11 Travel Reflection Questions to Spark Positivity Right Now

The world feels so upside down this year. We don’t know what normal is right now. We want things to go back to how they were but have no idea when that might happen. At times it feels like we take a step forward but then the next week we take two steps back.

And the travel industry has taken a brutal hit. As I write this in early fall, some travel is coming back but it’s nothing like it once was.

In a year with so much loss and abrupt change, self-reflection might seem especially painful. Self-reflection doesn’t mean descending into a pit of despair over plans that fell apart or longing for the past. Reflection can be a profound experience that points us in a positive direction by giving us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves and look at our circumstances in a fresh way.

A lot of people have a lot to say about what travel means to them, what the advantages of travel are and what you’re “supposed to” learn from it. An overarching theme is gaining cross-cultural skills.


But travel doesn’t automatically translate into cross-cultural skills. It does give us the opportunity to develop these skills. Cross-cultural skills help us work in harmony, building better relationships in cross cultural interactions. Cross-cultural competence means you can be effective in your interactions with people from other cultures. It is about your ability to understand and engage with people from different cultures effectively. Cross-cultural competence and the skills that build that competence is a necessary part of achieving professional goals.

Let’s clarify what cross cultural skills actually are. Curiosity, being informed about the world, interpersonal communication, flexibility, patience, inclusivity and understanding your core values & how they impact your attitude/behavior are all examples of cross cultural skills.

Traveling teaches a lot of people a lot of things but what did it teach me and why does it still matter in a season or seasons when I’m not traveling internationally?

Continuously reflecting on past experiences at different points of life means that different things will stand out at different times. It’s easy to forget that reflection can help us reframe our experiences and grow. Our experiences form the stories of our lives but without reflection it’s hard to find the words to express those stories.

Don’t shy away from the powerful growth opportunity that is re-entry but don’t stop at the initial re-entry phase. There is always more to learn by revisiting past experiences through the reflection process.

 

Honest self reflection opens your mind to reprogramming, change, success and freedom.

 

Trudy Vesotsky

Seasons of life where we take a detour and nothing goes the way we envisioned it are rough and scary for so many reasons. One of those reasons that I’ve felt is the pressure to always be growing in order to stay relevant. And it’s easy to fall for the idea that growing means doing. It doesn’t actually mean that. We can grow in any season.

It’s also easy in the quiet seasons where perhaps we know we need to transition to something else such as a new job or career to feel pressure to say the right thing about our experience or skills and yet have no idea what the right thing is in any particular new or future interaction.


When we’re feeling stuck and anxious self-reflection can feel scary and create even more stress. How do we get past that mental roadblock and actually put in the work to get positive, potentially life-changing results?

If you need someone else to tell you that it’s worth it, here you go. I’m telling you it’s worth it.

Still not convinced?

By reflecting on past experiences, you can make changes that lead to more harmonious relationships, and other positive changes in any area of your life. Self-reflection and knowing yourself more intimately can help you become more confident in yourself and your actions. With greater certainty comes less stress and anxiety.

Processing past travel experiences should help you appreciate your past and give some clarity to move forward with a greater sense of confidence in understanding yourself and what you have to share with the world.


These events are part of my story regardless of how long ago they happened. They will always have an impact. It’s in the reflecting that I reconnect with their significance in my life again and again.

There’s no one size fits all approach to how to put self-reflection into action. Do what makes sense to you. Some like journaling and letting words flow naturally. My personal favorite is working through structured prompts. In this guide I’m sharing 11 questions that have really helped me to see my past experiences in a fresh way and find new words to apply what they showed me and how they shaped me to work in my current reality.

I hope this helps you refocus and reframe your experiences no matter what your current reality looks like!

Self-Reflection Question Guide

How have I stayed connected to travel and international experiences when not traveling?

How have I used travel to develop new habits?

What have I learned about people as a result of travel?

How has travel helped me improve how I react to difficult situations?

How has travel been a window to me?

How has travel been a mirror to me?

How has travel helped me figure out what I’m passionate about?

What would I include in my personal travel manifesto right now?

What Can I draw from my past travel experiences to help me in my current circumstances?

If you could use five words, how would I describe myself based on these travel experiences?

What soft skills have I gained that can be connected or represented in travel?

Disability Inclusion as Part of your Brand

Disability is a natural part of diversity. But could it be that it’s such a natural part that we’ve nearly forgotten it at times? Or perhaps there is an unconscious bias that influences the lack of disability inclusion? Why is it that even when diversity is discussed the conversation rarely addresses disability?

Why is that when these omissions are pointed out there is often an air of defensiveness taken. Are individuals or businesses as likely to be defensive if it’s pointed out they omitted a different minority group as they are towards people with disabilities? I would say absolutely not. Society (which is made up of individuals) is far more vocal about failures to include other minority group than people with disabilities.

What potential biases are at play? What holds people back from actually practicing disability inclusion and how can we break through those barriers? Why in 2020, do we struggle to re-examine why we don’t talk about disability inclusion let alone actually be people who are disability inclusive?

If we say we communicate what we value, what are we saying when we don’t communicate about disability? Seriously. What are you communicating by continuing to shy away from communicating about disability; by continuing to only talk about it on a case by case basis? Hint: it’s not that people with disabilities are as valued as anyone else or that the issues that effect us are as valuable. Yikes! That’s a dangerous message.

Individual Ideas Working Together

Do we stop and think about how individual ideas (or bias) ultimately work together to create group ideas, company ethos, and brands. Individual ideas have power. Committing to understanding diversity and inclusion requires a group effort and a group understanding. Group dialogue about the importance of disability inclusion and the practical implications is an important step. Taking stock of what bias exists in the group is essential to working through the bias and embracing new ways of thinking.

