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!
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.
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? 🙂
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!