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Disability Studies Abroad

Posted By Administration, Friday, September 22, 2017
By: Julia Karpicz, MA
PhD Student in Higher Education and Organizational Change at UCLA

How is disability constructed across cultures? How do these constructions shape the lives, cultures, histories, and politics of disabled and non-disabled communities around the world?

As an interdisciplinary academic field, Disability Studies “examines the concept of disability as a social, cultural, and political phenomenon” (University of Utah). Over the past two decades, more than forty North American colleges and universities have created Disability Studies programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In recent years, several universities have also begun offering study abroad programs with a comparative focus on disability, access, and culture. For students with an interest in Disability Studies, Deaf Studies, and/or Disability Culture, this blog post will introduce a few opportunities to explore disability-related themes in a global context. Please note the list below is not exhaustive and study abroad offerings can change throughout the year.

China: Disability in a Global Context
New York University, Summer 2018, Graduate-level
“This course explores the implications of disability in global contexts with varying levels of industrialization. It examines how local public and private sectors, including schools, hospitals, markets, or transportation systems, affect the lives of people with disabilities in Shanghai, China.”
Tanzania: Disability & Culture in Tanzania
Georgia College, Summer 2018, Undergraduate-level
“Explore the geography and culture of one of Africa’s most stable and culturally diverse nations through the lens of disability. Observe and volunteer at local schools and community centers serving individuals with disabilities. Experience life with the Maasai as you learn about their cultural understanding of disabilities.”

Japan: Studying Disability in Japan and the U.S.: A Comparative Approach to Laws, Policies, and Perspectives
Syracuse University, Summer 2018, Undergraduate-level
“Travel to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima to compare Japan and the United States under a disability studies lens. You will draw on a number of disciplines, including policy, law, and education, for a close-up look at policies and practices in Japan.”

Note: At the time of writing, the following programs have been offered for at least two consecutive years, but do not yet have available information for 2018 offerings.

Ireland: Culture and Disability
Penn State University, Summer 2017, Undergraduate-level (PSU-Only)
“Throughout the program students will be comparing attitudes and stigma toward people with disabilities as well as policies, services and resources that exist in the U.S. and Ireland.” Recipient of the GoAbroad – Innovative New Program Award in 2016.

India: Disability in Limited Resource Settings (Exploration Seminar)
University of Washington, Fall 2017, Undergraduate-level
“This study abroad program addresses disability within low and middle income countries. Using India as a cultural, political and socioeconomic context, students will explore a wide range of issues related to disability including prevalence and demographics, measurement, access and barriers to health care and rehabilitation, availability of assistance and support, accessibility of built environments and information technologies, and access and barriers to education and employment.”

Sign Language and Deaf Culture

Deaf culture can be defined as “a set of learned behaviors of a group of people who are deaf and who have their own language (ASL), values, rules, and traditions” (Gallaudet University). Students who are interested in comparative sign language and Deaf culture studies, are encouraged to explore the programs included below. For more information about organizations, schools, and programs that are involved with the Deaf/Hard of Hearing community, please see the Mobility International USA article, “Deaf International Exchange Opportunities.”

United Kingdom: Comparative Sign Language

University of Pittsburgh, Summer 2018, Undergraduate-level
“This four week, six credit program, based in the heart of London, will give you the opportunity to examine the differences in British and American Sign Languages as well as British and American Deaf Culture. Designed for students who have completed at least ASL 0002 (by the start of the program), you'll have the opportunity to practice your ASL skills both in and out of the classroom - the program is ‘voice off.’”

Deaf Culture, History, and Sign Language in France
University of Rochester, Summer 2018, Undergraduate-level
“The American Sign Language (ASL) Program at the University of Rochester offers a unique study abroad experience in France during the summer for Deaf and hearing college-level ASL students and professionals. This two-week program gives ASL users an opportunity to learn French Sign Language and French Deaf culture in a formal setting and further their understanding of the international Deaf world.”

