

From her experiences in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Bushra has learned a thing or two about traveling with a physical disability. She understands that planning for medications, bathroom breaks, and navigating the airports can make the overall experience go more smoothly.

“I leave my house as early as possible. For example at the airport if I need a wheelchair, I have to get there earlier than usual just to be sure I'll get the assistance I need. Sometimes the wheelchair doesn't arrive early and I fear I may be late for my flight.”

Personal Stories
Diverse actors moving together in a circle

Theatre Art Creates Common Ground

Quest Visual Theatre takes the concept of using movement and visual interpretation to cross cultures one step – or make that several steps and a leap – further.

The majority of this company’s theater performances include no spoken or signed language, which also levels out communication between Deaf and hearing actors and audiences. Tim McCarty, who is hard of hearing, is the U.S. theater group’s President and Artistic Director.  

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
Esha Mehta encountering a cow in the streets of India

Cane Travel and Hindi Lessons

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.

Personal Stories
Tory Sampson in front of a colorful Mosque

Travel Your Heart Out

In one of the remaining Arabic fishing villages on the coast of Israel, Jisr Az’Zarqa, Tory Sampson and her best friend found themselves in a rundown, corrugated steel restaurant. It had “the most amazing” fish dishes. Afterwards, they wandered into a shisha (hookah) bar, and ended up watching a soccer game between Barcelona and Real Madrid with the locals. For Tory, who was studying abroad in Israel for seven months, this day offered up a surreal moment still vivid in her mind. Yet, it is just one of many memories in Israel and beyond.

Personal Stories
Historic buildings in Hungary

A Peace Corps Commitment: No Questions

Elizabeth Sammons did not know when she initially applied to the Peace Corps years ago that only 1 of 4 applicants was accepted and it was rare for a blind person to apply, but knowing that would not have stopped her. "I'm blind - so what? I have a lot to give, and I want to do it in the Peace Corps."

Personal Stories
Christie with class in China

Disability Research in Hong Kong

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.”

Personal Stories
Carla Valpeoz in Arabic covering dress

Middle East Experiences Lead to Career Path

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."

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
water fountain spouting with alhambra in background

Finding My Strength in Spain

When I was in middle school, my best friend's family hosted an international student on a summer exchange program. I was absolutely and totally engrossed by watching this student's experience in the United States, learning English and constantly being exposed to newness. I wanted very much to be in his shoes: in a new land breathing in new air and a new way of looking at the world. Since that summer, I knew that I needed to make it a priority during college to travel overseas and learn a new language.

Personal Stories
Old European building

A Votre Sante - To Your Health!

In the cafeteria lunch line of the Cité Scolaire Albert Camus, I stood between two high school teachers and a small group of giggling junior high girls who recognized me as “elle,” or “her”— the American girl who was spending a year as an English language assistant. Shyly, one of the girls dared to test out her English skills, and tentatively offered a greeting, “Hello?”

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