Embrace the Power of Welcome and Information

Everyone wants to feel welcome; like they belong. Marketing campaigns are created based on the idea of making people feel welcome. If a person doesn’t relate to see themselves represented in the marketing campaign then they’re probably not going to interact with that brand in the future.

And why would they?

Your brand should say people with disabilities are welcome. You’re probably nodding your head right now. Of course, we want to be welcoming but how exactly do we do that on a practical level. After all, it’s usually those practical steps where our intention to be welcoming to a diverse audience falls flat and our actions end up not matching our intentions.

What Are You Communicating Without Saying Anything

Are you really communicating that a particular group of people matters when you aren’t addressing them particularly when talking about diversity topics?

Inclusion is about valuing individual contributions and providing the opportunity to participate. Simply put, an Inclusive International Education office provides meaningful involvement and equal access.

Inclusion means everyone is accepted, welcomed, and has a sense of belonging.

Let’s be specific about goals rather than simply saying we are working to diversify out staff or the students we work with we should be more specific about what that diversity actually is and make sure that in that conversation people with disabilities are included. This change in perception can result in more substantive conversations and strategies.

Why is diversity part of our values? For whom are we creating an inclusive environment? How will we ensure that inclusion is not just a talking point?

Provide with resources in the pre-departure process that help them understand their own identity and prepare them for differing cultural norms and viewpoints in their host country.

Assess Specific Inclusion Challenges that Exist to Increase Diversity

What specific challenges do you face in making inclusion a reality? Is it lack of education? A small budget? Physical barriers? Small staff? Something else…?

The first step is always to broaden your awareness (education). The best way to educate yourself on disability topics is by listening to people with disabilities. It is absolutely vital that the people who live it everyday are the ones sharing their experiences and recommendations with the world.

When it comes to budget/staff constraints and physical barriers always keep an open mind. Inclusion inherently involves all of us. Solutions can exist in the most unlikely of places and can be far more simple and inexpensive than you originally thought if you keep an open mind and actively commit to the value of inclusion.

Images and information/stories posted to websites, social media and in printed media needs to communicate disability inclusion! Website accessibility or lack there of communicates inclusion too!

Small changes can make the difference in terms of who is able to access your message. Don’t underestimate that!

It’s time for people with disabilities to be recognized as valued members of the global community. Commitment needs to be shown through action right now. Not at some point in the future when we think it will be easier. 2020 has taught us anything it’s that we need to adapt to change. Let’s take that attitude of adapting forward into the future.

18 Examples of Disability Inclusive Marketing in Study Abroad

Everyone wants to be inclusive. Being inclusive is being respectful and welcoming.

But in practical terms what does being inclusive look like? How can disability topics be addressed outside of one-on-one conversations with an individual? There are a number of strategies you can use to market study abroad programs in a disability inclusive manner.

Here, I have laid out specific examples of ways to be inclusive of people with disabilities on a website. There are a lot of options to suit different departmental and organizational dynamics.

While this guide highlights two websites for each strategy you will notice that many of these websites use several of the strategies outlined here. For the sake of highlighting each specific strategy I have intentionally chosen to focus on grouping the examples by strategy rather than dissecting every strategy used on each website.

I hope these examples encourage you to find practical ways of being inclusive of people with disabilities in your study abroad program marketing in the future!

Provide a PDF guide

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Provides a PDF document specifically guiding students with disabilities through the study abroad process in detail.

Santa Barbara City College

Provides a PDF guide to study abroad for all students with a section of detailed information dedicated to students with disabilities.

Provide detailed questions to consider

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Provides detailed questions for students to consider which are organized by category.

University of California

Provides detailed questions to consider which are organized by disability type.

Provide detailed info for various disability types

Western Michigan University

Provides links to travel information produced by Mobility International USA based on disability type.

The Ohio State University

Provides detailed information based on disability type including specific action steps.

Provide a welcome video

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Shares a short video (~4 mins) with interview clips from study abroad alumni with disabilities sharing their experiences.

University of Minnesota

Shares an orientation video (~11 mins) specifically for students with disabilities explaining the study abroad process.

Link accommodation request forms

St. Olaf College

Provides a link to the student accommodation request form in PDF format.

Babson College

Provides links to the student accommodation request forms in electronic format. There are two different forms for different program types.

Provide detailed program information

IFSA-Butler

Provides detailed, non-disability specific information organized by country with specific program details such as typical housing options.

University of Minnesota

Provides detailed accessibility information for select university sponsored (developed) programs around the world. Check out the Site Accessibility Questionnaire to provide similar information about programs.

Provide links to additional resources

AIFS

Provides links to other websites to give students with disabilities more information on study abroad.

Texas A&M

Provides links to other websites including the Transportation Security Administration (airport guidelines) and International Narcotics Control Board (country specific guidelines on medication regulations) to give students with disabilities more information on study abroad.

Provide a detailed explanation of disclosure

API

Explains why disclosure is important and how disclosure is helpful in a non-intimidating manner. How staff will be able to assist students with program information when accessibility needs are disclosed is clear.

Emory University

Explains disability disclosure and accommodations through a series of FAQs. This is located specifically on the Office of Disability Services webpage and a link is listed on the Office of International & Summer Programs webpage. There is also a link to electronically request a study abroad accommodation letter from the department.

Share stories from alumni with disabilities

Northwestern University

Provides tips from students with disabilities who have studied abroad in the form of a Q&A.

The University of Iowa

Provides reflections on study abroad experiences from students with a variety of disabilities in a searchable database. Linked here is the disability tag but there are other diversity ambassadors in the database too.

