Taking the Plunge: The Study Abroad Adventure

An interview with Nikolay Goronav by Karen Keen

Nikolay sat in my office smiling with jacket and stocking cap on. “It’s so cold here! In Australia I was running around in shorts!” His manner was relaxed and cheerful in contrast to the last time he sat in my office several months earlier. In April of 2004, Nikolay came to me with questions regarding study abroad. He was interested in a marine studies program at the University of Queensland, but feared how his psychological disability might impact his experience. What could he expect living in a different country? How would he get a three month supply of medication? Were there restrictions on what type of prescriptions he could take into Australia? What if his symptoms flared up and he needed help?

These were some of the many concerns Nikolay shared as he progressed through the Education Abroad Programs (EAP) application process. His questions were not unusual. Many students with disabilities have voiced similar concerns to staff at the Disability Resource Center (DRC). In fact, I have been asked if it’s even possible for someone with a disability to study abroad. And, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Students with disabilities can and do participate in study abroad programs, and the DRC and EAP offices both strongly encourage students to explore their options.

As soon as Nikolay expressed his desire to study abroad and inquired how to make it happen, the ball started rolling and we began the pre-planning process to make sure his concerns were resolved before departure. I worked with the EAP office and the University of Queensland to address medication issues, access to psychological services, housing accommodation needs and recommendations for test accommodations. I also provided a verification letter to EAP and the University of Queensland, as well as to Nikolay to take with him. I assured him I would be available via e-mail while he was abroad should any urgent problems or questions arise.

Months later when Nikolay returned to share his travel experience with me, it was clear the pre-planning efforts had contributed to a successful study abroad experience. His eyes lit up as he discussed one of his field studies on Heron Island in the Great Barrier Reef. He snorkeled every day, swam with sharks, observed territorial behavior of various fish, and watched the mating patterns of large sea turtles. He also recounted the friendliness of his home-stay hosts and how the warmth of Paul and Velma as well as his classmates put him at ease. As a result, his psychological symptoms were minimal. Settling into life in Australia, Nikolay found himself caught up in the enthusiasm of the other students in the program. The excitement was contagious, inspiring him to engage in adventures he never would have considered otherwise—including jumping from an airplane.

Nikolay is just one of many UCSC students with disabilities who have studied abroad. Students with learning disabilities, hearing loss, visual and mobility impairments, and many other conditions have all successfully taken advantage of EAP. If you are a student with a disability who has contemplated study abroad, but hasn’t taken the plunge, stop by the EAP and DRC offices to begin discussing your options. Early disclosure of your disability and advanced preparation are key to an optimal study abroad experience. We can provide you with information, including a copy of the “A World Awaits You” (AWAY) journal, which is full of adventurous tales written by students with disabilities who have traveled abroad.

The UC EAP pamphlet states that students should consider study on EAP because it “provides new academic insights, a broader understanding of other cultures, and the preparation to excel in the internationally competitive world.” Students who participate have an advantage when applying for graduate school and “alumni report that their time on EAP was the most rewarding time of their academic careers.” Studying abroad is an eye-opening, life-changing experience. Don’t let a disability cause you to miss out! It’s an opportunity for everyone.