Going abroad for a semester or a year is a huge decision. It is an even bigger hurdle if you are a student with disabilities. Everyone goes through a period of doubt and fear about moving to a completely new country and culture. But for students with disabilities, there are even more things to consider. This article will serve as a guide for all students with disabilities who want to study abroad.
Starting a Master’s program is an exciting and career-oriented decision. Students go through the whole application procedure similar to their undergraduate days. Everyone who starts this journey will have to become informed about how to get into grad school, how long it takes to get a master’s degree, how much a master’s degree costs, and how to study for the TOEFL, GRE, or GMAT.
Enrolling in a master’s program will advance your career and you’ll get a higher salary. To have an even better experience, some students choose to study abroad. Studying abroad has many benefits, but it is also quite challenging.
1. Make A List Of Possible Study Abroad Countries
If you have decided to spend some time studying abroad, you most likely have a few preferred places. In addition to the places you would like to attend, contact your university to also see what countries they have academic relationships with. When your home university has official ties to another foreign university, coordinating your study abroad experience will be much easier and you won’t need to submit as many documents or go through a myriad of procedures.
Make a list of countries you want to go study abroad. This can be based on your field of study, a renowned foreign university, a specific curriculum of a program, or even just based on the fact that you always wanted to visit that country. There are no restrictions in this phase. Add in the countries your university also has ties with, and you have completed the first step successfully. You have a list of places you could go abroad and now it’s time to narrow it down by applying different criteria.
2. Research Disability Laws And Regulations
Every country has different laws and regulations regarding people with disabilities, the support, and infrastructure that is provided to aid them. Not all of them will be inclusive and similar to your home country or state. Some countries might not even have basic support, which is more likely to happen in developing countries, so you should thoroughly research each one on your list. You will innately have a list of criteria about things that a country should offer you based on your particular disability.
Through doing this research, you will end up eliminating many of the countries that do not offer you enough support through their legal framework for your own disability. This step is incredibly important, since you do not want to go study abroad in a country which does not even legally require infrastructure for mobility disabilities, such as wheelchair ramps, let alone other accommodations for other disabilities. If you started with around 7 to 10 countries in the first step, you will most likely halve that number in this step.
3. Research How Universities Accommodate Students With Disabilities
After you’ve narrowed down the countries, you will have to pick universities you want to go to from each place. You will most likely choose based on your field of study, the curriculum, and faculty that they have. However, you must also research their accommodations for students with disabilities. If you need a wheelchair, look whether there are accessible entries and toilets. If you have vision problems, look into how the university provides study and lecture materials, etc. You can check the university’s website or contact the administration and professors to find out more.
Not all universities that you want to go to will provide the assistance you need for your particular disability, so you will have to remove from your list the ones that don’t fit you. Another option is to try and find a solution together with the university. Most of them will absolutely want to know what they can do to make you feel more comfortable, so you might even be able to start some sort of change within that university. Otherwise, at the end of this step, you will only have a handful of places where you can study abroad, and this will make it much easier to choose.
4. Discuss With Your Home University On Their Assistance While Abroad
This is also quite important. Even on your study abroad semester or year, you will still be registered as a student at your home university. They will get your grades and transcripts from your study abroad university so that they count towards your credits. Almost all universities encourage their students to expose themselves to different cultures and have new experiences. But few of them have been in a position where a student with disabilities was going to study abroad. This is a relatively unexplored territory, so you will have to discuss it with them.
Talk to the university’s disability office and the study abroad office to discuss what kind of help or assistance they can give you while you are away. This may be as simple as having someone check up with you regularly about your experience, or at the very extreme, assign someone to accompany you. You and the university staff will discuss terms and will come to a conclusion that is favorable for both parties.
5. Look At The Culture Of The Countries In Terms Of People With Disabilities
Not all countries in the world are as developed as to be accepting of all disabilities. It’s an unfortunate fact, but it’s true. That is why you must also do research on the culture of the country you want to go to. Universities might be more accepting, but you won’t always be on campus and your interactions will extend to other people. So it would be a lot better and more convenient if people in that country are accepting too.
Since you have already researched the laws and regulations, it might be that your list includes countries which already have a foundation of acceptance and respect for people with disabilities. However, it’s good to do your research and eliminate the ones that seem uninviting. To do this you can go online, in various forums, or even ask the university staff about the culture and atmosphere towards people with disabilities.
6. Talk To Others Who Have Gone Through Similar Experiences
The best way to know how the countries you want to go to study abroad really are, is through talking to others who have had similar experiences. The university can put you into contact with other students who have disabilities, or you can find people online. You can ask them any questions you have, and don’t be embarrassed to go into detail. It is better to ask lots of questions about where you’re going and what your experience will be like, than go to study abroad and end up disappointed.
7. Decide Which One Is The Best For You
After you have spent all this time researching countries and universities, talking to people and asking your questions, it is time to decide. You will never have the complete information about what it is like to live in other countries, and you cannot predict your entire experience (that wouldn’t be fun at all), but at the end you will have a preference. You can ask for advice from your family, friends, and your home university, but at the end of the day, it is your decision and you should be the one to make it. Pick the place where you think you will be the most comfortable, where you will be treated with respect and accommodated according to your needs. It’s a difficult choice, but it is one you must make in order to have this experience.
8. Don’t Withhold Information About Your Disability
When you decide to go to a university abroad, be prepared to fill in a lot of paperwork. For students with disabilities, this includes also informing the staff about your needs. Do not withhold information under any circumstances. Inform them about what you need to feel comfortable, and you might be better accommodated. If you don’t tell the university staff or the landlord of your new apartment about your disability completely, you might end up having to struggle to accommodate yourself. It is much better to have full disclosure and for them to inform you how much they can help you. You cannot complain that your needs are not being met if you haven’t told anyone about them. So be honest, and your experience will be a lot better.
9. Prepare To Face Challenges
Studying abroad is challenging on its own. Every student who has decided to take this risk has doubts and feels a little scared. It’s ok to be nervous, so don’t be ashamed of admitting it. Moving to a completely new place will have its difficulties and you should be prepared to face them.
Make sure you have emergency numbers on your phone when you arrive and go out, as well as a number of someone who can help you out if you face a problem. People will be ready to assist you if you need it so don’t be afraid to ask. Facing the challenges during your study abroad time will only serve to make you more adaptable and deal with difficult situations.
10. Have fun
And finally, have fun! All students who have studied abroad say that it’s the best and most fulfilling experience they have had. It doesn’t have to be any different just because you have a disability. You have done all your research and taken the necessary steps to ensure all goes smoothly. So the only thing left for you is to go out and explore a new place, meet people, and also study and get your degree in the process. You will feel like a completely new person when you return, and your study abroad experience will only serve to enrich your resume and make it easier for you to find a job.