My World Has Expanded

Sarah is smiling as she stands by a scenic overlook during her exchange experience.
Once Sarah Beauchamp made the decision to study abroad in Scotland, she set forth on a mission to ensure communication access - even through heavy Scottish accents!

Going to college was not an option — I had to go. I knew I was smart, and being Deaf couldn’t be an excuse to not go.

Once in college, I realized that I had not yet taken that bigger step — making choices for myself. Looking over things I could try, I came upon the idea of studying abroad. I thought it was an excellent opportunity provided by my university, not to mention a great chance to get a reality check.

I always asked for help to get through things that I felt I couldn’t do on my own. I used to depend on my mother to interpret for me when I could not understand people, and I bugged my friends to be included in conversations — I could take care of myself, but I still relied on people for outside information.

Once I made my decision to go abroad, I discovered that the process would not be simple; people in Scotland use British Sign Language (BSL). My college education is extremely valuable to me, and I knew that for me to succeed, having an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter was a requirement — not a luxury. I was very determined to make it possible and set forth in earnest to achieve my goal.

Toward the end of my freshman year at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), I went to the Disability Resource Center to let the director know that I was interested in going abroad. I explained my interests and my desire to go to a foreign country. I had my heart set on Scotland, mostly because of my heritage, but also because it was an English-speaking country.

I was met with wonderful support from the program services coordinator at the Disability Resource Center. She conducted intensive research on what it would take for me to have equal access to the opportunities my peers had. All I was asked to do was provide information I obtained from a disability resource center in Edinburgh, Scotland.

When I first heard that they had found a way to provide an ASL interpreter and had found someone who was willing to go to Scotland for nine months, I was ecstatic! 

It was amazing that there were people out there willing to work to make this possible for me. Despite my excitement over everyone’s helpfulness, my hope is that one day this becomes a standard practice at all universities that offer study abroad.

In late September, I prepared to leave everything I knew for the adventure that awaited me. I was a nervous wreck! Basically, I was terrified about traveling alone. I was relieved to see the sign that read, “Welcome to Edinburgh,” which showed that I had arrived at the correct destination. All was well so far.

Once in Scotland, it took only a short time to make me think I had made a serious mistake. I had a difficult time understanding people — Scottish people certainly have thick, heavy accents! My years of speech therapy and learning to lip read — on Americans — were practically useless. It was the most frustrating experience I had ever endured. However, I was glad to go through it, because I felt it made me more determined to challenge myself throughout my life.

In the end, I did not have any problems with the disability-related accommodations that my home university and the advisors from Edinburgh’s Disability Office provided. My interpreter, from San Diego, California, was great. We got along well, which was extremely important because an interpreter sent abroad is not easily exchangeable! I also had a scriber (note taker) who wrote everything down, which was a little too detailed at times, but still wonderful.

The only difficulties I faced in my education really were small problems with the professors and tutors. The style for writing essays and research papers in Scotland was very different from what I was used to at UCSC. So, I sought help, as I was accustomed to doing in the American system, where writing tutors or proofreaders were always available to assist with a variety of academic issues. However, my attempts at getting help were ultimately unsuccessful, and in the end, I managed on my own. It was the only disadvantage I had to face.

Besides eating haggis (which is an entirely different story), my experience in Scotland also provided me with the most amazing cultural experience: learning BSL. It was completely different from ASL. Learning and signing BSL made me feel more like I was in a foreign country, compared to the familiarity I felt when speaking English. I even ran into people at pubs who knew BSL! I was so excited and felt very liberated that I could communicate and have a good time simultaneously.

I also had the opportunity to travel all over Europe. It was amazing what I saw — almost everything I had only read about or seen pictures of were there in front of me, in lifelike marble statues to centuries-old oil paintings. My favorite place was Turkey, because it was different from the rest of Europe. The Turkish people were friendly, the food delicious and the sightseeing breathtaking.

The hilarity of people not being aware of my deafness and being astounded by how thick my “Scottish” accent was kept me amused for hours, and is something that still brings me laughter when I think back on it.

Now, I don’t worry about being Deaf. It is who I am and always will be. Studying abroad in Scotland was the best decision I have ever made. It was my personal, ultimate test to prove to myself that I could live anywhere on this planet as long as I try. I moved to Scotland by myself, created a life there, made my own decisions, and lived my life there to the fullest. It was an amazing journey for me. My world has expanded, and I grew up a lot. I have gained a different perspective, and, most important, I have more confidence in myself.


Sarah Beauchamp