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Learning Disabilities: How to Prepare Students to Succeed Abroad

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 4, 2018

Contributed by the 2017-2018 Task Force on Access for Disabilities Abroad
Randi Butler - Institute of International Education; Laura Kaplan - University of Texas at Austin; Marnie Nelson – Univ of Nebraska; Lauren Schuller - Bentley University; Erika Wise - Texas A&M University

The wellness and success of students who have learning disabilities or neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. ADHD) should always be a consideration for any professional who works in education abroad. According to the 2015-2016 Open Doors Report conducted by the Institute of International Education, participation in study abroad by students with disabilities has increased by more than 6% in the last decade. Data shows that the majority of students with disabilities who study abroad had either learning (34%) or mental health (27%) disabilities. While physical and mental health disabilities can impact a student’s experience outside the classroom during study abroad, a learning or cognitive disability can impact a student’s academic experience while abroad. Once a student has disclosed their disability, that should trigger a process for the education abroad advisor and student disability service office to begin preparing the student for their international experience. This includes addressing customs barriers a student may face pertaining to medication they take, communicating the student’s disability with the foreign institution or program provider, and determining how accommodations the student typically receives at their home institution may translate to their learning experience abroad.

It is important for education abroad advisors to understand the resources and services offered at their partner institutions for students with disabilities. Being prepared and informed allows advisors to set students’ expectations about the differences they may experience and adjustments that may be necessary. Diversity Abroad Network member institution, Bentley University, recently surveyed all of its international partner universities, and of the 15 responses, 86% of them reported offering accommodations to students with physical and/or cognitive disabilities. While this number is encouraging, each foreign institution is different in terms of the level of support provided and the accommodations that can be offered to students. Many institutions, particularly in Western Europe and Oceania, have an office of Services for Students with Disabilities and information accessible on their websites.

Some examples from foreign institutions of higher education include the following:

In other regions including Latin America, Asia, Middle East and Africa, access to accommodations will vary depending on the institution. For example, public universities may not offer the same level of student support services as private universities. While in the United States, typically it is the public institutions that provide a more streamlined level of support for students with disabilities.

Advisors should encourage students to disclose any disabilities that may require accommodations, and should consider creating a formal process through which students can discreetly disclose disabilities and request accommodations (see specific examples in Diversity Abroad’s Education Abroad Advisor Manual: Access for Disabilities Abroad). Furthermore, advisors should be prepared to work directly with students and exchange partners to determine which accommodations can be offered. In some cases, affiliate providers may be able to offer additional or work with home institutions to create unique accommodations for students with learning disabilities. For example, at Texas A&M University students are encouraged to disclose their disability multiple times throughout the process of applying to a study abroad program. The opportunity to disclose is presented multiple times throughout the application process (e.g. initial application, health survey, orientation meeting) to ensure that students know they have an obligation to disclose and to encourage students to be open about their accommodation needs.

One specific challenge advisors face in working with students with learning and cognitive disabilities is that students often consider the academic component of study abroad as an afterthought. Much of the culture of study abroad from the student perspective comes from curated social media images and stories of adventure from peers. Academics are often omitted from the story altogether. As a result, some students feel they do not need their medication, academic accommodations, and/or medical care while abroad. This can be a dangerous mindset, and students often find themselves in a panic once they begin classes abroad and realize how heavily they rely on the support measures they were accustomed to back home.

A current study abroad student from a Diversity Abroad member institution found himself in this situation when he arrived at his host university in Europe. He recounts the struggles he faced when he began his classes and reflects on the mistakes he made in preparing to study abroad. He writes,


The primary reason for which I decided against bringing along my medication relates back to the overall reputation on campus of the ‘study abroad experience’ being less than academically rigorous. Many of us have friends who return from their time abroad, recounting wild stories of parties, extensive travel, and extraordinary life experiences. However, almost never did I hear any of my peers talk about their time actually spent in class or even at school in general. This type of conversation on campus lead me to believe there would be a decreased level of academic rigor abroad, and thus I would have no need to bring along my meds. This conclusion, however, I can now say is entirely false.


