My Random Musing’s Guide to College

This post is not intended to simply regurgitate the advice that your councilor will provide when you choose to make this transition. Rather, it is intended to emphasize why you should really plan ahead to ensure a successful college experience.

This is it. This is my last week of undergrad, and I’m only emotional because I’ve been through a lot. I am publicly reflecting on my experiences because I want at least one person to profit from them. So, without delay, this is My Random Musing’s Guide to college for all blind people. I will try to not give such abstract advice, but some lessons are hard to really grasp unless you learn them the hard way. I know that I’ve written this disclaimer in my post excerpt, but I need to stress that I’m only one blind individual. Some people are more prepared than I am. Regardless, if you find yourself entering college blind and have no idea what to expect, this post is for you. Similarly, if you feel like the stress of college is impacting your experiences, this post is for you.

Advice #1 Study hard, but not at the expense of your social life and well being.

Don’t be so focused on proving to everyone that you’re just as intelligent and capable as the rest of the students. Do your best, eat, get drunk with your friends once in a while, and have a great time. Perhaps get a job on campus, join an organization, do a service learning project. If you feel like you’re sacrificing activities that you love in favor of good grades and you need to prove something to everyone, it’s time to step back and evaluate what you are working towards.

Advice #2 Know how you travel and learn campus public transit

Can you believe that my ONM instructor did not teach me all the available bus routes running on campus?

I was taught routes that required me to think 24-7 about specific landmarks, counting how many blocks I’ve walked, and turning at very pacific angles. In this sense, my orientation skills failed me. I am much better at judging distance. I was paranoid that if I missed a landmark or something, I’d be so lost, and since my ability to concentrate entirely on my surroundings is practically nonexistent, I had to teach myself other ways to get around campus. Investing a lot of mental energy in traveling from place to place was really starting to take its toll, so I eventually inquired about the public transit system on my campus. If it seriously doesn’t occur to you to ask these important kinds of questions, ask questions such as, where does it run? Where will it drop you off? How frequently will it run? Is there a paratransit system on your campus and are you willing to rely on it? At first, I was really embarrassed to take paratransit because I assumed that people would judge me if I used a door to door service. The first time I took Paratransit, my driver idly commented that my final destination was five minutes away from my pickup destination. I initially did not realize how close my destinations were, so I was naturally embarrassed I had taken Paratransit at all. Needless to say, I avoided a door-to-door service for a long time.

⁃ But seriously guys. If you have a lot of studying to do and you find that you’re expending too much energy getting lost and trying to find your way, take a bus or use the free Paratransit service. In the end, it’s frankly a waste of time to insist on retracing your steps by yourself, and then stumble into class with little energy to spare.

Advice #3 The Alternative Media service is your best resource.

The Alternative media Center aims to provide course material in an alternative format. It is recommended that you request your accommodations accordingly in order to have course material in a timely manner. The Alternative Media Center staff will follow your requested accommodations to the letter. It is important to note here that they will present material in the most literal way possible unless you specify otherwise. In other words, if there’s a figure or image, the staff will describe all the details, which can obscure the objective learning goals for the class in question. It is for this reason you should contact your professor as soon as possible and discuss your requested accommodations. Your professors will respond positively with vague messages like, “please let me know if I can assist you in any way.” It is your job to send any image descriptions or really anything you don’t understand and inform them you’re overwhelmed by the details. Politely ask them to explain the significance another way; they will work with you.

In the same way your professor cannot help you with the content if you don’t ask your questions or voice your confusion, he also cannot clarify the content in a different way if you don’t tell him you don’t understand the presentation. My suggestion is to share with your professor how you best learn so he can help you focus on what’s important; you can make necessary adjustments, and then communicate them to Alternative Media. Let your professor collaborate with you. The professor can gain a valuable insight into your learning processes and can thus dedicate more time helping you productively learn. If you’re not comfortable spending so much time in your professor’s office or you feel like you’re emailing him or her too much, remember that he is getting paid to see you succeed. On another note, do not feel perturbed by comments such as, “I can’t slow down the class for you” because you’re not asking for help with the intention of “slowing down” other students’ progress. In other words, don’t feel offended by comments that are not even relevant to your questions and concerns because you need to learn this material somehow.

Advice #4 Do not, under any circumstances, succumb to peer pressure and define your limits based on what other people can accomplish.

Know your limits. Seriously. Just because you’re blind and intelligent does not make you a machine. My friend once casually mentioned that she felt lazy only taking 12 credit hours. Therefore, I decided to take 18 credit hours and work two jobs. I am a very anxious person and I work pretty slow, so that semester ended very badly for me. … I kept my jobs and that’s about it.

Don’t focus so much on fitting in with everyone that you try to spread yourself too thin. Some people can handle it. I’m not saying that just because you have a disability, you are incapable of taking a heavy course work and holding two jobs all in the same semester. What I am saying, however, is that I knew I was going to suffer that semester, but I chose to proceed anyway because I did not want to be perceived as lazy. To make a long story short, I paid for it… This goes for everyone: you should think carefully about overexerting yourself. Graduating on time, making a lot of money for an undergrad, or taking fun classes is great, but not if you mentally collapse from the strain.

