This summer I had the opportunity to study British Government and Politics at Imperial College in London, England. This was a dream come true because ever since childhood, I have always wanted to travel around the world, to see new attractions, to taste new foods, and to be immersed in a new way of life.
Ever since I lost my vision at the age of fifteen, I thought this would be an elusive hope that would never become a reality.
Fortunately, this all changed when the study abroad office at Fresno State presented in one of my classes. I knew instantly that this was my opportunity to travel into the world while simultaneously fulfilling my desire to compare two political systems. This was the start of a long, but worthwhile journey.
Peering back to this past summer, I would have to emphasize three main points that made a difference for my success abroad: preparation, advocacy, and sociability.
Even before entering the study abroad office, I needed to consider where I wanted to study, for how long, and what courses to take. Once accepted, I needed to tell my disability office, the disability office at the host university, the director in charge of the students, and the instructor of my courses I was coming and what I needed related to my disability, so that everyone was able to prepare for my arrival.
Because I initiated contact earlier rather than later, I was able to get my textbooks and other course material from my professor in advance. This allowed my disability office to convert these items into accessible format before my arrival in London.
During my first week in London, I quickly learned that the traffic patterns were reverse and drivers were a lot more aggressive than in the United States. Being aware of this helped me stay safe and alert. Also, coins are more widely utilized in London than in the United States. I sought assistance from others to identify the different denominations until I could do this on my own. .
I learned there will be obstacles when attempting to study abroad as a student with a visual impairment. I had to convince the disability office, the study abroad office, the dean of the study abroad office, and the organization hosting the study abroad program that I was a capable individual who could navigate the streets and live independently in a foreign country.
Before and once I arrived in London, I contacted the host university’s Disability Advisory Services (DAS) and was quickly denied services both times. I was determined to remove this barrier for future study abroad students with disabilities and myself, so I scheduled a meeting with the director of the DAS. At this meeting, I learned that as long as you are a student at a British institution, the disability office must provide you services. This led to me receiving academic and mobility services while in London and formed a relationship between the University Study Abroad Consortium and the DAS.
I wanted to make the most of my time while overseas. For myself, the best part of my study abroad experience would have to be the students. Because we were all from different countries, we supported each other and became a close-knit community. I enjoyed exploring the streets of London, visiting tourist attractions (London Bridge, Stonehenge, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle), and tasting new cuisine (fish and chips, afternoon tea, ethnic foods, and more).
Creating long-lasting friendships and having others to socialize with in a foreign country enriched my experience.
This may sound cliché, but study abroad did change me. Not only did I gain so much insight into a different culture, but I grew as a person. I stepped out of my comfort zone and improved my preparation skills, advocacy, and sociability. I learned there may be obstacles, but the end result is worth the effort.