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Meet Kristin Labs: Diversity Abroad Community Highlight

Posted By Administration, Thursday, September 21, 2017

Kristin Labs photoKristin Labs
Field Director, South/Southwest U.S.
Institute for Study Abroad, Butler University

Level of Experience: 10+ years

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

To me, it means giving a voice to every perspective, every identity, every opinion. It means challenging ourselves to acknowledge our own prejudices, to recognize and challenge social constructs that negatively impact others, to actively listen to others, and to seek understanding.     

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

I studied International Relations as an undergraduate, and always imagined that I would end up working in International Development with an NGO, maybe in Sub Saharan Africa. But after college, and after living and working abroad for a year, I came back to the states and fell into an opportunity to live in rural Appalachia in southeastern Kentucky to start a non-profit and do community development work. I did that for three years. And through that experience, which included some college counseling with the local high school students, I realized I wanted to mix my two interests of education and international relations. Little did I know, until I did some research, that there were actually graduate programs in International Education, which is when I found the SIT Graduate Institute and thus began my pursuit of a career in IE.

What aspects of your work are you most excited about?

I love advising students. I also love seeing them through the entire process of pursuing an international experience, and discovering how they've transformed from the experience upon returning. I also love working on issues of access, whether it be first generation college students, high school students from rural or high poverty areas, or high financial need students. 

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

I've faced challenges with micromanagement from leadership in the past. I find that focusing on the small accomplishments can really help my morale and finding allies across campus or within an organization can also be extremely motivating and helpful in pushing initiatives forward.   

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

I'm actually most proud of the individual students I've advised over the years, and the paths that many of them have taken since then. Now and then I will cross paths with former students and it warms my heart to hear them remember the many advising sessions we had or the support they received that helped them get a scholarship, and to thank me for that years later. I was recently in touch with a former student who is now in the Foreign Service (never would have imagined that path for him 10 years ago!) and his next assignment will place him in Chengdu, China - the location of a study abroad program he helped me advise students on as a peer advisor. A full circle of sorts for him!   

Do you have any heroes? Who are they and why?

I would say that one of my heroes near the top of the list is Desmond Tutu, primarily for his work with South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

What do you work toward in your free time?

Having as many adventures with my kids and my partner as possible, and sharing them with friends and family. Sometimes that's visits to national parks like a recent trip to Carlsbad Caverns and sometimes it's dance parties on Wii in the living room (pretty regular occurrence).

Recent Engagement with Diversity Abroad

Co-Chair: 2017-2018 High School Task Force
Member: 2016-2017 High School Task Force
Presenter: 5th Annual Diversity Abroad Conference

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Meet Ahmad Refky: Diversity Abroad Community Highlight

Posted By Administration, Friday, September 8, 2017

Ahmad Refky
Director of Custom & Faculty-Led Programs
CEA Study Abroad

Level of Experience: 10+ years

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

For me, and I know this to be true for CEA as an organization, diversity and inclusive excellence means creating feasible opportunities for students from all walks of life and backgrounds to expand their horizons, and explore life and culture abroad. This includes not just developing a wide array of academically rich programs, but also having a strong network that support these students on their journey, and provides them with the tools they need to achieve their goals.   

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

 My career in study abroad is a cumulative product of my life experiences to date. My first experience living abroad was when I came to the United States as a high school exchange student for my senior year. It was the first time away from my family and support network, which challenged and propelled me on a journey of self-discovery. 

When I returned to Egypt I chose to pursue an education at a liberal arts American university specifically so I can have an environment that not just supports, but also challenges students. I came out during college, and when Egypt proved to be an unsafe place to live, my family from my high school exchange year opened their home and hosted me again in the US. I applied and was granted political asylum as a gay man, and my experience in exile shaped my views about the importance of cross cultural understanding and communication in shaping a more inclusive world. My short-term study abroad experience in The Netherlands with students from across Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia during grad school also cemented my views about the importance of studying abroad and being exposed to other ideas and cultures. 

