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Personal Stories
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 Stories
A smiling woman looks off in the distance. Behind her is a sign that says "We all smile in the same language" with images of children with and without disabilities.

The Value of Student Exchanges to Developing Countries — and the U.S.

When students travel to another country to study as part of an exchange program, the benefits don’t just accrue to the individual student — communities across borders gain from the experience.

USAID funds student exchanges between institutions in developing countries and U.S. colleges and universities. The students who come to the U.S. gain knowledge and skills they can use back home, which in the long run can result in higher employment, enhanced productivity and a stronger economy in their home country.

Personal Stories
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 Stories
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 Stories
Floriane paragliding over many trees, houses, and pools below her.

Distances Worth Discovering

Floriane, who has muscular dystrophy, has been using a power wheelchair since age three, and when she was eighteen years old, she joined disability groups that planned holiday travels. She has traveled from her home country of France to the souks in Morocco to the museums in London.

“If you struggle at home, you won’t necessarily struggle in other countries. There are always great surprises!”

This love for discovery of cultures would carry on not only with her personal endeavors, but also her educational pursuits.

Personal Stories
Hilda in middle of streets in Cameroon speaking with children with disabilities

Affecting Change on a Continental Level

Reflecting on her Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Hilda Bih Muluh says it starts with public policy.

“If we can change the national policy, then it will change a lot for people with disabilities both now and even those in the future; not just one person or one part of the country, but the nation together.”

Personal Stories
Melissa overlooking Italy landscape

Exploring Italy One Step At a Time

Melissa DiVietri is a young social media strategist living in Detroit, Michigan. Art is her passion; but marketing is where she excels as owner of “DI Designs Studios”. While previously attending Ferris State University, Melissa came across a flyer about a summer study abroad program on art history and wine fermentation in Italy. As someone who had not yet traveled abroad, she thought, “Wow, I can gain college credits by traveling to Italy?"

Personal Stories
Lintang sits in an adaptive bicycle

An Extraordinary Ordinary Year

On a September evening in Jakarta, Indonesia, Lintang Kirana took center stage as part of a celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the achievements of people with disabilities around the world. Surrounded by MIUSA’s Brilliant and Resilient photo exhibit, a touring exhibit highlighting the work of thirty women leaders with disabilities, Lintang transported the audience to her Wisconsin host community through stories of her year in the United States.

Personal Stories
Portrait of Kanika

Changing the World through Education

I was born in Cambodia and contracted Polio at nine months old. Even at a young age I dreamt of becoming a leader for people with disabilities, traveling to different countries, and living independently.

Personal Stories
Jake Robinson in his wheelchair talking with student on the ships deck

Why Wouldn’t You Go Abroad?

After a five hour ride in a clunky van over dirt roads, Jake Robinson and his fellow study abroad students arrived in the remote, densely forested interior of Ghana to visit a medical clinic. After lunch, the local host led the group along a dirt path – at first surrounded by children excited by Jake’s red wheelchair, then past a goat in someone’s living room, and deeper into the jungle for a good distance. Just when Jake was thinking they must be getting close, he learned his adventure was not soon to end.

To understand where he was headed, one must start nine months earlier. For Jake, like other American students with mobility disabilities, the default message he had received during college was: “Go to class, pass your courses, get your degree, and then move on. It’s easier to just not study abroad.” But Jake is different. He is not the kind of person to follow the standard path – he is adventurous and, as an undergraduate, he wanted to go places.

Personal Stories
Tyler Clark at fountain in Valencia Spain with friends

Translating the Culture and Language of Spain

Tyler Clark’s interest peaked when he visited Valparaiso University in Indiana for the first time, and the campus tour guide mentioned the university’s study abroad programs. “Would I be able to study abroad?” he asked the study abroad office that day to which the reply came, “Well, when would you like to?” A year after enrolling in Valparaiso, Tyler, who has cerebral palsy, changed his major to Spanish in hopes of becoming an international interpreter. Studying abroad would let him know whether or not he enjoyed living abroad and also if he could improve his language skills.

Personal Stories
Xuan in her wheelchair outside Buckingham Palace

Using Vocational Rehabilitation for a Personal Assistant Abroad

What if your major is International Studies or your degree requires you to take classes overseas? How can you study abroad during your college experience, and pay for your personal assistant while traveling? These questions were always lingering in the background waiting to be answered for Xuan Troung, a student at North Carolina State University who has osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. To find the answers, she turned to her Vocational Rehabilitation counselor.

Personal Stories
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.

Personal Stories
Philippines rainforest; Photo by: pixabay.com, Creative Commons Deed CC0

Join the Foreign Service, Go Abroad

Jessica Chesbro first learned about the Foreign Service while she was living in a bamboo hut in a small farming village in the Philippines. At the time, she was serving in the Peace Corps and working with abused children.

“The Peace Corps experience was life-changing. I learned so much about life there, and really strengthened my passion both for travel and for helping people.”

It was also life-changing because it led to her current career with the Foreign Service.

Personal Stories
Senka and fellow student

Reflections on Return Home to Serbia

When MIUSA interviewed Senka Mekic for our AWAY journal, she was preparing to say good-bye to her host family after nine months in the United States on the American Serbia and Montenegro Youth Leadership Exchange (A-SMYLE) program. Back home in Serbia, Senka is completing her senior year in high school and preparing to apply to college; she plans to study at a university in Turkey.

Reflecting back on her exchange experience, Senka says her time in the U.S. made her more aware of her abilities. Her parents agree and feel that she is more independent as well.

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