 The student goes on to say that “upon arrival at the [host] university and after actually obtaining the class outlines for the first time, I realized I had made a grave mistake. By failing to bring along my medication, I was left in a foreign country, with little knowledge of the language, no access to my prescribing doctor, no ADHD medication, and no obvious resources to obtain what I needed.” This student also comments on the difficulty of acquiring an adequate quantity of medication to bring with him abroad. Finding an online, comprehensive list of countries that allow certain ADHD medications is difficult. However, providing students with resources like government websites can be helpful. The CDC website has several articles relating to safety abroad, and the United States Department of State website allows students to search for medical and health-related information specific to the country(ies) they will be visiting. The International Narcotics Control Board website (incb.org) provides lists of drug/medicine regulations organized by country.


With all of the competing priorities students have, the strenuous process of obtaining medication to bring abroad can be extremely overwhelming. This, coupled with misconceptions about academic rigor abroad, cause many students to elect to forgo the process altogether and try their luck at a med-free semester abroad. As advisors, we must help students understand that academics will be a significant component of their experience abroad. We must reclaim the narrative and remind students through one-on-one advising, pre-departure orientation and peer-to-peer mentoring that study abroad is an academic experience and that putting their health on the back-burner will only cause them more stress and difficulty in the long run.

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GSLS 2018 in Review

Posted By Trixie Cordova, Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The 4th Annual Global Student Leadership Summit was held during the 6th Diversity Abroad Conference on April 7-10 in Miami, FL. This year, we welcomed our largest cohort yet -- close to 70 students representing 40 different colleges and universities across the U.S. GSLS students studied abroad in countries including Cyprus, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Senegal, Brazil, South Korea, Costa Rica, Vietnam, Japan, Ghana, France, Italy, Croatia, Cuba, Vienna, Argentina, Romania, Scotland, and Germany, and we were excited to host a new crop of diverse global leaders for another year of reflection, growth, and community building.


As in previous years, GSLS provided a much-needed space for diverse study abroad alumni to find community in one another while unpacking their experiences abroad. Our event kicked off with a compelling and inspiring Keynote, delivered by FIU’s Vice President of Engagement, Saif Ishoof. Saif told students about his own life’s work, his commitment to serving the larger Miami community, and challenged the students to utilize his network to leverage their own career paths by friending him on LinkedIn right away. Saif’s words gave students the energy boost to kick off a packed day one.


Over the course of nine unique sessions, students delved into three days of discussion. Below is a brief summary of what was explored:


Day one was focused on internal reflection. Students began GSLS by designing personal “Life Maps” to contextualize what has led them to this point in the present, and what informs their goals for the future. During “Your Diversity Abroad”, students had the opportunity to ‘sound-off’ on their time abroad, and share their ideas about ways they would improve the student experience. Day one wrapped up with a discussion on the intercultural competencies developed abroad, and how that aligns with one’s leadership skills.


New to GSLS this year was the opportunity students had to connect briefly with FIU Upward Bound students from local Miami high schools. During day one of GSLS, these high school students learned more about global programs from our High School Task Force before meeting our GSLS students for a game of “Get to Know You” BINGO. The prizes included two ‘swag bags’, and two brand new passports to encouraging the high school students to go global as early as possible!


Day two was all about career development. The day started with a series of sessions focused on tangible advice from our facilitators. Students received personalized resume feedback, explored post-graduate opportunities such as fellowships or teaching abroad, and also had an intimate conversation about how going overseas can help one confirm their desired career path. Students then had the opportunity to hear from a panel of professionals across a broad range of sectors, before listening to their peers share their stories during the Welcome Luncheon panel for all conference attendees. GSLS students closed their programming on day two with a Career Reception to learn more about potential employment opportunities. This reception featured attendees representing the Peace Corps, Public Policy & International Affairs (PPIA) Program, Monterey Institute for International Studies (MIIS), PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC), and USAID Global Health Fellows.


The third and final day of GSLS was focused on next steps. Students talked about what it takes to practically make the transition from being in college to developing one’s career, and closed with thinking about how to ‘pay it forward’ and make an impact on their campuses and in their communities to see more students from diverse backgrounds going abroad.


It was an honor to once again host a unique re-entry opportunity for diverse students at universities and colleges across the country. We look forward to hosting another cohort of incredible, diverse student leaders for GSLS 2019 in Boston, MA from March 2-5!