The Essential Guide to Understanding Disability Disclosure in International Education

Disclosure is sharing something that was previously unknown. Disclosure is complex and influenced by more factors than may be realized. Factors such as self-identity, personality, disability type, context, and previous experience all color the topic and experience of disclosure. It’s complicated but learning about what really colors the topic is an important first step in truly addressing disability disclosure in practical, effective ways.

Different Views of Disclosure

While international education professionals always prefer as much information as possible as early as possible students are often weary of the impact of providing that information. Students are naturally weighing the need/benefit of reasonable accommodation against the cost of labeling, potential discrimination & differential treatment.

It’s important to evaluate what you regard/accept as disclosure. Many think that a specific disability label will provide all the necessary information. Therefore, the expectation becomes knowing the label. Be careful with this idea! People with the same disability can have varying issues and varying ways of working through the same issue. Knowing the label doesn’t mean you know the individual’s unique set of issues or their unique preferences.

Another issue at hand is a person’s comfort level with disclosing a specific disability label. As previously mentioned, there are several factors that color the issue. Previous experiences can cause fear when disclosing a specific disability label. Fear can also come from wanting to be in control of what information is made public (disclosed) and what information remains private. There may be some elements of a condition a person doesn’t need accommodation for or assistance with and wishes to keep private.

When you disclose you are intentionally releasing personal information about yourself for a specific purpose. It should also be noted that the internet is fraught with cut and dry details about various disabilities that often sound incredibly intimidating and offer no real world context. There are a lot of worst case scenarios out there that aren’t prefaced as worst case scenarios which can often lead to misconceptions. In light of living in the digital age many people with disabilities can be hesitant to disclose a label because maintaining control over what their issues what their issues aren’t is important and once a detail has been disclosed there can be unintended consequences. Unintended consequences that then need to be dealt with.

On the other hand, it’s important to know how a disability may impact the experience. Figuring these details out is a far more practical approach. Knowing how the disability may impact the experience and what accommodations may be needed can be learned without asking the title of a disability. This approach involves guiding a student towards thinking thoroughly about not only needs but also how you go through your everyday life.

Disability is defined and viewed differently in different cultures. This will impact outgoing students (study abroad) who are used to a high level of inclusion and access to certain accommodations that may not be common or easily available in some countries. This will also affect incoming international students in a way that many don’t realize. Learning disabilities are not commonly diagnosed in some cultures. That doesn’t mean that they don’t exist though and students find their own personal coping strategies. Compound this with an education system that may have different standards and it’s entirely possible that a student with a learning disability can find themselves studying at a foreign university. Once that student is at a university in a country that more readily recognizes learning disabilities you may find that a student has developed coping strategies that actually constitute plagiarism or other form of academic dishonesty in the host country. It’s food for thought when dealing with those situations that an undiagnosed learning disability may be going on.

While it may seem like a person with a disability is going to easily be able to say exactly what they’ll need abroad this isn’t exactly reality. We all have aspects of our everyday lives we take for granted and easily overlook. It’s also difficult to anticipate what will or won’t be available abroad. Starting out with a detailed picture of how you go about your everyday life can help you advocate for what you’ll need abroad and find alternative accommodations when necessary. I recommend the Access Information Forms from Mobility International USA to help guide students through the process. Also, check out the the Advisor Guidelines for general information about what each question on the Access Information Forms means as you plan accommodations.

Practical Strategies to Create a Culture that Supports Disclosure

Include disability when talking about diversity

Don’t forget to mention students with disabilities when mentioning other diverse groups. Making the excuse that there aren’t that many students with disabilities compared to other diverse groups highlights the lack of opportunity. When people with disabilities see evidence that they are welcome they are far more likely to openly disclose!

Provide resources on website

Students are likely going to be drawn to start a conversation and ultimately participate by the information provided on a website. What information is there or not there can speak powerfully to what a department or organization’s priorities or values are. If students with disabilities are not included in written materials, especially when other diverse groups are, it can create the impression that either students with disabilities can’t go abroad or that the department or organization doesn’t value working with students with disabilities. These are not messages that should be going on! Linking to websites such as The Global Access Files and Mobility International USA are a great start. Providing specific information to students with disabilities about the process is also important.

Be descriptive about program details

Remember that a lot of details that are helpful to students with disabilities are helpful to students without disabilities too. Being descriptive about program details helps students gain a better understanding of whether or not a program is a good fit for them and also what details they need to disclose, how they want to disclose those details, and what accommodations need to be set up. Just like disability disclosure itself should happen as early as possible detail disclosure should happen as early as possible and often will help disability disclosure to occur.

Build personal understanding of accessibility needs

While there are certainly individual needs and individual preferences in meeting those needs there are also some commonalities. Being informed about common issues and needs will help program professionals communicate in a more effective manner to a diverse audience, increase the likelihood of disclosure and participation, and success international experience.

Understanding disability disclosure takes an understanding from all sides. Understanding the complexities of disclosure gives each and every one of us the opportunity to connect with each other on a deeper level and find practical ways of achieving a common goal. Whether you have a disability and are considering studying abroad and are concerned about disclosure or you’re an international education professional I hope these thoughts on disability disclosure in international education can be a catalyst to a positive and impactful experience.

A Quick Guide to Beginning to Address Disability Questions in Study Abroad

There are so many variables to consider when anyone goes abroad. Many times the additional variables that people with various disabilities bring to the table can feel even more intimidating for both the person considering go abroad and the professional helping them through the process. Obviously, each person is a unique individual disabled or not. There are so many ways to meet the same needs or challenges and a single disability can mean variety of different practical realities in a variety of people with that disability. Disclosing the need for accommodations is an essential part of the process. But disclosure can be more complicated than meets the eye. Not only can there be fears of being judged or rejected; sometimes it’s hard to know where to start asking for accommodations in a new environment that isn’t very clear before detailed information has been given.