Advice #5 Go out and leave your academic obligations back at your apartment.

Go to a party and drink with your friends because you will never be responsible for drive anyone home. College isn’t just about good grades. It’s about making friends, having different social experiences, discovering yourself, networking, and scrambling to find things to put on your resumé. 😉 As a blind person, I had a typical college experience. I laughed, I cried, I learned a lot about myself. I hope that you feel comfortable embarking or continuing your education, and I can only hope that my advice will help you be a success. Good luck with whatever you choose to study. Remember to never let an obstacle serve as an excuse for not following your dreams. That being said, be practical and keep your limits at the back of your mind.

My Post Study Abroad Advice

This post is written for current/future blind people who wish to study abroad.

If you know me personally, you know that I have been dreaming and scheming of studying abroad ever since I chose my major or grado. This blog post probably doesn’t apply to you, but you can read it if you wish.

If you don’t know me personally, but would like to read reflections on a blind girl’s study abroad trip, I’m your girl.

If you’re just interested in inspiration porn, read at your risk. I make no promises my study abroad trip was that inspirational.

So, hypothetically, you’re blind and you want to travel abroad but you’re nervous and intimidated? Yes, I felt the same way. I felt like I needed multiple reassurances that I was going to be successful and able to cope with the abrupt change of cultural and geographic scenery as well as the added challenge of overcoming a language barrier. I was afraid that I was going to be crippled with fear and, as a consequence, be too afraid to leave my room solita. I was afraid that I was juggling too much, and I constantly worried I wasn’t ready for this leap. My track record for adjusting to new environments was not promising.

But I made it in one piece relatively unscathed. Not only did I learn to lay my previous fears to rest, I learned a lot about the Spanish language and culture – in fact, I was practically integrated into family life and Spanish customs; I learned what it is to be a nicer and more considerate version of myself; I learned more about professional development; I made lots of friends; and while doing all this, I had a fabulous time.

The question, then, is always, “how did you prepare yourself to ensure a successful study abroad trip as a blind person?”

The answer isn’t really that simple. A lot of it depends on you, and not all the prep work is directly relevant to adapting as a blind person. The key is to trust that you’re confident you are capable. Trust me, there isn’t much room for self-doubt. You also need to remind yourself that studying abroad is something you really want to do. It makes the process a lot smoother.

Below is a brief list to help you prepare and adjust. This is a list I wish I had read, so I hope you find it useful!

Pre-departure.

1. Contact university or agency

This is an obvious step, so I’ll keep my comments brief. Clearly articulate your needs. After, make your accommodation requests. What can the agency provide to help you adjust quickly? What services can the agency offer? Etc. These questions vary from person to person, so use your judgement.

2. Talk to a supportive family member, friend, or professional

You won’t always think of everything on your own, so it’s always helpful to talk to a couple of people you trust. I probably don’t need to spell this out explicitly, but I will because I think it needs to be said. Talk to someone you know will help you plan and strategize productively and give constructive recommendations. We all have those friends who are fun, supportive, and we love them for it, . . . but at the end of the day, they think you’re a walking inspiration….. In other words, “you’re going to be great” will not suffice.

3. Know your limits.

This piece of advice is pretty self-explanatory. Be aware of what you are capable of doing on your own, and don’t be shy to ask for assistance. In addition, be prepared to have flexible limitations; you never know what will occur when abroad. On another note, if you’re confident enough to travel and explore on your own, go for it! Those memories will stay with you forever.

Departure

4. The flight

Flying is the easy part. The airport employees briskly escort you through security and to your gate. Enjoy the freedom of not thinking while it lasts 😉

Alone and abroad, or are you?

5. Don’t be afraid to ask

This doesn’t just include services you just realized you’ll need. When you’re living and hanging out with locals, you should do your best to live like a local. They probably won’t say anything to you until you ask. No question is trivial. They’re happy to explain and show you how to gesture (and not gesture) like a Spaniard. When in Spain, guys!

6. When you don’t need help, but people think you do

I don’t know what differences you’ll encounter in other cultures. In Spain, I let Spaniards help me some of the time. It is in their nature to help.

Here are a couple of situations with examples:

a lot of people have lightly touched my wrist and walked me across the street. That’s it. You can’t really object because you don’t have time and you’re in the middle of the street. Let it go. Thank them and move on.

A lot of people have just grabbed my arm and asked if I needed help. Maybe the person in question had no qualms invading my personal space in this manner, but I did, obviously. I didn’t care if this was Spain or America; suddenly grabbing a blind person like this is clearly not acceptable. Happily, you can handle this kind of situation like you would in the states. Politely ask them to not grab you like this and show them how to assist a blind person.

It’s not so different and overwhelming, is it? 🙂

Conclusions

Everyone is adjusting

When studying abroad, everyone is adjusting to a new language or culture. If you think about adjusting in this way, studying abroad as a blind person really isn’t that intimidating, is it? You have to prepare, but you have to prepare for everything, such as job training, college, moving, and even day-to-day tasks. why should study abroad be any different?

The most important thing is to commit to whatever you want out of your study abroad experience and have a great time!

¡Suerte!