Tags:  Global Student Leadership Summit 

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Meet the Team: Marketing Coordinator

Posted By Administration, Monday, March 26, 2018

Ariana Peña - Marketing Coordinator


Tell us about yourself:


I recently graduated Cum Laude from Saint Michael’s College in Burlington, Vermont where I received a Bachelor’s Degree in Media Studies, Journalism, & Digital Arts with a minor in Business Administration. During my time at St. Michael’s, I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina for a full semester.While in Argentina, I witnessed firsthand the underrepresentation of ethnic-minority students such as myself in study abroad programs. As one of the few people of color enrolled in my study abroad program, I had difficulty navigating my identity and experiences as a Mexican-American woman studying abroad for the first time amongst a cohort of mostly white men and women. These experiences inspired me to dedicate my senior thesis to researching the historic underrepresentation and unequal access of study abroad opportunities for ethnic minority students. During this time, I also served as a study abroad ambassador during my final year of college, specifically targeting first-generation, ethnic-minority, and financially disadvantaged students. 


Why did you join Diversity Abroad?


In my role at Diversity Abroad, I am able to give back to the local and global community that inspired my career. I studied abroad because of scholarships that were awarded to me. Knowing that someone else invested in my future reminded me of the continued generosity (both tangible and intangible) that has been granted to me throughout my educational journey. We know that education is the gift that can’t be taken away, therefore the opportunity to provide students with resources to expand their knowledge and experiences in our globally interconnected classrooms is my way of “paying it forward”. Diversity Abroad allows me to do that in a very unique way.


Why did you join Diversity Abroad?

I believe every student should have access to the transformative power of receiving a global education. I joined Diversity Abroad because it is dedicated to providing students and professionals with the resources necessary to bridge the accessibility gap in international education and to make for a more inclusive environment. 


What do you do at Diversity Abroad?


As marketing coordinator at Diversity Abroad, I manage the daily editorial and promotional content for our student and professional audiences via diversityabroad.com, diversitynetwork.org, social media platforms, and email. I also assist in the planning and coordination of company events, including the Annual Diversity Abroad Conference.


Where do you see global education going in five years?


As our world continues to be more connected through technology, business, and social media, it will be more important than ever for young professionals to be able to communicate interculturally in order to compete in the 21st century global market. As a result, I believe education abroad will slowly become a standard for the educational and professional development of generations to come. Therefore, the work of organizations like Diversity Abroad and others in the field of international education will be crucial in shaping accessibility to global education programs. 


Tags:  Diversity Abroad Staff 

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Diversity Network Member Highlight: UC San Diego

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 22, 2018

Institution name

University of California, San Diego



La Jolla, California


Institutional Profile

Large (over 15,000)


Why did your institution join the Diversity Abroad Network?

UC San Diego joined the DA Network primarily to be part of a larger network of global educators who value the scholarship, conversations, and actions that will lead us to mentoring and empowering a more diverse population of students from the United States studying abroad.


How long has your organization/institution been a member? 

Founding member of the Diversity Abroad Network.


What Diversity Network resource has been most useful for you and your colleagues in advancing diversity & inclusive excellence in global education? 

The AIDE Resource Library


How has membership with the Diversity Network helped your institution make global education more accessible to students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds?  

Membership with the Diversity Network has offered us tools, literature, and trainings that are unparalleled in global education, and perhaps even in higher education, with regard to accessibility.  All of our staff regularly use materials from the Diversity Network to advise students and we continue our own education regularly through the webinars (often free for members) and the annual conference.


Please describe any innovative initiatives related to diversity and inclusion in global education that your institution is currently undertaking.  

UC San Diego has been doing "mobile advising" in our Campus Community Centers for nearly two full academic years now.  Benefits have not only included our office seeing an increase of underrepresented students on campus coming into our office for advising, but we've also developed a tighter network of advocates on campus in the Center staff and a greater understanding of our programs and our mission to make study abroad accessible to all students on campus.

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Meet Angela Manginelli: Diversity Abroad Community Highlight

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Angela ManginelliAngela Manginelli
Director of Alumni & Diversity Initiatives
College Division
American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS Study Abroad)

Level of Experience: 10+ years

What does diversity & inclusive excellence mean to you in the context of your work?