What is Disclosure?

First, let’s address what disclosure is. Disclosure in its simplest form is the act of making previously unknown information, known. Disability information is protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The information shouldn’t be used to screen out students from participating but fears can still remain to the contrary. Initial health questions that are often included on initial (conditional) applications are a way of essentially making a preliminary assessment of a situation. While this officially is not meant to be used to screen out students with disabilities many are still concerned about that possibility. After the application is accepted, generally called “conditional acceptance”, the predeparture planning process where specific needs are discussed and accommodations are planed begins.

There’s also another form of disclosure that many professionals may overlook which happens if a student wants to make a general face-to-face inquiry about a program or feels the need to ask accessibility related questions before filling out an application as part of their exploration of study abroad. It’s crucial that professionals realize the potential difficult emotions that students may be faced with not only during the more detailed disclosure that happens during the predeparture planning process but also the potential disclosure that is included on many initial applications when health questions are included. It’s a sensitive issue and it can be hard to know how to ease the worries while not making assumptions, generalizations, or giving inaccurate information.

But what kind of details can be given without getting into the murky waters of assumptions, generalizations, perceived discrimination? How can organizations catch the attention of people with disabilities and create an environment that leads to people being open about what their needs are? Here are the topics I suggest you consider including more readily in your program marketing both written materials, class presentations, and program information provided online.

What is the location like?

Urban city center, suburban neighborhood, rural area, close to a beach? Does the terrain have lots of hills or is it mostly flat? These differences could have a profound impact on how a student envisions not only whether or not they participate but how they envision some of their key needs.

What is the daily schedule/academic schedule generally like?

Any details about how the program is structured can be helpful! Knowing what sort of course load or amount of time spent in the classroom is valuable. Some students benefit more from a flexible schedule, others benefit more from a structured schedule.

Are excursions part of the program or are students responsible for any excursions?

Some programs involve excursions to learn about and explore various places in the host country as a group. Others do not facilitate these supplemental learning experiences outside of the classroom. As with any student, one format may make more sense to an individual than the other format. Some like the idea of independent exploration. For others this could be really intimidating and group excursions could be a better format to meet their needs.

What are the transportation options?

Transportation options can be an intimidating factor in deciding if and where to study abroad. An international experience is often the first time some are experiencing public transportation. To do this in another country that has different accessibility standards can be extremely difficult. Having an idea of how reliant you would need to be in one program versus another can help students make a wise decision about what the more realistic options could be. Accessible transportation option details add another layer of consideration but having a basic understanding of the usual options can either calm concerns or guide an individual to a different option. For example, needing to take a bus across the city from the housing to the university presents a different accessibility picture than the housing is typically located across the street or a couple of blocks from the academic building. A student may have a different reaction to either of those scenarios and knowing those scenarios will help guide those early decisions.

What are the housing options?

Similarly, do students typically live in dorms on-site, home stays, or apartments? How close are the housing options typically from the academic building? Of course, there can sometimes be an alternative arrangement made to accommodate individual needs. But it can be a significant concern for a student wondering upfront what the housing options are and how they’re usual needs fit into that typical scenario.

Are meals provided or are students responsible for finding/preparing their own meals?

Depending on the environment/location it can potentially be problematic to need to go out for most meals or to prepare your own versus having access to a campus cafeteria or meals provided by a host family. Knowing early what the typical expectation is can either guide a student in choosing that program or knowing that this is a detail where an alternative accommodation needs to be requested. For example, a host family may not typically be required to provide lunch. But if a student with a physical disability is situated in a location where it is more difficult to get around independently it may be good to ask the host family to provide lunch for that student.

What is the technology situation in this location?

If a program is in a remote area where technology/electricity is quite minimal or the electrical outlets are different it can have a serious impact on a student who uses assistive technology such as a power wheelchair. Many times solutions can be found but being aware of the technology in-country gives a student another idea of what to expect and what they need to be sure to address. If you haven’t been abroad before you may not always think about the electrical outlets being different and how that can potentially impact you.

Other Details to Address Early

There are other details that are more disability specific which may not need to be widely addressed but are common topics students with various disabilities. These are great details to include on a welcome page on a website specifically addressing disability issues. These details could include the following list.

What are the host culture’s attitudes towards disability and are disability accommodations common/well developed?

The answer to this will vary from country to country. But it is still important to provide general information to help students prepare. Mobility International USA is a great resource for individual stories of people with disabilities’ experiences traveling all over the world.

What questions about disability might an individual need to be prepared to answer in the host language?

Students are often accustomed to addressing questions about their disability. These same opportunities may come while abroad and it is worthwhile to be aware of basic vocabulary and phrases to address these situations. Writing common explanations about your disability and specific needs in the local language can be very helpful as well as practicing speaking those basic words and phrases that may need to use to communicate.

What are the guidelines for bringing prescription drugs?

This will vary from country to country but providing guidance in where to find that information is important and can help students be open about their need and prepared for anything they need to address concerning prescription medications. The following link from The International Narcotics Control Board provides country by country information and this list of U.S. Embassies around the world. Most embassies give prescription drug information by clicking on the “Medical Assistance” section under the “U.S. Citizen Services” tab.

What are the laws concerning service animals?

