Pakistan to Seattle: One student’s exchange opportunity

Muhammad, a Pakistani exchange student, and his host father, Ian, an Indian immigrant to the U.S. (Mobility International USA)

Unlike most exchange students, Muhammad arrived in the U.S. ready to immerse himself in two new languages: English and American Sign Language (ASL).

Muhammad, a student from Pakistan on a YES scholarship, is deaf. He’s one of an increasing number of international students with disabilities realizing the life-changing benefits of international exchange programs.

In Seattle, Muhammad was matched with a deaf host family. His host father Ian, who is also deaf, moved from India to the United States as a young adult and immersed himself in the U.S. deaf community in the Pacific Northwest. Ian realized he had parallel experiences he could draw upon in supporting Muhammad in his new community.

“I was in Muhammad’s shoes 20 years ago when I came to the United States,” Ian said. “I see myself in Muhammad’s experiences adjusting to life as a deaf person in America and learning to communicate in ASL.”

(Mobility International USA)

Muhammad was placed at a school that includes students with and without disabilities. This was his first experience in a predominantly hearing environment. “In Pakistan, I am in the deaf community and all my friends are deaf,” he said.

In Seattle, ASL interpreters supported his full communication access in the classroom, and at home he communicated directly with Ian in sign language.

“When Muhammad first came to the United States,” Ian said, “he told me he wanted to work as a taxi driver when he finished high school. Now, he wants to go to college at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.”

Though his past experiences were remarkably different from those of his classmates in America, Muhammad demonstrated that with access to the right services and support, he could experience U.S. life just like his peers.

You can learn more about the many opportunities for international exchanges available to students with disabilities at Lives Without Limits.

This article was adapted from A World Awaits You.