Romitta Hoff (she/her), a 2022 Dinah F.B. Cohen DREAM Fellow, interviewed Mobility International USA to discuss the resources they provide to disabled students looking for opportunities abroad. The below article was written by her.
Ever wondered what Mongolia looks like in the spring or Cameroon in the fall, but felt bound by your disability? Mobility International USA (MIUSA) is in the international exchange space that supports individuals with all types of disabilities to study abroad, be a part of a rotary club, join the Peace Corps, or volunteer in another county. MIUSA wants to see individuals with a disability doing what non-disabled people do.
I connected with Susan Sygall, the CEO of MIUSA, to highlight the wonderful programming and culture of Mobility International USA.
Do you have a signature support group?
We do a broad spectrum of things, including people who are high school age or transitioning to maybe college, university, or work. So many people, non-disabled and disabled, live in this complex world and if you want to build your self-confidence and your ability to be in a complex global world, having an international exchange experience is going to help you. If you’re applying for a job, you can show that you’ve had some kind of international exchange experience. You can study and do research in another country, or maybe during the summer, be a camp counselor in another country. There are so many types of opportunities and we have. We have online journals and information, referrals and so many things on our website that no matter what disability you have, whether it’s a physical disability, neurodivergent whatever, there are people like you who have had these experiences and have tips to share on how to be successful.
What are some of the key experiences that have been helpful for young people in accessing quality and impactful transition support?
We have a program called the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) and Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) programs, competitive, merit-based scholarship programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Here, students in different countries who are of high school age apply to come to the United States for a full scholarship year. Everybody has realized that this age group is so critical in building leadership skills. We are also putting the same emphasis on working with all the exchange programs that offer these opportunities. So many times people have lower perceptions of what people with disabilities can do, and that’s because people with disabilities aren’t dreaming big enough. They’re not having the same dreams that sometimes non-disabled people have, and we need to change the perception of what is possible.
Would you say that your programming includes elements of self-advocacy, self-determination, or mentoring?
In mentoring, we have a program where if you want to talk to someone who has a disability, or maybe who has a similar disability who’s gone abroad, we’re able to match people up right there because we have a lot of information in our database. We have an online journal called “AWAY: A World Awaits You” and that has lots of stories of people working with all types of disabilities who’ve done all sorts of different experiences in the international exchange space, and I think that is a form of mentoring. In terms of self-advocacy, when you go on an exchange program, one of the things you learn about is how to ask for the accommodations that you need.
How do you navigate the barriers of travel to a foreign country?
We have lots of information about people with different types of disabilities, mental health disabilities, and how to travel with medications. We know how you get more medicines if you’re overseas, and how to get support from your doctor, counselor, etc. while you’re traveling. The clearinghouse and personal testimonies are known resources as well. I just want people to know all the possibilities and ways to connect.
Does Mobility International USA sound interesting to you?
Get connected to Mobility International and MIUSA’s National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE): Your Disability & Exchange Resource. You can also reach MIUSA via via phone +1 (541) 343-1284 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.