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.
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.
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.
A Hendrix College graduate in English Literature, Laura Podd traveled for a year to Guatemala, Ireland, Thailand, and Ukraine. And she had $25,000 on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to do it. Laura didn’t speak the local languages, but she took some Spanish courses and found local volunteers who translated into English. Those she met who spoke with heavy English accents took repetition to understand. Laura, who describes herself as having a mild hearing impairment, uses hearing aids and lip-reading well enough that most people do not immediately know that she has a disability unless she tells them.
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.
I always loved traveling around the United States with my family, but I decided that I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and travel abroad.
I always thought that in order to travel to another country, I would have to live abroad for a long time, or that I would have to have a lot of friends go with me. After visiting my university's Global Center, I learned that there are many different programs to choose from. The group trip to teach in Jamaica over spring break seemed like the best fit for me because it wouldn't interrupt my schoolwork, and the idea of traveling with a group of people was much more comfortable than traveling alone.
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.