Ask Brooklyn Hortenstine why she adores foreign languages so much and she will evoke the unique sensation that each language stirs in her. Of them all, German is her favorite: “It feels like cozy fall nights drinking hot chocolate in my sweaters. It feels like coming in from the cold and sitting in front of a fire. It feels like home.”
Brooklyn's definition of "home" has expanded in the last year. Although the 18-year-old hails from Clarksville, Tennessee, she has since embraced Germany as her second home.
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.
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 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.
When images of Japan post-earthquake and tsunami bombarded us, it made it difficult for anyone familiar with Japan to remember the extreme organization and efficiency of this awe-inspiring nation. Soon after I read a Newsweek article, “Apocalypse Now?”, which said “Before now, Japan has never been pitied”.
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 Molly Rogers was a professor at the University of Oregon, she visited the island of Penghu, Taiwan, to present a paper on Kansei Engineering and Emotion Research, it was the first time she’d traveled solo since becoming a wheelchair user. Molly, who is a member of Mobility International USA’s board of directors, was excited to visit a new place, but also admitted to being a little nervous.
“Taiwan is a very long way from home, and I don’t read or speak the language,” she says. “I knew I would have to rely entirely on myself to solve problems or get to places I wanted to go.”
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."
I’ve gone in a shed, I’ve gone in the forest and I’ve gone in the middle of the desert. I’ve gone on top of a mountain, and yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have gone behind a bus.
"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.
Four billion people worldwide use squat toilets, including most of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America. Generally, these toilets have a water bucket or hose for hygiene, not toilet paper. Some wheelchair travelers find squat toilets more accessible than western-style toilets with the proper modifications.
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.