Melissa Gulledge, CIEE Regional Director from South Carolina, has years of experience placing international exchange students from all over the world with American families, but a last minute decision to host a teenager with a disability led to one of her own family’s most meaningful hosting experiences.
The clock was ticking to match Pinar, a young woman from Turkey who is blind, with a host family and school.
People who are blind often are funneled to certain fields of study, such as the arts, while the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields are frequently seen as not viable options. This was the reality that Noah Al Hadidi was not going to accept.
“When I was a little kid, I used to play with electronic devices and I loved how they helped people. Later I moved to computers, and that’s how it all started.”
The World Bank, Fulbright Program, and the World Blind Union are a few opportunities that has Mohammed Ali Loutfy moving across the world map. There could be no better fit for someone fascinated about international studies, different cultures, and learning about disability inclusion across the world.
While family heritage initially drew Alicia Nyblade to Europe, the healthy lifestyle and friendly people makes her want to go back again. Though her father is from England, it was ancestors on her mother’s side that made her decide on Sweden for a summer study abroad experience before her senior year at the University of California-Riverside.
“I was confident and wasn’t afraid. It was always something I wanted to do, so I was looking forward to it. Everyone was really supportive and went through the step by step planning process with me.”
Tanveer Mansur Syed, from the United Arab Emirates, is one of an estimated 820,000 international students in the United States. He attends George Washington University, where he’s pursuing a master’s degree in secondary-education biology.
He’s also legally blind, so his campus experience isn’t quite the same as the average student’s. But thanks to accommodations for the disabled that were mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Syed is able to navigate his campus and the surrounding neighborhood while using innovative tools that help him keep up with his studies.
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.
According to Beth Ocrant, “Every job is a stepping stone.”
For Beth, who is blind, the stepping stone that led to her first job was a study abroad experience at the University of Sunderland in England.
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."
Dear Future Exchange Student,
If you are chosen as an exchange student, you might have a lot of questions and thoughts about everything. That's how I was at first.
I worried about everything, especially because of my disability. There was a time when I almost gave up on everything. I was tired of thinking of all the stuff I had to do, all the forms to fill out, all the discussions I had to have with my parents, and a lot more.
Denise works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service. She has been blind from birth and has always loved languages. Her study of French and Spanish began in high school and continued through college, where she was a language major. As Denise enhanced her language skills, she sought out opportunities to get involved in international exchange, but encountered barriers related to her disability.
Given that I have a hard enough time locating my own shoes, I'm not quite sure how I convinced the Study Abroad offices to drop me off halfway around the world to study in Melbourne, Australia. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a great decision, so, as an Aussie might say, "Good on them for that."