Spirit participant shows why disability inclusion is important in international exchange: Part 2

May 28, 2020
Differences in accessibility 
In addition to attitudes towards disability, Mitchel says she noticed that schools are more accessible in the U.S. The school she teaches at has ramps, elevators and accessible parking spots. 
“In the Philippines we have similar parking but non disabled people use it. We didn’t have ramps because I was working in a public school. We didn’t have elevators, so I had to walk up stairs. It is hard for the students with disabilities too, like those who use wheelchairs.”
According to Mitchel, the schools in the Philippines try their best to provide accommodations, but they are not common in public schools. 
Teaching in the U.S.
She has also noticed some differences between teaching students in the U.S. and the Philippines. 
“The kids in the Philippines are very respectful and very obedient. When I came here at first I had trouble with classroom management. When I would give the kids work to do they would say ‘why do I have to do this?’. Mitchel said she had to work to build rapport and gain their trust.
Her American students also love learning about her Filipino culture. She taught them a few words in Tagalong and had them meet with one of her students in the Philippines to share more about their culture.
 Mitchel in Her Classroom
Mitchel at her Host School
Here she has 18 students with various disabilities that are all learning at a different pace.
“They are 4th and 5th grade age but they are below the average level. So I’m teaching them based on their level. I pull them out 3-4 kids at a time. They might be at a 1st grade level or a 3rd grade level so I’m giving them material based on that. I’m teaching them the foundation.” 
Mitchel pulls her students out of their general education classes based on the amount of time designated in their Individual Education Plan (IEP). 
An eligible student is any child in the U.S between the ages of 3-21 attending a public school and has been evaluated as having a disability. The process begins with a full evaluation that shows a student’s strengths and challenges. The results let families and schools create a program of services and supports tailored to meet the student’s needs.
Serving as an inspiration to students and friends
No matter what country she is teaching in, her students look up to her. She shows them that she is not limited by her disability.
Mitchel Exploring Arizona
Mitchel exploring Arizona
“My students say ‘Miss D when I grow up I want to be a teacher like you’. It’s very fulfilling. If I could touch people's lives, that would mean so much to me. When I see kids with disabilities conquering obstacles, then I know I am making a difference to them.”
Mitchel is also an inspiration to her friends as well.
“My friends in the Philippines say, ‘Wow Mitchel you have a disability but you are able to conquer other countries and make friends… you’ve gone so far.’ I’ve been here 8 months and I've learned so much. I’m overwhelmed by everything I am experiencing.”
It's stories like Mitchel’s that remind us the value of international exchange and the importance of including people with disabilities on these programs. We should continue to strive towards making exchange programs accessible to all and the ADA has been instrumental in helping to achieve this. 
Special thanks to Shannon Kelly for her work on this piece, as well as Mitchel Deramas for sharing her story and photos. Click here to read Part 1 of this post.
For more information on Spirit’s Teacher Program, visit:

Spirit participant shows why disability inclusion is important in international exchange: Part 1

