During one of my fall semesters in college, I studied abroad in Rennes, France, on a program sponsored by the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). In addition to many great opportunities to develop my French language skills, I also explored many new places and activities that I had never had the chance to do before in the United States.
For example, during our fall break, I traveled with my friend Tyler by train to many different cities throughout France and Switzerland. This was the first time that I had ever taken a trip such as this without my family, either within the United States or abroad, and I enjoyed organizing the trip and working with Tyler to plan the itinerary.
In France, we visited my college friend who was studying abroad in Nantes, and he showed us around the city -- visiting a cathedral and a park, and even riding a giant mechanical elephant! Tyler and I also traveled to the cities of Bordeaux and Carcassonne in France, where we visited a “house of wine” and a medieval city replication.
In Geneva and Lucerne in Switzerland, we met up with some friends of Tyler’s family, and were invited to a friend’s Halloween costume party. I loved all the amazing things we saw and experienced, and as someone with a disability, traveling independently was a great way for me to grow and see firsthand another culture and the way people lived in another part of the world. It was a very liberating experience!
Early on during my trip with Tyler, I told him about my Asperger’s Syndrome, just so that he would be aware. When I explained it to him, I said it was basically a form of autism, and that people with Asperger’s have difficulties with social skills as well as reading body language. I also told him about how I have had “peer mentors” in college who are fellow students to whom I can talk about social skills questions. Tyler appreciated that I had disclosed my disability to him, and even told me that if I had any questions about social situations, I could ask him too.
"Telling him about my Asperger’s enabled him to understand my condition better, and appreciate my capabilities and gifts."
Another way that my disability came into play during my time in France involved the host family with which I was placed. My host mom was a psychologist, so she understood various disabilities, including Asperger’s Syndrome. She was pretty relaxed about me going places in Rennes on my own, just as long as I let her know, and we learned to communicate openly with each other.
Because she had an understanding of my disability, she was helpful in trying to integrate me into the community and into the life of her family. She hosted a birthday party for me at her home, which I celebrated with a number of my CIEE friends, and took me on outings to flea markets and to the Brittany beaches.
She encouraged me to try new things like salsa dancing and playing in a music ensemble, and also invited her friends and her daughter to our house, giving me the chance to meet a number of different people who were part of her life. She also had a keen sense of humor and playfully teased me from time to time.
To have a host mom who understands my Asperger’s made all the difference in my having a successful experience in France.
I hope that my presence in France and my interactions with my fellow students and professors helped to educate others about my disability and the benefits of studying abroad. I also enjoyed the experience of making friends from around the world in the classes I took at the university.
"I consider my trip to France a very significant accomplishment on my part. Although it is sometimes hard for people with Asperger’s to accept change, I was able to travel to a different country and become more fluent in another language, many miles away from my parents."
Even though my Asperger’s syndrome gives me the tendency to be somewhat introverted, I felt that my time in France learning to communicate in a different language and learning about another country broadened me, and gave me an even greater desire to interact with others and experience new cultures in the future.