I’ve been back in England for 3 days now which is a bit hard to believe. Studying abroad has been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had and I’m so glad that I made the decision this time last year to investigate it.
It took almost 6 months to organise and I had no idea if it was going to be a success or a resounding failure. In June of 2014 I had the prospect of a gap year ahead of me. I’d made no plans, I didn’t want to go to university to study the course I’d applied for and was desperately searching for job applications. I had originally submitted an application to study Spanish, however the languages department at college said that because I didn’t have any formal qualifications in the subject I wouldn’t get in. My tutor encouraged me to change my application to something that fit what I was studying at the time and so I applied to sports business management and was accepted to all five of my choices. Despite this being somewhat of an ego boost I knew deep down that the program wasn’t for me. I tried to encourage myself by writing upbeat facebook posts but no matter how much I tried, deep down there was a voice telling me it was a mistake.
So I decided to take the chance and contacted Cesa, an organisation that helps people go abroad to study a language. I sent them an email saying I was interested in studying Spanish and was looking to start in the new year, as being visually impaired I knew it would take some organising. They replied in less than a day letting me know that they were more than happy to help me, but at that time they were busy sending people off on summer courses and would contact me when things were a little quieter.
That’s exactly what they did. Once the summer was drawing to a close they emailed me to begin planning where I would study abroad. They took down details of my visual impairment, how I access course materials and what support I would need and contacted several of the language schools in Spain. Some responded saying they had never had a blind student and weren’t sure if it was something they could handle, which I accepted as I didn’t want to go somewhere that straight away thought it wouldn’t work. However, the school in Valencia replied saying although they’d never worked with someone blind before they would give it a go.
Cesa negotiated with the school, ensuring I got my first textbook in advance, 2 months to be exact! They also established contact with ONCE, the organisation for the blind in Spain. The school were great as well, helping to pass on our messages to ONCE in Spanish and ensure that on arrival I would receive mobility and orientation.
In September 2014 I submitted a new university application, this time for Spanish and was accepted into 3 schools. I don’t have the words to express how glad I am that I took that chance. I don’t often disregard the advice given by teachers but I knew I had to try or I would always wonder what would have happened if I had. So not only was I getting ready to study abroad I also knew that on my return to England I would begin a degree in it as well.
In January of this year I left for Valencia and I have been blogging somewhat infrequently about my life since then. In all honesty keeping on top of studying and managing the books section of this blog took far more time than I had anticipated. The school welcomed me from the moment I began to study there and I was sad to leave last Friday. They ensured I received all my books in electronic format. These were pdf’s with images, so some work was needed to enable me to read them but the fact that the school took the time to scan them and email them to me was so very much appreciated. It definitely made my life a lot easier.
Studying abroad is such a unique experience, for every person it will be different, depending on the country you go to, what exactly you decide to do out there and the people you meet. Personally I can’t recommend it enough. Having done it once I am very excited at the prospect of spending the third year of my degree in either Spain or Latin America. Having the opportunity to travel is something I’ve always loved, but having the chance to spend a significant amount of time in another country was new to me. I loved the fact that by the end of my time there I could communicate with all kinds of people I would never have spoken with before. I know I have to work hard to improve my Spanish even further, but if I had spent 5 months studying in the UK I know I could never have come as far as I did by spending time in Spain.
Gap year travel is definitely less complex for people who don’t have a disability. The planning that I needed to do mostly revolved around receiving mobility and orientation and getting my books in the correct format. Having said that, there is no reason why you can’t, or shouldn’t decide to travel. You will have to make compromises and understand that you may not get the same resources as you would in your home country. For me though that was all part of the experience, I had to figure out solutions to problems regarding both study and travel. That isn’t a bad thing, I hope that ultimately it will prepare me even more for university and life after.