So with all these experiences, working in higher education in general, and in study abroad in particular seemed like a natural progression of my life’s journey. I started my career at The Rotary Foundation working to send groups of professionals abroad to experience how their vocations are practiced in other countries. I then worked with a Chicago-based non-profit bringing high school exchange students to study in the United States, and from there made the jump to higher education focusing on faculty-led programs, first at IES Abroad, and then at CEA Study Abroad. Looking back at my life over the past 20 years, this career—which sort of chose me, makes perfect sense, and allows me to apply my personal and professional experience to benefit a greater cause.

 What aspects of your work are you most excited about?

 Every day I use the experience I gained on my personal and professional journey to create new opportunities for students to explore life outside their local bubble, push their boundaries, and hopefully become more globally engaged citizens. 

In addition, at CEA I have the wonderful opportunity to put together a diverse team of talented, creative, and strong women that not only push and challenge boundaries and the status-quo, but also make me a better person and stronger team leader. 

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

 I think the most challenging aspect of my current role is channeling the creativity and energy of my colleagues. I work with a very motivated group of strong individuals, and unfortunately the reality of any organization is that not all great ideas make the cut or come to fruition. This can be frustrating, especially for team members who are just starting their careers in study abroad or higher education. 

I have found that the most effective strategy is to not lead from the top down. I strive to create opportunities for my team members to impact strategy, set high level goals, hold themselves accountable, and become invested in the success of the initiatives they helped shape. By helping set goals and shape strategy, everyone is invested and the entire team works in unison to achieve outcomes, meet targets and milestones, and celebrate individual and collective successes along the way.  

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

This is a difficult question for me to answer. Seventeen years ago I immigrated to the United States with no real plan or direction. I had a degree from the top private universities in Egypt, and my first job was as a nigh clerk in a 7-11 mopping floors and stocking fridges. So I am proud of my journey and accomplishments to date, and “pulling myself up by my bootstraps” to make it to where I am today. 

That said, a simpler answer would be that every day I am incredibly proud of the Custom Programs team at CEA. I could not be more proud to work with such a diverse, creative, and strong team of women who bring their a-game to work every day. They put me through my paces, challenge me to be a better colleague and leader, and as a team we help bring to fruition wonderful opportunities for students to study abroad every day.

What do you work toward in your free time?

I recently bought a house, so I spend most of my free time making it into a home with my husband and our ever growing pack of dogs (we're currently up to 4 rescue dogs ranging from Chihuahuas to Pit-Bulls)

You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What color would you be and why?

Pink! Almost every other color goes well with pink, which makes it a nice addition to any palette. Pink adds vibrancy and energy to any drawing, but can also be toned down if needed. I am not a wall flower, but I don't crave attention either. I like to let me work speak for itself, so pink seems like the best fit.

Recent Engagement with Diversity Abroad

Co-Chair: 2017-2018 LGBTQI+ Task Force
Member: 2016-2017 LGBTQI+ Task Force
Presenter: 5th Annual Diversity Abroad Conference


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Thriving in Diversity Work in the Midst of Unrest

Posted By Daneen Johnson, Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Updated: Monday, August 21, 2017

Thriving in Diversity Work in the Midst of Unrest

“Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do”. I was frequently reminded of this phrase as an adolescent and it’s one that I’ve carried into every facet of my life, including my work here at Diversity Abroad.

Even in doing the “right” thing, our efforts can feel like they are falling short. We get discouraged, and without the proper precautions, burnout can creep in. In the face of identity-based hate tragedies, feelings of numbness, disheartening, and anger are exacerbated, and it’s challenging to navigate them while maintaining professional decorum. As the people that others turn to in times of confusion and hurt, we can help others best when we are at our best.

If you are in need of a recharge, here are a few measures I take to ensure that I’m equipped and healthy enough to persist. There is work to be done and we have to stay ready. Here are a few ways to begin that work.

What You Focus On, Grows

Dr. Seuss said “It is better to know how to learn than to know”. Reflections and learning should happen outside of your office. Seek out diversity learning classes in your community whether it’s at the campus your work at or the city your live in. Even as a facilitator of diversity and inclusion conversations, I seek out professional development workshops to grow the depth of my knowledge so I am able to contextualize a situation better. We have to absorb the same rhetoric we tell our students and be comfortable applying it to ourselves. Engage in conversations that are new or uncomfortable. Reflect on that discomfort, journal it, and share it in safe spaces. The public library or local community centers often provide free community discussions. Get involved in community groups if you can.