Similarly, the laws concerning service animals varies from country to country. This can be a particularly difficult detail to find concise country by country information online. Check out this article from Mobility International USA for a step by step guide on how to travel with a service animal and be sure to also consult the additional links at the bottom of the article for a list of foreign embassies. Some embassies list service animal information while you will have to email others for that information. Verifying specific airline requirements is another necessary step and this information is typically easier to find on the airline’s website.

Was that so scary? I hope not! See, the same things that are helpful to people with disabilities are also helpful to people without disabilities. While disclosing these to people without disabilities may fall into the “Thanks, that nice” or “that’s interesting” category these details could be the difference between a person with a disability declaring a desire to participate or disclosing non apparent needs. Then there are some specifics where it’s a good start to provide preliminary, general information that can lead to individual, specific conversations. Let’s commit to finding ways to encourage disclosure that go beyond saying, “we encourage early disclosure!” Let’s be committed to a culture of diversity where unique details are highly valued!

Cultivating a Plan for Re-Entry After an International Experience

So, you’ve gone abroad and returned home or you’ve sent students abroad and they have returned home.

Now what?

What did that experience mean?

What do you do with the feelings that have come up upon returned home?

You might be reading this after returning home and you’re feeling stuck. These thoughts and tips are meant to guide you towards a plan to process what you’ve already experienced.

If you haven’t gone on your international experience yet please be open to thinking about developing a plan for after your experience even right now before you leave. It is never too late or too early to cultivate a plan for re-entry after an international experience. It’s also not too late for professionals to recommit to re-entry programming either.

Process your experience through journaling or conversation

International experiences gives us all sorts of emotions and dimensions to think about. Don’t keep it all up in your head! Processing experiences happens most concretely through expressing ourselves. For some this may mean writing things down in a journal while others process experiences and emotions better through talking with someone. Most of us will process through a combination of the two. When we write down our experiences and emotions we are more likely to remember them.

Share your story with others

Whether it’s a program provider organization, a college or university, disability organization, or an any number of online publications, share your story! Any of these groups would love to hear about international experiences. Don’t be afraid if it isn’t all sunshine and roses either. Real life happens even while abroad. GoAbroad and Transitions Abroad are specific organization that loves to have returnees write for them!

Continue to practice new skills

International experiences give you opportunities to gain new skills. Some of those skills are called soft skills such as creative problem solving, teamwork, and cultural understanding. Other skills are called hard skills which are practical, tangible skills such as self-management skills and presentation skills. Then there are skills such as new activities and interests you pick up during a time abroad such as subject interests, creative arts, sports, and other leisure activities. Don’t abandon these activities upon returning home. Find ways of staying involved and connected to these new interests and skills.

Add your experience to your cover letter and résumé

Don’t forget to add your international experience to your cover letter and résumé. Many employers appreciate applicants who have international experience. Be sure to emphasize the skills gained through the experience rather than simply a synopsis of what you did.

Volunteer or work with local NGOs

Connect with local organizations that support causes you have an interest in. Channel the international experience into serving in your own backyard.

Get involved with groups connected to the host country/culture

Learning about and interacting with the host culture doesn’t need to end upon return home. Find local groups or events connected to the host country/culture to continue learning. Learning about (and from) an immigrant community in your local area can give you another perspective on international affairs.

Be patient and communicate even in random situations

International experiences cause people to grow and learn new skills. Unfortunately, not everyone at home is on the same page in realizing that. There will be times when people still make assumptions about what you can’t do. It would be nice if international experiences were the remedy to that common occurrence but unfortunately it’s not. Sometimes you may get the opportunity to share that you’ve been abroad and maybe a bit about what you learned/gained. Other times you may not get that opportunity. Sometimes those situations happen so quickly it’s hard to know what to say no matter how many time those situations happen! Regardless of the situation try to be patient.

Write an action plan down on paper

Thinking about specific actions is a great first step. Writing down specific actions on paper is even better. You are 42% more likely to accomplish a goal if it’s written down. This action plan from World Learning (SIT Study Abroad) is a great tool to get those actions down on paper.

Re-entry can be a beast of an issue to tackle. It can also be easy to dismiss re-entry issues in favor of preparation and on-site issues. But re-entry issues need their time in the spotlight. Spotlighting re-entry issues gives us opportunities to re-evaluate our thoughts, consider new ones, and evaluate coping strategies. I hope you feel more equipped and committed to investing in a strong plan for re-entry moving forward.

Cultivating Mental Health Awareness in International Education

Mental health issues are a complex and often overwhelming set of issues in the international education world. These issues have been around all along but in recent years they’ve come out of the shadows. That’s a great start! But as mental health issues come out of the shadows we are faced with so many questions! These questions can leave people feeling overwhelmed, stuck, and ultimately defeated. But if we stay stuck; if we stay on the periphery of mental health issues in international education then we make little progress with these issues. We can all agree that staying stuck and making little progress is not a sufficient way forward.

But what are the key aspects of mental health in international education to even be aware of? Why do those points matter? And what can be done to facilitate mental health inclusion in international education?

Let’s explore all of those elements together!

Different cultures have different understandings of mental health issues

Traveling exposes people to different ideas and understandings. Sometimes this is great. Other times it’s frustrating. And sometimes it can have a serious and profound impact on life. Different cultures have different understandings of mental health. In some cultures mental health conditions are not publicly acknowledged and understood while others are quite open and understanding. This has an impact on how mental health issues are accommodated which is something to be aware of depending on a person’s own needs and the nature of the program and travel situation.

Research and explore the host country as much as possible before arrival

Before arriving naturally you want to know about the host country in all sorts of ways! As fun as this is, it also serves to decrease some of the anxiety of an unknown place. Throughout the experience getting out and exploring is an important part of the the learning experience.

