Thanks to her self-advocacy prior to and during her travels, the potential pitfalls Paula experienced while studying abroad were manageable. She points to two challenges in particular:
One was that her Lithuanian professors would provide a list of 15 books as suggested reading and pull information from those books for tests.
"It was impossible to do all of that reading, because I’m such a slow reader. It was difficult knowing what they expected."
Instead of trying to take in every word of the assigned reading, Paula tried to go over the headers, introductory paragraphs and conclusions of each chapter to get an idea of what different things might come up on a test.
Next, Paula recalls how the small school size - only about three rooms, she estimates - made it hard to find quiet spaces to study. Often, when studying abroad, students may find that their host campus has more noise and distractions than they are used to at home. This is especially true of buildings with less insulation in the walls or with more activity in the streets.
“I had to learn time management better because anytime I found somewhere that was reasonably quiet I had to take the opportunity. I had to allow more time for studying because I couldn’t concentrate as well when it was louder."
In addition to selective reading and managing her study time, Paula had a few other strategies that she used to her advantage.
First, she found that her Lithuanian professors were quite willing to help her when she sought them out during their office hours.
“I talked with my professors and told them ‘I’m struggling with this…’ It kept them informed, and they were a lot more willing to work with me and give me tips on how to deal with studying differently."
Paula believes that this was especially helpful because in Lithuania, formal disability-related accommodations are not as widely acknowledged as they are in the United States.
"Because I came forward, they acknowledged it more, at least in my case.”
Second, Paula’s professors provided her with note taking and extended time accommodations to account for extra distractions caused by background noises during classes. These accommodations were negotiated before she went abroad, which made all the difference, but it was up to Paula to follow up with her instructors to ensure that those accommodations were actually put in place.
“It wasn’t enough to say ‘I have ADD, this is what I need’ and leave it at that. The professors got my accommodation letter [from the U.S. college] and knew the situation, but they didn’t ask me about it or talk with me about it. A couple of the professors were a little confused as to why I had this letter from my college."
In addition to following up with instructors or staff in the host country to further explain what they need, students should know the designated contact person if accommodations aren’t working while abroad.
Despite the challenges that college students with ADD, like Paula, may face when they study abroad in foreign academic settings, their participation in these programs continues to increase. Many students reason that the positive gains from being abroad, and the acquisition of international skills in today’s global society, are enough to outweigh the barriers. This was certainly true of Paula, who completed her program thanks to her advance planning, self-advocacy skills, and time management strategies.
Still other students with ADD and/or learning disabilities may opt for short-term or faculty-led alternatives to the traditional study abroad experience. According to a 2005 research study conducted by Landmark College, such alternative programs can create positive outcomes for students with ADHD, including increases in academic and intercultural knowledge, time management, organizational skills, independence, and self-confidence. Find more about this study in Related Links below.
Preview image by brostad, Flickr Creative Commons: https://flic.kr/p/fGRwYc