Be proactive versus reactive in your wellness. I often reflect on the wellness wheel to determine if there are specific areas that are suffering. Take a break and decompress before you react in a way that contradicts how you would want to respond. Social strife can cause adverse health issues, but you have to determine what works for you. Listen to your body; it’s a good indicator of where you are. Utilize the counseling services on your campus, or take a day off and schedule a wellness day(s). Do something that allows you to relax, be reflective, and realign your priorities. Remember: hurting people, hurt people, but when you’re at your best, you can help people the best.


What are you doing to recharge your community? Is it connecting with a place of worship or  calling friends you haven't spoken to in awhile? Is it traveling, or reading a good book? Seek opportunities to assist others in your community. Volunteer with and for your community. Work and lead beside those who identify differently from you. Shifting your thoughts from inward frustration, to outward service is mutually beneficial and restorative.

We all take different personal measures to ensure that we can thrive professionally. While these suggestions may vary for you, the goal is to make sure that you maintain wellness in the midst of turbulent times, when our work is needed the most.


I’d like to hear how your thoughts on how you recharge to continue your work. Send me an email at djohnson@diversityabroad.org.




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The Changing Face of DACA: The Impact of Policy and Rhetoric on Study Abroad Support Services

Posted By Erica Ledesma, Sunday, August 6, 2017
Updated: Monday, August 7, 2017

Written by: the 2016-2017 Diversity Abroad Undocumented & DACA-mented Students Task Force members Carol Reyes, Erica Jorgenson, Erin Santana, and Nicole Desjardins Gowdy.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is “a use of prosecutorial discretion [by immigration authorities] to defer removal action against an individual for a certain period of time,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, 2016). DACA provides temporary protection from deportation for two years at a time and allows the individual to obtain a driver’s license, a social security number, and work authorization, and also allows the individual to study abroad. Currently, there are over 886,000 recipients of DACA (USCIS, 2017) and approximately 1,932,000 individuals who are eligible (Migration Policy Institute [MPI], 2017). 


Another benefit to DACA recipients has been the opportunity to travel abroad for specific reasons such as: study abroad, research, medical treatment, family member illness or death, attending a conference or training, or a work assignment. DACA recipients have been able to do so with the aid of a travel document known as Advance Parole, which is issued by USCIS. Advance Parole does not guarantee re-entry, however, and it is up to the discretion of the border patrol agents whether to grant the request for parole into the U.S. at the port of entry. 

During the presidential campaign and since his election, President Trump, the Trump administration, and other government officials have given indication of plans to end DACA as soon as possible, thereby making DACA recipients no longer eligible to apply for Advance Parole. Furthermore, if DACA were to be terminated, DACA recipients traveling with Advance Parole would likely not be able to enter the United States. In this climate of uncertainty around the future of DACA, many colleges, universities, and advocacy organizations such as United We Dream have been cautioning students about the risks of departing the country during a time that the end of DACA appears to be imminent. For example, between 2013 and 2016, one institution successfully advised 15 DACA-mented students through the Advance Parole process for semester study abroad in Brazil, Ecuador, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Morocco, South Korea, and the UK . With the momentum and enthusiasm of past recipients providing encouragement, seven more DACA-mented students had planned to study abroad in the spring of 2017, but withdrew before departure upon considering the risks, discussing with family, friends and mentors, and heeding the advice of college administrators and lawyers.

Current State of Affairs

In the past seven months since the Trump administration took office, individuals with DACA have been detained, despite their temporary protection from deportation. One such case is that of Daniel Ramirez Medina, a young man from Seattle with DACA. Daniel was detained in February of 2017 and was finally released in March after posting $15,000 bond. Many U.S. institutions have changed their policies about students with DACA studying abroad precisely because of this change in practice and the increased number of DACA recipients being detained. 

