International exchange programs offer the chance to have new experiences. There are many different types of exchange programs. You can attend a different school or university. You can also work overseas. Or you can swap houses with someone else. I took on the challenge of a university exchange in 2008. I went to the University of Florida in the United States. At first I found it hard to get around. But I was able to take my guide dog. And the university provided plenty of assistance for me.
Posted by: Kristy Hyland, on 26/07/11
Travel offers a great chance to have new experiences.
Many people enjoy travelling overseas. Travel offers a great chance to have new experiences. Those of us with disabilities are certainly no different. Fortunately, there are many international exchange programs that welcome applicants with a disability. Exchange programs can offer the chance to learn a lot more than is typically possible on a short holiday.
There are many different types of exchange programs. Student exchanges enable students from different schools or universities to switch placements. The exchange is usually for a semester or two. Home exchange programs tend to be shorter. Another option is working or volunteering overseas in an international exchange program.
I took on the challenge of a university exchange in 2008. I completed a year studying at the University of Florida. I was excited about getting experience at an American college. There were other advantages of choosing the United States. I could take my guide dog. I only speak English so language was a big consideration too.
It was almost too easy to convince the university's study abroad office that I could manage the trip. I qualified for the program on academic merit. I then just had to consider my disability and guide dog. This included vaccinating my dog and stocking up on my own medical supplies.
My first day
My first day in Los Angeles was difficult. My mobile phone did not work. When I checked in at my hotel I also found that the city had just experienced an earthquake. I survived my first day in Los Angeles by asking strangers for directions. When I eventually called home eight hours after landing I found that my mother was more stressed than I was. Google maps soon became my favourite resource. I found restaurant menus online and also stores and attractions near my hotel.
I had chosen university subjects before leaving Australia. The University of Florida was very organised when I arrived. They had my books ready in electronic format. The university also arranged orientation and mobility assistance. My teachers knew I was in their classes and electronic notes were provided. In most ways the accessibility of study materials was easier in the United States than Australia.
The most stressful part of my trip was coming home. I had to prepare my guide dog to return to Australia during my exam period. The vet clinic made mistakes with blood testing. I finally got the confirmation he would be accepted back into Australia just six hours before leaving.
It is common for young people today to take a gap year. Volunteer work can be a great way to spend a gap year. Gap year participants can travel overseas to work on a volunteer project. Trips are typically between four and 12 months. Many international organisations accept volunteers with a disability.
One example is Lattitude Global Volunteering. Lattitude has placed many participants with disabilities. Volunteers can work in countries like Vietnam, India and South Africa. Volunteers can perform roles such as a teacher, caring assistant and community worker.
Another example is New College Worcester in England. It is a school for the blind. Volunteers can work supporting students.
House swapping is a long established idea. Popular website Matching Houses says there are over 250,000 successful home swaps worldwide every year. But most houses are not accessible.
Fortunately, sites like Matching Houses offer services specifically for people with a disability. The sites allow people to get in contact with each other and share information about their properties. Some house swaps even result in long-lasting friendships.
You can have many great experiences as a result of an international exchange. But the best advice I can give is to know your rights and plan your trip in detail before you go.
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