Advancing Inclusion through International Research

A brick academic building at the University of Oregon. Photo credit: "JohnsonHallUO". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia. Commons
Ingrid Sala-Bars wanted to strengthen her academic research, and international exchange allowed her to do just that. Ingrid is from Spain, has a hearing loss and wears hearing aids.

MIUSA: Tell us about yourself.

Ingrid: Traveling and seeing new countries has always been one of my passions. Every summer vacation, I take the opportunity to know a new country and new culture. This seems essential to human development itself. I think that it helps us become better people and to better understand others and ourselves.

Ten years ago, I participated in two wonderful cooperation experiences in Cuba and Mexico. Those experiences taught me that, despite cultural differences, human beings are equal in essence. And it was the spark that has insisted I travel and see new cultures.

Tell us about your research exchange program.

I am a psychologist working as a researcher in the School of Psychology, Education Sciences and Sport at the University Ramon Llull in Barcelona. My research focuses on the inclusion of disabled students in higher education.

I went to the University of Oregon for a research stay. I needed to make these trips abroad to improve my knowledge and career while consolidating my research. The exchange was arranged between the two universities.

How did you fund your exchange?

My research stay was financed by a grant from my Spanish University and myself.

What was your experience living in the United States?

The experience of living in USA was very positive in every way, but especially for my research. The biggest challenge was language. Since I have a hearing loss, it is very difficult to speak and understand a foreign language. Learning to read lips in English is not easy!

In Eugene, Oregon, I met many people: teachers in the department where I worked, my English tutor and a group of people from the association working to improve accessibility at the University of Oregon. The first thing that struck me is the friendliness of the people. They always made you feel comfortable, although I noticed that in America it is more difficult to develop close relationships with people.

Did you use disability-related devices or accommodations during your exchange?

I use hearing aids to listen better. My work doesn't require anything else. I feel very comfortable as a person with a disability in the United States. I really like the high sensitivity of people towards disability, and feel more protected. I think disability is much more standardized here than in Spain.

What advice would you give to other people with disabilities considering exchange?

My experience in the U.S. increased my desire to continue living abroad. I think everyone should be able to have an international experience because you can grow professionally and personally. This experience helps to improve self-esteem and makes you stronger. Everything can be overcome with good humor!