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Personal Story
Brooklyn, seated in an electric wheelchair on a gravel path, faces a narrow river and German house

A German Lesson

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.

Personal Story
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 Story
Ana smiling in front of bookshelves at school library

Flying High to Study in the United States

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!"

Personal Story
Alahna Keil on a sedan chair being carried

Group Dynamics and Access in Asia

When Alahna Keil, who has cerebral palsy, enrolled in Luther College in Iowa, located an hour away from her home in Wisconsin, the idea of studying abroad seemed far from her mind. She was apprehensive about the possibility of study abroad both for academic and physical reasons. Then something changed. She learned of 3-week programs for the January term break. The length seemed manageable, the four academic credits useful, and the faculty supportive – it ended up being a perfect opportunity. By her sophomore year, Alahna was on her way to China, Hong Kong, and Japan.

Tipsheet
Wheelchair strapped to the back of a motor scooter.

Wheelchair-Accessible Transportation

With information and an open mind, there are many ways to successfully problem solve transportation issues in any country. Depending on where someone will be living, transportation can vary dramatically. In big cities and even small towns in many countries, taxis, buses and public transport will be wheelchair accessible. Some basic questions about where a participant will be, what is common in that area, and what alternatives exist will help you think through the transportation options.

Tipsheet
Young girl transfered from wheelchair to bedroom desk to study

Wheelchair Access in Lodging

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.

Tipsheet
Young foreign student with mobility disability talks with an advisor

Knowing What Disability Questions to Ask: Sample Accommodations Forms

Are you advising someone with a disability who is traveling abroad for your volunteer, study or professional program? Do you know what questions to ask to assist them in preparing for travel and living abroad related to their disability?

These access information forms provide starting points to learn more about what may be needed. The advisor guidelines also help know what the individual's responses may mean and what follow-up questions you could ask. Download and adapt these for your own use; it may mean asking fewer questions on the forms and more in face to face conversations.

Personal Story
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!”

Tipsheet
A woman and her PA in Brazil

Including Participants & Personal Assistants in Your Exchange Program

Although arranging and funding personal assistance services (PAS) for international exchange participants is not required (or only limited to program activities) by the Americans with Disabilities Act, many international exchange providers go beyond the law to ensure that a participant has appropriate services in place, recognizing that:

Personal Story
Two African women, one a power wheelchair user, in a courtyard.

Video: Mandela Washington Fellow Envisions "Great Things" for Africa

To display captions, play the video in YouTube and click on "CC" button. For transcription with visual description, see below.

"We believe that if we come together, we can do great things," says Muluh Hilda Bih, a journalist and disability rights advocate from Cameroon who is positioning herself as a leader to motivate young Africans with and without disabilities to tackle some of the world's greatest challenges together.

Personal Story
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 Story
Shannon in front of mountain vista with three other young women

"We Always Found a Way to Make it Work"

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.

Tipsheet
White labador guide dog walks beside its owner

Traveling Internationally with a Guide Dog or Service Animal

You are taking the leap to go abroad and naturally you want to bring along your service animal or guide dog on this adventure. However, you may wonder what arrangements will be needed. Or, if bringing your animal companion is a good idea or not. Feral dogs in the destination country and other considerations on how to keep your guide dog or service animal healthy overseas can help when deciding.

Tipsheet
Megan close up in black and white, looking over her shoulder

Using Power Wheelchairs Abroad

As my fellow disabled travelers may know, total equipment failure can happen anywhere. While most people were reading the stories of Camilo José Cela on a warm bench surrounded by freesia, I spent the majority of my time getting down and dirty in the mechanic shops of Seville, Spain, where I was studying abroad for 8 months.

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