Featured Person: Zachary Grove
Meet Zachary. As someone who represents diversity through disability, socioeconomic background and academic focus, Zachary was awarded a Gilman Scholarship to fund his studies in Cyprus.
Name: Zachary Grove
Age During Exchange: College junior
Disability: Chronic plantar fasciitis and achilles tendinopathy. The tendons in my feet and calf muscles are basically too short for my legs, which causes pain when walking or standing for a prolonged period of time -- a challenge particularly when traveling.
Host Country: Cyprus
Program Length: One semester (4 months)
Program Type: Study abroad and internship with my sponsor program, Global Learning Semesters
About Me: I am a college junior, a Marketing major and Writing minor at Alfred University in upstate NY. I grew up in Rochester, NY. Previously I have traveled to Belize, St. Thomas and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean for family reunions and vacations; I also studied abroad for three weeks in China prior to my full semester in Cyprus.
I became interested in international exchange after my business professor required our entire class to attend an informational meeting on study abroad at Alfred. That meeting dispelled some of my misconceptions about studying abroad, and I realized that school-sponsored travel is not just for students from wealthy backgrounds or majors in foreign languages. Besides traveling, I am interested in music composition, fantasy football, Buddhism, psychology, and juggling.
Was your international exchange experience arranged through an exchange organization? If so, what was the application process like?
The application process was easy. There was an application fee, so it is important to know where you want to go before you try to apply to a bunch of programs. Once I was accepted, however, they arranged almost everything for me except some paperwork, booking my flight and packing my bags. Exchange organizations are extremely helpful at every stage of the process.
If you received any scholarships, stipends, or other funding for your exchange, who provided them?
I received one merit stipend through my program and I also received the Benjamin Gilman Scholarship.
What were your concerns as you prepared to travel? What kinds of resources did you use to address these concerns (MIUSA/NCDE, website, advisor, book, etc.)?
Some of my pre-travel concerns included how university credit abroad would transfer back to my home college, overall cost of traveling, and having the proper paperwork (letter of immigration, immunizations) to be admitted into the country. My dean and advisor at my home university lessened my concerns about transferring credits, while I relied on websites like worldtravelguide.net to figure out what paperwork was needed.
What was your experience living in the host country? Please share your impressions of housing, transportation, activities, cultural attitudes towards disability, and your strategies for navigating abroad. What was a highlight or a favorite memory?
My experience in Cyprus has been wonderful. I had an apartment arranged through my program, which is modern and spacious, while transportation and culture have all been different yet challenging and exciting. The bus system is wildly unpredictable, for example. Activities in Cyprus are diverse; the close proximity of mountains and beaches allows one to literally go skiing and swimming comfortably in the same afternoon. Teachers and people in general are amiable. I was permitted to audit a yoga class and take Latin dance in addition to my regular courseload for free. Cyprus is also a haven for other international travelers. A favorite memory of mine was going to a house party and meeting other students from Finland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Latvia, Jordan, the UK and all over America.
Did you use assistive devices, adaptive equipment or disability-related accommodations during your exchange program? Were they helpful to you in your new environment?
I don't use assistive devices for my plantar fasciitis, although I recently ordered a night splint to wear to bed in an effort to relieve some of the added pain of walking around more. A lot of the stretches I have to do are assisted by household items like a belt or tennis ball, which I do actively use.
Did you document your experiences? Please share your travel weblinks, if you have any.
I have been documenting my experience through a great program called Reach the World, which pairs student travelers with younger students in American schools who then follow the travelers' journeys through their photography and writing. I was paired with a great group of special needs students in a New York City school called MS80. The link to my Reach the World blog can be found here: http://www.reachtheworld.org/journey/9131
Thinking back, what do you wish you had known before you began your journey?
I wish I had known about the limited availability of job opportunities for international students in Cyprus, and that there are university clubs and workshops that I could have participated in. For example, by the time I learned about a weekly class to learn Greek, it was already several sessions in. However, I feel like I did my best to prepare, and so I harbor no regrets. What I wish I had done more from the beginning is take more photos...you can never take too many photos.
What were the benefits of the experience, and how has your international experience informed your future plans?
The benefits of the experience are timeless--a growing, worldwide network of friends, newfound creativity, strange and funny encounters, a look at the United States from the perspective of outsiders, a chance to honestly re-evaluate and reinvent myself, as cliche as that all sounds. Words can't really convey. My future plans as a person and as a professional are clearer, if for no other reason than having gotten a change of scenery to objectively think about what I want to do with my life.
Do you have an exchange or disability-related question for Zachary? Emailto contact him.