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Student Tips - Accessibility Abroad

Tips from Students with Disabilities

Here you can find tips from Northwestern students with disabilities who have already studied abroad. Read to find out how these returnees planned and prepared for their program, and how they adjusted while living abroad.

These tips come from students who represent a wide range of study abroad experiences. We have included responses from students who:

  • Studied abroad on Fall, Winter, Spring, Winter/Spring, Summer, and Full Year programs
  • Studied abroad in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and the UK

Returnee Q&A:

  • What were your reasons for studying abroad? What goals did you have?
     “I wanted to study abroad for the same reasons most students want to; to see new places, experience different cultures, learn a new language, broaden my perspective etc.” –Female, Bocconi University Exchange Program in Milan, Depression

    “Growing as a person, essentially” –Male, London School of Economics

    “My goals were to improve my Spanish and gain more cultural competency through complete immersion, I also wanted to challenge myself by being out of my comfort zone” –Female, IFSA-Butler Chilean Universities Program

    

  • Did your disability affect which programs you considered or how you chose your study abroad program? If so, how?
    “It actually didn't. I thought I would experience culture shock being abroad but it was honestly the easiest transition and I had an amazing time.” –Female, Bocconi University Exchange Program in Milan, Depression

    “Yes. I had to make sure I was somewhere with easy access to an endocrinologist.” –Female, IFE Paris, Diabetes

    “Yes, it was even more important to me to find programs in English-speaking countries because of my food allergy. I wanted to be able to communicate with those who were selling me food and read the labels on packaged food I was going to purchase.” –Female, Summer Irish Studies at NUI Galway, Food Allergy

     “No, the depression was nonexistent about two quarters prior to study abroad so my considerations were really just the location, program, and the deadline to apply.” – Summer, Depression


  • Did you disclose your condition to either your program or the Study Abroad Office before going abroad? Did you feel this decision had an impact on your experience abroad?

    “Yes to both my psychiatrist at CAPS, therapist at the women's center, and Study Abroad staff. It didn't affect my time abroad because I was proactive about making sure it would not affect my experience.” –Female, Bocconi University Exchange Program in Milan, Depression

    "Yes I did, but I was adequately prepared, so my ultimate experience was not a result of my diabetes." –Male, Critical Theory and Media in Paris, Diabetes

    "I did, and they gave me the right resources to consult before departure. But I failed to willingly utilize those resources while abroad." –Male, Wanxiang Fellows Program in China, Generalized Anxiety Disorder

    

  • How did you plan ahead to manage your condition before going abroad? How did your plan work or fall short?
    "I spoke to all the people in my inner circle making them aware that I wanted resources in case I would experience culture shock when arriving in the city. My plan worked because I felt secure upon arrival." –Female, Bocconi University Exchange Program in Milan, Depression

    "The main thing I had to do was get my shipments of medical supplies in advance and take them all to Paris with me. That took a bit of effort but wasn't too difficult. I just had to prepare ahead of time." –Male, Critical Theory and Media in Paris, Diabetes

    "Taking extra meds, attempted to plan ahead with HTH Insurance." –Female, IFE Paris, Diabetes

    "I packed a bunch of snack food to supplement diet in case there were times I couldn't find something safe to eat.  My plan fell short because it was WAY harder to find things without peanut/tree nut warnings than I had anticipated."–Female, Summer Irish Studies at NUI Galway, Summer 2014, Food Allergy

    "I did not have much plan ahead of time, other than bringing enough quantity of my daily medication to prevent shortage. Consequently, when all the circumstantial conditions I was unprepared for kicked in, simply bringing enough medication had very insufficient effect." –Male, Wanxiang Fellows Program in China, Generalized Anxiety Disorder

    "I've dealt with anxiety ever since coming to college. I'd always turn to family or friends for help when I needed it, and by coming abroad, I knew I wouldn't have that availability as before. In a way, I wanted to study abroad to find relief more on my own, as challenging or terrifying as that might be. I contacted student counseling services abroad and have spoken to them briefly, and made sure I could call my parents if need be, but most of the experience has been figuring things out independently." –Male, University of Edinburgh

    

  • How did you adjust to living in a foreign country?
    "Taking one day at a time and embracing everything and trying everything offered." –Female, IES Arles Summer Program, Summer 2014

    "There are some subtle differences between French food tradition and America's. There's a bit more , and the schedule's a little off, too. We usually ate dinner at my homestay around 8 or 9, so I had to make sure to test my blood and eat snacks as necessary to hold me over." –Male, Critical Theory and Media in Paris, Diabetes

    "I was happy that I had elected to stay in housing where I had access to a kitchen and refrigerator/freezer.  Most of the restaurants in Ireland didn't like serving food to people with peanut/tree nut allergies because they didn't want to be liable for any mistakes with cross contamination, so being able to cook my own dinners for most of the trip was immensely helpful." –Female, Summer Irish Studies at NUI Galway, Food Allergy

     "Language was difficult to adjust to because even though I could speak some Taiwanese Mandarin, I really could not understand the thick Beijing accent. Really took me a while to adjust. But it all ended up being fine and dandy, except when Chinese people expected me to speak perfect Chinese and I couldn't. That made me a little sad." –Summer, Depression

    "I remained very flexible making sure to not get stressed out by anything. I was tested out of my comfort zone almost every day but having a good attitude and willingness to ask for help were key." –Female, IFSA-Butler Chilean Universities Program

    "It was difficult, but I made friends with other exchange students which helped a lot." –Female, Goldsmiths University London, Depression

    

  • How did your expectation compare to your experiences abroad?
    "Even better (for the most part)- tons of fun and great experiences, not as much immersion/interaction with the culture as I would've liked though." –Female, Global Healthcare Technologies in South Africa