May 21, 2020
Throughout 2020, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) will celebrate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 30th anniversary. The goal of this year-long campaign is to highlight the State Department’s commitment to promoting equal opportunity for people with disabilities through ECA exchange programs.
In honor of the 30th anniversary of the ADA, Spirit would like to highlight Mitchel Deramas, a participant on our J1 Teacher Program. 
For Mitchel, the triumphs of disability advocates that came before her have paved the way for her to excel not only in the classroom, but with her students.
Background on disability rights in the U.S.
Judith Heumann, now a well known disability rights activist, was a recent college graduate in 1970 trying to acquire a teaching license in New York. She was qualified in every way, however the New York City Board of Education found her unfit to teach due to her physical disability. 
Judy decided to appeal their decision and Heumann v. The Board of Education of the City of New York began. She eventually won and received her license but she did not stop there. She continued to fight for disability rights and was a key player in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. 
The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life including jobs, schools, transportation and all public and private places that are open to the general public.
Thanks to the diligence of Judy and others, the U.S. is a better place for people with disabilities in 2020. The ADA protects teachers across the nation with disabilities and even has an international reach. 
Meet Mitchel Deramas, participant on Spirit’s Teacher Program
Mitchel Deramas is a teacher from the Philippines that came to the U.S. to teach through Spirit’s J-1 Teacher Program. The program offers U.S. schools the opportunity to welcome qualified international teachers to their faculty for 1- 3 years. She currently teaches 4th and 5th grade special education at a school in Arizona.
Mitchel Teaching in Arizona
Mitchel teaching at her host school in Arizona
Mitchel has an orthopedic condition known as a “bended leg”. This makes walking and climbing stairs difficult for her. It was actually because of her disability that she decided to become a special education teacher. 
Becoming a special education teacher
“When I was growing up it was my passion to teach. When I was in 6th grade I was teaching my younger nephews. I said okay I’ll try special education because I have a disability. I will be teaching kids with disabilities and I want to be an inspiration to them and show them they can be successful too.”
When applying for the J1 Teacher Program, she said she disclosed her disability during the interview with the school and was pleasantly surprised by the response from the supervisor. 
“In the U.S. you don’t have to prove yourself or explain that you can do it regardless of your disability. They see my ability of what I can share and bring to this school.”
Mitchel at a Local Restaurant
Mitchel and her American colleagues at a local restaurant
Mitchel explained that it wasn’t so easy in the Philippines, she had to prove that she was capable of teaching with a disability. 
“In the Philippines, when I applied to a private school, they saw my appearance first and not my ability. They had more questions about what I could do because of my disability.”
This is part 1 of a larger piece by Shannon Kelly. Part 2 will be posted next week. Click here for more information on Spirit's Teacher Program!

Summer 2020 Update: COVID-19 Planning and NEW Virtual Programs

Apr 30, 2020

Spirit continues to closely monitor the status of COVID-19 and provide on-going support to our participants in the USA. While many participants were able to recently return to their home countries at the end of their programs, participants still in-country should continue to follow the guidance from the U.S. Department of State, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and World Health Organization (WHO), as well as their local municipalities and home country consulates in the USA. We are thankful for our incredible network of international partners, as well as our caring Host Companies, housing providers, and community support groups that have stepped up locally to help ensure our participants’ immediate needs are met until they are able to return home or resume their programs.

For participants whose programs are scheduled to begin this summer, we are working together with our cooperating Host Companies and housing providers to put appropriate procedures in place to ensure each participant’s health, safety and welfare while on the program. We will update our international cooperating partners, enrolled participants and Host Companies as we have news to share about our summer arrivals.

NEW! Virtual Programs
While we continue to plan for the resumption of our programs this summer, Spirit has also developed an exciting new line of virtual exchange programs! These unique programs are geared towards international university students interested in taking part in an American exchange program without leaving home. Our virtual programs include:

Interested applicants can check out our virtual programs online and consult with their home country office for more information!

COVID-19 Urgent Update for Current Participants

Mar 20, 2020

At Spirit, our number one priority is the health, safety, and welfare of every participant, and we are working with each to develop a plan that best achieves that as we navigate the current unprecedented crisis.

Following are Spirit’s current recommendations to our participants in the USA:

  • Spirit Advises Immediate Return of all Active Participants
    Considering the increasing numbers of COVID-19 infections worldwide and in the USA, Spirit participants currently in the USA are advised to return immediately to their home countries unless travel restrictions prevent it. Participants who have not yet been in touch with their Spirit representative to discuss return travel home should call Spirit at 1 800 390 0978 or email
  • Staying Safe
    All participants currently in the USA are advised to follow the guidance of their local authorities and that of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO), particularly with regards to hand washing and social distancing measures. Participants should not be congregating in groups and should try to distance themselves as much as possible from others to ensure their health, safety, and welfare until they can return home.

Any participants in need of assistance should contact Spirit at 1 800 390 0978 or

Winter Photo Contest Winners - Week 9

Mar 13, 2020

From exploring new towns to enjoying new experiences, this has certainly been a summer that our participants will remember for a lifetime. For the final week of our Summer Photo Contest, we wanted our participants to share the highlight of their Summer Work Travel experience. The category was "Your Favorite Memory," and we received a wide range of memories showcasing the best of what the United States has to offer. Check out our winning photos below!