Research access to mental health services

Mental health providers may be available in the local community. Here is a list of English-speaking providers in many countries. Along with identifying a local provider it is a good idea to purchase insurance and verify that it covers such services.

Research laws and policies about medications before you travel

First of all, it’s important to keep taking any prescribed medications while abroad unless a psychiatrist advises otherwise.

Second, research the host country’s policies on what prescription drugs are or aren’t allowed into the country and what kind of permissions/official documents are needed to legally transport needed medications. Also, be aware of the amounts of various medications that are allowed. The country’s ministry of health is a good place to look for that information but it may be found in other places in some cases.

Be aware of program/classroom policies regarding attendance

How many absences/tardies are allowed? This is a valuable piece of information. Knowing those limits can help a person make decisions about when it’s ok to take a day off when needed and when to work through current difficult thoughts/feelings/emotions.

Have an in-country contact person to share concerns with and consider self-disclosing to others in a group

Finding someone connected to the program to share mental health information with and check in with on a regular basis is valuable. This person could also be helpful in case of emergency. A local contact could also serve as a guide to local culture and services. Self-disclosing a mental health condition at the beginning of a program can create opportunities for others to better understand access needs which can be helpful.

Have a plan to keep in contact with friends and family

Be intentional about setting a plan to keep in contact with friends and family at home. Check out this post for more thoughts and tips on making a communication plan.

Strategies used at home can sometimes be used abroad too

For all the talk about needing to be flexible and learning new coping strategies or new accommodations there are still times when strategies used at home work abroad too. People who are accustomed to finding coping strategies and accommodations at home have great potential to be very successful while abroad. Being mindful of what you need and how you’re feeling and being open to finding solutions is key whether at home or abroad.

Culture shock is a natural part of the experience but disability can add another layer to culture shock

Culture shock is a common experience for any traveler. Another term for this experience is the intercultural adjustment cycle. Homesickness, loneliness, and other uncertainties about the host culture are common issues. At other points of the cycle it is common to to experience very positive feelings. Continuing medications regardless of those feelings is important. Recognizing that a mental health condition or other disability will present situations that heighten those feelings at times is an important part of the coping process too.

Learn vocabulary related to your health needs in the local language before arriving

Just like learning basic ways to communicate; it is good to learn vocabulary associated with a mental health condition or any other disability. You never know when you will need an accommodation, be asked a related question, or have some other reason to share. Knowing that vocabulary in advance will increase confidence in those situations.

Draw or get a map of the area

Becoming familiar with a local area is a huge step in feeling relaxed there. Whether you get a map or draw your own having one on hand can help you relax and enjoy yourself a bit more. Let’s face it, not everyone enjoys the idea of getting lost in a new place. And that’s ok! If you buy a map be sure to mark it up with personal landmarks and locations that are important to your experience (ie. the street you live on and where your classes are). Having a map can definitely increase confidence and a sense of adventure. If new surroundings is a particular struggle then having a map is a really important coping tool.

As complex as mental health issues are they don’t need to be overwhelming to the point of inaction. Everyone needs to manage their mental health. It’s a universal issue. Some deal with more acute mental health issues. There are a whole host of elements to mental health to be aware of.

Yes, it can be overwhelming at times. But when we commit to understanding mental health and implementing strategies to cope with a range of mental health issues we unlock so much potential! Successful coping strategies make for successful international experiences. Successful experiences unlock countless doors to countless opportunities moving forward. Understanding mental health issues in international education will unlock new doors of participation from an underrepresented population. Everyone should have international experiences and understanding mental health issues is a key part of making that happen.

Cultivating Self-Advocacy Skills While Abroad

Have you ever fallen for the idea that self-advocacy involves only one person?

You aren’t alone if you said yes.

But I want you to step out and consider another perspective on self-advocacy at least for a moment.

Our lives are lived in community with other people and our actions and conversations are influenced by others and influence others. Yes, self-advocacy is about a specific person declaring their needs and desires. But that one person is in community with others. What, why, and how the individual is advocating is influenced by the words and actions of others and the self advocate’s words and actions will have an effect on others too.

We don’t live in vacuums and we don’t self-advocate in vacuums either. Understanding self-advocacy is for everyone because you will be affected by being in community with people exercising self-advocacy skills. Therefore, cultivating an understanding of self-advocacy skills is for everyone.

Self-Advocacy while in another culture is a balancing act between being open & honest about what you need & respecting the host culture

Living in another country involves learning to navigate another culture in many different ways. That often means negotiating between living in a way you are accustomed to and learning new ways of living. When it comes to navigating different interpretations of disability and accessibility, self-advocacy involves a balancing act. Some situations can’t be quickly changed. For example, I often encounter very steep ramps. I can’t exactly change that with a snap of my fingers or a quick conversation. In the moment that situation involves me asking for and receiving help. In that moment I’m self-advocating for an immediate need. In some moments I may be able to briefly mention something about how that limits independence. I experience the same sort of thing when it comes to curb cuts. On that front, I’ve been in a situation where the host family I was living with noticed the problem and recruited a family friend to make a curbcut on the street we lived on. You never quite know what people’s response will be but sometimes the response is amazing!

Moments of self-advocacy can also present challenges in terms of cultural assumptions and stereotypes. At times this may mean you don’t have an opportunity to voice your desires or views. While this can be part of navigating a host culture it is also painful at times. It’s worth remembering that regardless of your stake in the situation.

Self-Advocacy while abroad may result in having to figure out different resources/ways of doing things than what you would advocate for at home

A different culture involves navigating different resources and accommodations. The process to receive certain accommodations may involve formal paperwork and through specific, official channels in some countries while in others it could be an informal conversation with a staff member.

