The most fascinating, and therefore rewarding, part of my U.S. experience was being in Washington, DC during a U.S. presidential election (2004). Through the U.S. Department of State’s Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program, I had an opportunity to conduct research at the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) during a sabbatical leave from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
At just 16 years old, Ana was so confident that she and her wheelchair would soon be on their way to the U.S., she told practically everyone she knew that she had applied to the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.
Although Ana didn’t make the final selection pool the first time, she tried again a year later.
"When I applied the second time, I didn’t tell anybody except my mom. Most of my family found out that I was going to fly two days before my flight when we had my farewell party. They were shocked!"
The main reason I applied to the YES program to the United States was because I wanted to experience a place where people are different, yet not judged by their differences; a place where my abilities would be seen objectively. My parents were really encouraging because they knew my determination and capacity for overcoming difficulties.
The living situation for an exchange participant is not just a place to stay, but a way to learn about family, culture and language. Some participants will be better suited to living in a dormitory, while others will thrive in a homestay family. In either case, what's key is finding a place and people who will welcome a participant with a disability into many aspects of life in the new country.
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.
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.
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."
"Every four hours, every day, for the past fifteen years I have had to insert a tube to empty my bladder" writes John Hockenberry in his book "Moving Violations," which accounts his international travels as a journalist who happens to have a disability. "It is a detail which can remain fairly discreetly hidden in most situations."
Hidden, that is, until Hockenberry found himself reporting abroad in a remote area of Iraq "soaked in mud and surrounded by human waste," struggling to minimize the risk of contamination while going about his business.
When traveling on international flights, people with mobility disabilities have to figure out how to find relief. This starts when booking the ticket.
Do you have fears or concerns about not being able to use the bathroom when on an international exchange program? Fortunately, people with disabilities have lived, volunteered and studied in some of the most remote areas on Earth and have shared their strategies for handling challenging bathroom situations.