From when our Task Force started our work last July until now, the state of DACA and the rhetoric from the White House surrounding undocumented people has drastically changed. We recommend staying up to date since policies, laws, executive orders, and support for undocumented people have the potential to change quickly. Here are just a few updates on where the current administration stands with regards to DACA and undocumented people.

The article below was featured in The New York Times on June 16th, 2017, when the current administration expressed that they would not immediately eliminate the DACA program:

‘Dreamers’ to Stay in U.S. for now, but Long-Term Fate is Unclear

However, the fight to eliminate DACA continues, as is seen in this news article below:

States try to force Trump’s hand on DACA

On July 20th, two senators introduced a new Dream Act that would provide potential pathways for undocumented immigrant youth:

Bipartisan Dream Act Highlights Broad Support for Existing Immigrant Youth Protections

However, President Trump has already stated recently that he will not support the new bipartisan plan:

Trump won’t support new plans to save ‘Dreamers’ from deportation


Survey of Study Abroad Professionals

The Undocumented & DACA-mented Students Task Force conducted a survey in which individuals from at least 29 different cities in 17 different states responded to questions about their work with DACA-mented students. In the survey, the majority of institutions stated that they do not recommend study abroad for DACA-mented students at this time, but ultimately leave the decision up to the student. Many state that their recommendations changed after the November 2016 election. One adviser said, “We were actively supporting, advising, and outreaching to students prior to the election. Our approach has changed since and may change again with Trump’s latest reversal.” 77% of those who responded to the survey said that they do have resources available for DACA-mented students on their campuses and that these resources are developed by a variety of offices on campus and in the community including the multi-cultural center, student success centers, the local Catholic Church, immigration lawyers, the Dean of Students’ office, Legal Affairs, professors, the Diversity and Inclusion Office, and others. The most popular form of support is advising and application support, but respondents also said that they provide resources for funding, institutional support, and legal assistance. While study abroad is widely discouraged for DACA-mented students at this time, a handful of institutions offer a domestic “study away” program as an alternative.

Recommendations for Next Steps 

Based on the updates and the state of the field since the 2016 election, where does the field of international education go from here to continue supporting undocumented students? After reviewing the results of the survey, many of our colleagues asked for the following:

  • Shared resources amongst institutions on institutional policies, waivers, and success stories
  • Ways to get involved in advocacy work
  • Interpretations of the current state of DACA and any political updates
  • Advising resources for applying for Advance Parole
  • Best practices for advising undocumented students and what risks to keep in mind
  • Legal advising
  • More program options and funding opportunities

Diversity Abroad Network Members can access resources in the Member Resource Center, including 5 Tips for Supporting DACA and Undocumented Students and slides from our Community Discussion: Making your institution more DACA-friendly and “undocu-friendly,” developed by this Task Force. In addition, we have published a list of resources and publications on DACA

Based on the results of the survey, the Diversity Abroad Task Force for Undocumented/DACA-mented Students recommends that colleagues in the field continue to develop shared resources and best practices in support of undocumented students to assist institutions in advising and supporting students on their campuses. This can be done either through a developed working group or a shared forum. The members of the Task Force are happy to consult with our colleagues on our institutions’ approaches and share resources developed on our campuses, upon request.

The future is uncertain for undocumented students who are impacted by the day to day rhetoric and policies that are in flux. It is up to us as educators to continue to advocate and come together to provide resources to support our students during this very unpredictable time. 

Works Cited

Dineen, J. (Feb. 8. 2017). If Trump ends DACA, here’s how many students could be affected.
USA Today College. Retrieved from: http://college.usatoday.com/2017/02/08/if-trump-ends-dca-heres-how-many-students-could-be-affected/

Migration Policy Institute. (2017). Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Data Tools. Retrieved from http://www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub/deferred-action-childhood-arrivals-daca-profiles 

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2016, December 22). Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Retrieved from https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/consideration-deferred-action-childhood-arrivals-daca

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2017). Number of Form I-821D,Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, by Fiscal Year, Quarter, Intake, Biometrics and Case Status Fiscal Year 2012-2017 (March 31) [Data file attached].

Download File (PDF)

Tags:  DACA 

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