For me, diversity and inclusive excellence means ensuring that I, and my organization, are doing everything possible to facilitate successful study abroad opportunities for students that, historically, have been underrepresented in education abroad. I serve as an advocate for inclusive practices for underrepresented students and encourage others to do the same. I also provide resources and connect individuals with others who have gone abroad from the same identity groups, so they can recognize that study abroad is an accessible and necessary opportunity for them. 

Please describe the factors that led you to pursue your current career track?

I studied abroad during my junior year of college through a faculty-led program in London. I struggled with the returnee experience and felt all my peers were happy to be back on campus, while I felt unresolved and anxious to return overseas. I stayed on at my university for a Master’s degree in Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education and during this time returned to London as the Graduate Assistant for the same program I did as an undergrad. I took what should have been a one-year Master’s and turned it into a 2.5-year program – spending 1.5 years of it abroad in the GA role. It was a tremendous learning experience and solidified my interest in working in international education.  

For the first six years I worked at AIFS, I was a Regional Director, so I visited a lot of different campuses and saw firsthand how students received the idea of going abroad. Some wanted to, but felt there were barriers that prohibited their participation. I worked with the schools in my regions to break down these perceived barriers and connected with different student organizations to ensure they knew about opportunities and funding available to them for studying abroad. 

In addition to my role at AIFS, I am also the Vice President and New Conference Liaison for Lessons From Abroad, a non-profit organization that hosts regional returnee conferences for students who have recently come back from an international experience. My experiences working with returnees ultimately allowed me to transition into my current role at AIFS, where I work with our alumni and was recently asked to lead our diversity and inclusion initiatives. I feel incredibly lucky that I can combine so many of my interests into my position and am excited to continue focusing on inclusion for underrepresented students and the returnee continuum. 

What aspects of your work are you most excited about?

I love that through my work I can try to make the study abroad experience better for students who are underrepresented in study abroad. Being able to develop policies that didn’t exist before and connect students with resources is incredibly rewarding. As well, my work with our Alumni Ambassadors allows me to help make the learning curve - from being a student to going into the professional world - more manageable. The program has monthly meetings, which focus on different areas of professional development, including how to craft resumes and cover letters, how to ace the interview and what to do once you get the job to be successful long-term in your career. It is an amazing feeling when former Ambassadors reach out and tell me that participating in the program helped them land a job or pursue opportunities abroad after graduating.  

Please describe any challenges you've encountered in relationship to your current role? What strategies have you employed to overcome them?

I think the biggest challenge is one that a lot of people in the field have, which is having more ideas than I have time to implement. Because my work encompasses both alumni programming and diversity initiatives, I am looking at study abroad as a continuum and working with my colleagues to decide how we can positively impact the student experience from the point of initial interest through while they are in-country and when they return to the US. To manage this, I’ve created a giant Excel sheet with all the ideas we have generated for making our programs more inclusive and have divided them into different phases. Some of the ideas we can implement immediately or soon and others are a part of our long-term strategic plan. This also helps me to measure progress and think about ways that I can weave the work I do with our alumni programs into the work I am doing with diversity and inclusion. 

As you reflect on different aspects of your career, what are you most proud of?

I am incredibly proud that NAFSA asked me to serve as a co-author on their publication for returnees, "Making Meaning of Education Abroad: A Journal for the Returnee Experience," which will be coming out in April 2018. As someone whose path into international education started with having a rough time on my own return, it’s exciting to see how far I’ve come and to think that I can help make the return a bit easier for others. Although my formal work with diversity and inclusion started more recently, I am proud of the changes I’ve facilitated at my organization and am hopeful that I will make additional positive changes, which will contribute to even better study abroad experiences for students of diverse backgrounds. 

What do you work toward in your free time?

My work with Lessons From Abroad has afforded me the opportunity to emcee and keynote 30 regional returnee conferences around the country, which has been an incredible experience. Based off those presentations, I am working towards giving a TED Talk someday. 

Recent Engagement with Diversity Abroad

Planning Committee Member: 3rd Annual Global Student Leadership Summit (2017)
Presenter: 4th Annual Global Student Leadership Summit (2018)
Other: I am the liaison to Diversity Abroad at AIFS and during fall 2017 helped complete a beta test of the DA AIDE Roadmap for providers.

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