1st Place - Maria L., Argentina

Winter Park Mountain Lodge in Winter Park, CO

Spirit Participant Maria L.


2nd Place - Abhay J., India

The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, WV

"Meet me in Times Square"

Spirit Participant Abhay J.


3rd Place - Justina A., Argentina

Island Ventures in Avalon, CA

"The most beautiful day on the planet"

Spirit Participant Justina A.


Winter Photo Contest Winners - Week 8

Mar 6, 2020

During their time on our Summer Work Travel and Internship programs, many of our participants make their closest friends while working and interning at their host companies. Coworkers and managers have the potential to become family, as well as lifelong friends. Our theme for Week 8 was "Your Boss and Coworkers," and this week's entries certainly proved the power of international bonds. Check out our top three photos below!


1st Place - Patricia G., Philippines

YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, CO

"My 1st time, and I scored! Woohoo! Played Broomball game with my Front Desk/Conference team vs. Programs team!"

Spirit Participant Patricia G.


2nd Place - Maria G., Argentina

Winter Park Mountain Lodge in Winter Park, CO

Spirit Participant Maria G.


3rd Place - Mary C., Philippines

The Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, VA

Spirit Participant Mary C.

Winter Photo Contest Winners - Week 7

Feb 27, 2020

This week's theme was "Cultural Activities," and our participants sent us some great photos ranging from famous landmarks to popular American restaurants! Below are our top three photos from Week 7.


1st Place - Jeanne F., Brazil

Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort in Wisconsin Dells, WI

"My friends and I visiting the Statue of Liberty in NYC."

Spirit Participant Jeanne F.


2nd Place - Antonio B., Brazil

Mountain Creek Resort in Vernon, NJ

"Me and 2 friends went to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. There we learned more about the history of ancient civilizations of the continents of the world, about animal life and also endangered species."

Spirit Participant Antonio B.


3rd Place - Maria S., Argentina

Island Ventures in Avalon, CA

"My place in the world"

Spirit Participant Maria S.


Be sure to check out our other finalists from Week 7:

Winter Photo Contest Winners - Week 6

Feb 21, 2020

This week we asked for "Keeping Warm" photos, so we can what our participants are doing to stay warm during their winter in the United States. You can see our top three winners for Week 6 below.


1st Place - Marina P., Brazil

YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, CO

"I’m lucky for having beautiful eyes because just they are the only thing visible with all these clothes."

Spirit Participant Marina P.


2nd Place - Patricia G., Philippines

YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, CO

"Miami hits my skin from the freezing weather of Colorado!"

Spirit Participant Patricia G.


2nd Place - Samuel D., Brazil

YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, CO

Spirit Participant Samuel D.

Winter Photo Contest Winners - Week 5

Feb 14, 2020

This week's theme was "Your Town/Local Landmarks," and we received some great photos of our participants exploring everything that their communities have to offer! From tourist attractions to natural landscapes, each state has something to discover. You can see our top three picks below.


1st Place - Alejandro R., Mexico

ThyssenKrupp Bilstein of America in Poway, CA

"Making new friends at Borrego Springs, San Diego, California."

Spirit Participant Alejandro R.


2nd Place - Palash D., India

The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, WV

"Escape the ordinary!!"

Spirit Participant Palash D.


3rd Place - Santiago P., Argentina

Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole in Teton Village, WY

"Snow King is one of the most important places in Jackson Hole. In this picture you can appreciate the beautiful town in the background!"

Spirit Participant Santiago P.


Be sure to check out our other finalists from Week 5:

Winter Photo Contest Winners - Week 4

Feb 10, 2020

This week's theme was "Winter Fun," and our participants sent us some great photos of them enjoying the abundant snow this season! Below are our top three photos from Week 4.


1st Place - Maria C., Peru

Safeway in Vail, CO

Spirit Participant Maria C.


2nd Place - Julia S., Brazil

Chula Vista Resort in Wisconsin Dells, WI

Spirit Participant Julia S.


3rd Place - Valeria P., Peru

Safeway in Frisco, CO

"Go far away... Live!"

Spirit Participant Valeria P.