The host country or program may lack basic services and infrastructure to provide accommodations such as wheelchair accessibility or sign language interpreters. Alternatively, accommodations common at home may be too costly in the host country. At times you may find that some common accommodations are even illegal in another country. This is particularly common with medications. Gathering information about what is or isn’t available and what laws exist is a very important step in developing an accommodation plan and finding potentially new solutions to meeting needs.

Self-Advocacy while abroad works best when there is an open conversation with other stakeholders

Conversations should start as early as possible. In part, this means that people with disabilities should disclose their disability as early as possible. But it doesn’t stop there; actually it doesn’t quite start there either. The other part of the accessibility conversation that needs to start early is in how programs are marketed. Check out this article for details on inclusive marketing strategies. Not only are people with disabilities more likely to participate when program staff are explicit about inclusion, but are also more likely to accurately advocate for what they need. The program providers hold a lot of knowledge of the program structure and physical details about the destination. Sharing these details first in the marketing and then with individual participants helps people with disabilities to have a better idea of what may be needed and how they need to advocate for themselves from the start. When details are not known self-advocacy is hampered and that leads to frustration on all sides. Being proactive about knowledge sharing is an important way to promote positive and productive self-advocacy experiences which translate to positive and productive predeparture planning and on-site experiences for all involved.

Practicing self-advocacy while abroad can lead to greater confidence and success in situations at home upon return

Traveling presents so many unique opportunities to grow and learn and that growth and those lessons can and will impact a person for a lifetime. The truth is it can also cause some frustration because other people at face value don’t know you went abroad and have x y and z skill and can handle a wide variety of situations. Let’s be honest, not getting credit for what we know we know is so frustrating.

But the self-advocacy lessons we learn abroad translate to very similar situations at home. While we are in an environment that is familiar and likely meets our needs more so there is often room for improvement, needs still exist, and information still needs to be shared for one reason or another. It’s like a muscle that needs to be exercised on a regular basis.

Self-advocacy takes an understanding from all sides. Sometimes the lessons we learn about self-advocacy are hard but they are always valuable. Understanding self-advocacy gives each and every one of us the opportunity to connect with each other on a deeper level. Working together works so much better when we can connect on that deeper level. Whether you have a disability and are looking to self-advocate while abroad or you’re living life alongside someone with a disability I hope these thoughts on self-advocacy while abroad can be a catalyst to a positive and impactful experience.

Understanding and Supporting Self-Advocacy While Abroad

Raise your hand if you think that self-advocacy is a simple, one-dimensional thing. Raise your hand again if you think that self-advocacy is something that people with disabilities can do without support from those around them. Based on my own life experience with self-advocacy both at home and abroad I can emphatically report that self-advocacy is not a simple, one-dimensional thing. There are so many layers to it and directions you could go in unveiling and discussing those layers. I can also wholeheartedly report that self-advocacy impacts more than just me and therefore having a team of people around me who is a aware of the complexities of self-advocacy is important. So, let’s unpack the layers of self-advocacy specifically related to international travel.

Balancing Speaking Up and Respecting Cultural Differences

Balancing communicating when you are ok with being independent and when you need help is an everyday kind of skill for many people with disabilities. Navigating a new culture adds another layer to that balance.

Some situations call for going with the flow and accepting different cultural norms. Other times, you need to speak up and insist something is or isn’t done a certain way especially if it involves health and safety. Sometimes there is an opportunity to share your thoughts on the situation (ie. that you can do the activity independently or there’s a different way you’d like someone to help you) but sometimes advocacy doesn’t achieve the immediate results you were looking for.

The beauty of international travel is not only the traveler’s exposure to new cultures and ideas but the exposure people in the host culture get to the ideas that the traveler brings with them. Respectful exchange of ideas and experiences is paramount to advancing disability inclusion on a global level.

Accommodating Usual Needs

Accommodating your usual needs may or may not be met in the way they are at home. This might sound like a simple concept but it has potentially complex ramifications in terms of self-advocacy. Different situations call for different responses. That fact in and of itself is an important point to let sink in. There are no hard and fast rules about self-advocacy, but being aware of the complexities can help.

Researching a destination and specifically learning about how accessibility and accommodations work for people with your particular disability beforehand will make for a smoother transition. Working through the most high priority accommodations before arrival is important. Having a general idea of some of the unique challenges you may encounter in the new environment will allow time to prepare with new ideas and potentially new kinds of equipment.

Researching in advance can also give time to emotionally adjust to some of the realities that accommodation changes can potentially bring up. As worth it as it is to get out of your comfort zone, difficult emotions can and will come up in the process. This is normal but it sometimes hurts. Being honest about that and giving time and space to adjust to those realities and emotions helps.

Advocating for New Needs As They Arise

New needs may arise as a result of factors in the new environment and accommodating those new needs requires creativity and open-mindedness. Whenever possible, communication about how the new environment is set up or how an international program is organized can help potential participants anticipate some these new needs and plan ahead to some extent.

Factors in the new environment are going to dictate some of your needs. For example, at home I can get around my town because I have I can drive and I can use a public bus when needed because I know it will be wheelchair accessible. When I am going shopping or running any other errands I rely on curb cuts, ramps, and elevators. If those things aren’t there then my ability to access my world is limited and I need someone’s assistance. These are the things you may experience in a new country that may call for different accommodations than what you do or use at home.