    "I expected to become closer with my host family, but that didn't happen.  Other than that, what I expected was pretty much what I got." –Female, Junior Year in Spain

    "To be quite honest, China was much more civilized, safe, and structured than my parents' scary descriptions. Looking back, had I not been scared from my parents' descriptions, I would have been much more willing to explore around, and I might have gotten more out of the experience. –Male, Wanxiang Fellows Program in China, Generalized Anxiety Disorder

    "Completely different but I wouldn't have had it any other way." –Female, Sciences Po Exchange in Paris

    

  • What, if any, challenges did you face while you were abroad? Were there any challenges you faced that you did not anticipate? How did you address any challenges that arose?
    "I think the biggest challenge is dealing with similar issues you would here,except you're in foreign country. For example, losing your wallet in your hometown or even general America, was less stressful, compared to losing your wallet in Milan." –Female, Bocconi University Exchange Program in Milan, Depression

    "Though HTH covers the cost of your medicine they charge you an exorbitant shipping fee or require you to pay out of pocket then wait for reimbursement. This extra cost was not included in my financial aid."–Female, IFE Paris, Diabetes

    "The biggest challenge that was more significant than anticipated was the challenge of finding food that was not labeled as unsafe for people with peanut/tree nut allergies.  I addressed this by planning ahead and packing a significant amount of food for myself from home, and also spending a solid 3-4 hours combing through the grocery stores in order to find foods that were safe." –Female, Summer Irish Studies at NUI Galway, Food Allergy

    "As mentioned before, I faced challenges pertaining to limited fluency in Mandarin, extreme environmental conditions (e.g. humidity), and mental health symptoms triggered from the extreme climate. The on-site volunteers and the professor who accompanied us helped me a ton. The mental health challenge, however, ended up not being effectively addressed before the end of the program; I failed to recognize my erratic behaviors as signs of feeling insecure that are amplified by my mental health conditions, and I failed to promptly reach out for help." –Male, Wanxiang Fellows Program in China, Generalized Anxiety Disorder

    "I felt a little dicriminated against/less favored because I wasn't blonde with blue eyes. But you learn to make friends with truly nice people and not give too much thought in the end." –Female, IFSA-Butler Chilean Universities Program


  • If you use academic, medical, psychological, or other accommodations at Northwestern, did youhave similar accommodations abroad? How did the accommodations abroad compare?

    "I did have accommodations but I never had to use them, so that was great." –Female, Bocconi University Exchange Program in Milan, Depression

    "No, I didn't use any of my accommodations, which mostly involve provisions if my condition gets in the way of completing an exam. The schedule was more free abroad though, and it helped that there was less pressure." –Male, Critical Theory and Media in Paris, Diabetes

    "I utilized CAPS service extensively while at Northwestern. There was no on-site psychological counselor readily available—I would have had to call the internationally available health service that the study abroad office mentioned during orientation, and somehow I couldn't make myself reach my hand to my cell phone to dial the health service phone number for assistance." –Male, Wanxiang Fellows Program in China, Generalized Anxiety Disorder

    "I've been to CAPS a few times, and used a similar service at the University of Edinburgh once, but they are much busier abroad and haven't had much availability. Thankfully I've been able to get on fine on my own." –Male, University of Edinburgh

    

  • What is one thing you wish you had known prior to studying abroad?
    "That I should take time to myself." –Female, Global Healthcare Technologies in South Africa

    "I wish I had known what to bring - I packed way too much!" –Female, Public Health and Community Development in South Africa

    "It's okay to not be having a fabulous time 100% of the time.  Other people aren't happy all the time either, so don't be afraid to talk to others in your program about your feelings." –Female, Junior Year in Spain

    "Stay calm, and do what works for you." –Female, Summer Language in Berlin

    

  • What advice do you have for other students with disabilities thinking about studying abroad?
    "NU study abroad programs are incredibly well organized and they ensure your well-being and safety, so don't not apply to a study abroad program because of your disability." –Female, Public Health and Community Development in South Africa

    "There are so many resources available that as long as you prepare ahead of time, talk with your doctor, and ask people who have done it before, you should be fine." –Male, Critical Theory and Media in Paris, Diabetes

    "If you have any disabilities that you think will limit your experience, definitely talk about it and plan it out in advance rather than wait til you're abroad." –Summer, Depression

    "Be honest with yourself about your condition, and prepare accordingly. Err on preparing too much rather than too little. Make sure that there are multiple ways to deal with potential issues/problems when they arise." –Male, Wanxiang Fellows Program in China, Generalized Anxiety Disorder

    "Everyone will be tested out of their comfort zone, so you will not be alone. study abroad is the best experience you'll get in college- Do it!" –Female, IFSA-Butler Chilean Universities Program

    "If you're battling mental issues, make sure to look into services abroad before deciding where to go. Our program was very accommodating, even if the school was not. Don't be afraid to call home. I've grown a lot closer to my parents being far away from them (maybe that's saying something?). Know that being abroad isn't always perfect. There are a lot of social expectations of what your experience should look like - traveling all the time, always doing something exciting - and you'll find that's not necessarily true. Traveling is expensive and exhausting, and you might just want to hole up one weekend and watch Netflix and that's okay. If possible though, do some traveling alone. That's been the most rewarding experience for me." –Male, University of Edinburgh, Winter/Spring 2015

    "Don't let anything keep you away from reaching for your goals." –Male, Koc University Exchange in Istanbul

    "Talk to your advisors and those in the study abroad office. Know what accommodations you need to be successful and advocate for yourself. Make sure there is a way to make it work for you and enjoy." –Female, Summer Language in Berlin