Why You Should Really Consider Going Abroad

I have seen many posts online highlighting why studying abroad can be an enriching opportunity for anyone but I want this post to be specifically about why people with disabilities have so much to gain from studying abroad. Hopefully if you are on the fence about whether or not study abroad would be right for you, this can help provide some pros for doing so.

1. International Travel

If you have never traveled to another country this will be an excellent opportunity for you to explore what it is like to travel internationally with your disability. This can be a huge milestone especially if you are traveling independently for the first time, and will be a great learning opportunity that can prepare you for traveling in the future for work or leisure. However, I should worn you that this may not be the best experience of your trip, and I have heard many horror stories, but I share this because regardless of what your experience ends up being you will have had the opportunity to learn and navigate some of the challenges that can come with international travel. This will not only prepare you for future trips, but can help further develop your self advocacy skills.

2. Living Abroad

I alluded to this in an earlier post, but I think that living abroad in an unfamiliar country is meant for people with disabilities. We are constantly having to adapt to environments and spaces that were not designed with us in mind, and I think this gives us a leg up in international travel because we are not expecting for things to be a certain way, instead we come prepared with the tools and strategies to acclimate to new surroundings. We are accustom to asking for guidance when necessary, which can be very beneficial when trying to locate things in an unfamiliar city.

3. Connecting with Locals

Before going abroad, I didn’t realize how my blindness would tremendously impact my ability to positively engage and connect with local people. I think this can be especially true if you speak the local language, I was able to build relationships with local store and restaurant owners and employees since I frequently visited their establishments and would sometimes request their assistance with locating a table, reading the menu, or finding a particular item. however, through these small interactions we build rapport and eventually I came to know these people relatively well. Given that my academic program consisted of only U.S. students, I don’t think I would have built such connections with locals had I not been visually impaired.

Similarly, you may find yourself with an opportunity to connect with the local disability community and gain an insight into disability rights, and culture, in that country. As part of my study abroad experience, I was connected to a local school for the blind and visually impaired, which allowed me to meet some local blind college students. I was able to learn so much about how blindness is perceived within Argentina and I gained a greater understanding of the educational system for blind and visually impaired students. For this reason, if you are hoping to learn more about international disability rights, participating in a study abroad program will be an excellent way to build that knowledge and experience.

4. Learning a Local Language

I know this is a fairly obvious positive of studying abroad, but please still read this paragraph. When I say learn a local language this can mean very different things depending on your disability and your primary form of communication. For those blind and visually impaired people who wread braille, you may be able to learn the braille code for the local language. If American Sign Language is your primary language, you may have the opportunity to learn the local sign language. If you don’t use English braille or American Sign Language you can still learn these in the local language of the country you choose to study. You can also see if there are courses for you to take in a local language that is not the primary or a dominant language in the country, I took a one day class on Guarani and it was a very cool experience, and I wish I would have taken the time to explore opportunities like these further. These are just examples, but my point is that learning a foreign language for people with disabilities can be especially beneficial and rewarding as it can take many forms and look very different depending on who’s learning it.

5. Employment Opportunities

If you study abroad with a program, such as the Gilman Program, you will gain access to a large network of other program alums who may be working in international affairs or some other related field. Having access to these alums can help you build a network of professional connections simply by having participated in a study abroad program. This can be especially beneficial if you already know you want to work in the international space . With a study abroad experience you can also demonstrate to potential employers that you have the cultural and linguistic competencies to interact with individuals of varying backgrounds and nationalities, which can be further enhanced if you completed an internship or volunteered at a local organization while you were abroad. Given that in the U.S. the employment of disabled people lags significantly behind the non-disabled, I think being able to add the completion of an international program on your resume can help boost your applications for employment.

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