Self-advocacy isn’t just about advocating for the accommodations you have at home. It’s also about advocating for the new/different accommodations you need based on factors in the new environment. The process of accepting those differences takes time and it’s good to talk about it. Nothing truly happens in isolation. Anytime a traveler is experiencing issues with cultural adjustment it isn’t going to potentially affect others around them. Cultural adjustment is a natural thing that everyone goes through in some way. Communicating about cultural adjustment can help whether it’s letting emotions out or asking for some sort of advice/assistance. Life often works better when we are working together and that happens through first communicating and then committing to doing what it takes to learn from and support one another.

Supporting Self-Advocacy

So how can others in the travel process support self-advocacy? Being aware of the complexities of self-advocacy is a huge first step. Once we are aware we can take action steps. Providing details about the location and program not only supports an inclusive marketing strategy but it also supports potential participants with disabilities to advocate for their needs. Building in solid communication opportunities to existing processes with travelers invites travelers with disabilities to share about their needs and experiences at various points of the experience. These conversations can lead to being able to work through issues that an individual experiences and learn and make improvements for the future.

Awareness is key to self-advocacy. Awareness means self-awareness, awareness of others, and cultural awareness. It’s complicated! Patience and communication are important parts of each layer of understanding, supporting, and working through self-advocacy.

Cultivating an Inclusive Marketing Strategy

If you are an international educator or work in the international travel industry you probably spend a significant amount of time marketing your programs. I mean, how are people going to know what they are about and catch the vision that they belong in them if you don’t sell them on it through your marketing campaigns? And behind your marketing campaigns is some sort of overall marketing strategy, right? You have some sort of plan of action and reasons to back it up that support your overall goal of seeing more people participate in your programs and go abroad. But do you ever think about marketing your international programs to people with disabilities? Perhaps not… yet. When we do things in new ways we open ourselves up to new opportunities and new results. If you’ve been struggling to find new ways to cultivate an inclusive marketing strategy this list of strategies is for you. If you’ve never given it much thought and are skeptical about making your marketing strategy inclusive of people with disabilities this list of strategies is for you. If you are a person with a disability and you want to see organizations be more inclusive this list of strategies is for you.

If you are mentioning other underrepresented groups you need to be mentioning people with disabilities.

The fact that you want students of all backgrounds to participate in your programs shouldn’t be a secret to anyone. It should be blatantly stated that anyone is welcome to participate. It is good to be up front about your desire and willingness to work with people with disabilities. Communicating how people with disabilities can disclose their needs and work through accommodation requests is an important topic to be up front about because it’s something a student is going to be thinking about before they approach an advisor. Giving them some information about how the process works before they approach you can help open the door to conversation. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Minnesota  have great examples of how to do this.

Information that is helpful to people with disabilities is also helpful to people without disabilities.

Working one-on-one is obviously important and it is part of the equation but in the marketing phase information needs to be available that causes potential participants with disabilities to start a conversation and disclose their specific needs. There is information that people with various disabilities need in order to make an informed decision about whether a program or destination suits their needs. That same information is useful for people without disabilities although they may be able to be more flexible in terms of how that information impacts their decision. So, what kind of information could  you naturally address that would potentially help draw more people with disabilities in while also benefiting everyone else? Details about program/academic structure, support services, physical terrain, housing options and transportation details are all great ways to draw people with disabilities into having a conversation about participating.

Work with Disability Services Office or Local Disability Organization to gain general knowledge about general needs.

It’s true that no one person knows everything and this is also true of departments and organizations. If we are going to create inclusion we need to learn more about what that means and how to do that. That means networking! If you are coming from an international education, international development, or travel background look for resources that specialize in disability issues and learn from those resources. Check out this post for a list of travel related resources to get started. If you work in a university international programs office make a point to build a relationship with your campus’s disability services offices by sharing information about your programs. Networking with these departments and organizations will also help you get your program information out to the people with disabilities who are already accessesing services through them.

Remember that as individuals declare a desire to go abroad you will have opportunities to work through the individual details but people with disabilities need to have enough information from your marketing information to make their declaration.

In order to increase overall participation of people with disabilities, we need to be willing to explore general disability and accessibility issues before a specific student inquires about a program. Being proactive about learning about these issues in our programs allows us to be able to communicate about these issues openly. Being open about information is an important part of recruiting. If you gather general accessibility information about programs then you are able to communicate in a way that can create more interest amongst people  with disabilities. Then when you have individual situations you can build upon what you already know and make adjustments based on individual circumstances. Exploring general issues involves being generally aware of course/exam set up options, transportation options, housing options and how those options meet diverse needs.

Your marketing strategy sells your programs to people. It gives people a glimpse of how they fit; how they belong in your programs. If they don’t see themselves represented they aren’t likely to participate.

You want to make sure you’re marketing strategy is inclusive of all the diverse people you ultimately want participating in your programs. People need to know that they are seen and valued on the onset and then they will enter into a conversation about participating. If the marketing doesn’t look like it is talking about a certain diverse group then people of that diverse group are less likely to participate. Intentionally looking for ways to restructure marketing strategies is at the heart of ensuring that diverse groups see themselves participating.

Breaking the idea of an inclusive marketing strategy down into actionable steps we can make it a reality in whatever we do. It’s important to start with a positive mindset and a commitment to the end result of increasing diverse participation in international programs. When we know the steps we can take to do that we are empowered to take those steps and make those changes. Cultivating an inclusive marketing strategy doesn’t need to be overwhelming and you can still respect individual privacy and individuality. But making sure marketing strategies are inclusive of people with disabilities leads to inclusive marketing campaigns which leads to increased participation by people with disabilities in the long term. If you make the commitment and inclusive marketing strategy you will find more and more opportunities to work with people with disabilities and truly make international education something that is for everyone.