In the summer of 2007 I had the opportunity to join a group of students traveling to Costa Rica on a cross-cultural exchange on disability rights through Mobility International USA. This was the first time I really got to experience disability and its sense of community. Suddenly I had validation for the feeling that I was not "wrong" in being disabled, but that society or the powers that be were wrong in disabling me. I came away from the experience feeling empowered and passionate, and determined to live by MIUSA's motto of "Challenge yourself, change the world." I went away to school and immersed myself in the disability community at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, feeling confident in my identity as a person with a disability. I plastered my dorm walls with reminders from my Costa Rica trip, and constantly repeated the motto to myself when I became unsure of trying new things.
Arriving in DC and meeting so many amazing leaders in the community, I am realizing simply having the motto of "Challenge yourself, change the world" is not enough. The leaders here who are forcing change and raising up our community do not simply wake up certain mornings and say, "I guess I'll try a new challenge." They live it, they breath it, they love it. At times I got the impression it is not even a way of life they think about, but a gut reaction. At their core they know they want to change the world for our community, and they challenge themselves in every action to bring about change. I have been so inspired by all the leaders who have taken the time to mentor us and give us advice. And I hope through my time in DC this summer some of this "challenge fever" will rub off on me.
My internship will be in Senator Durbin's office this summer. I am a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Go Illini!) where I study English and Political Science. I will also be studying abroad this fall at the University of Nottingham (home of Robin Hood and the Sherwood Forest) in England.