Reflections on Disabilities Abroad
My name Abbie Burkle, and as part of my undergraduate program at the University of Iowa I have been studying at Kanda University in Japan for almost a year now. What makes my experience different from other exchange students is that I am visually impaired, but I did not let that stop me from coming to Japan.
It has been my dream to come to Japan ever since I was in high school. I went for six weeks in the summer of my junior year in high school. Once that was over, I knew I would come back sometime during my college years. I finally got my chance in 2008, but it was not easy getting where I am today. The college I am studying at now was a little hesitant to accept me because of a bad experience they had with another visually impaired girl. I had to send additional documents and answer additional questions all because of my impairments. In Japan, it seems to me that most regular schools do not have people with impairments. So, when I got here I had to face additional questions from my actual teachers.
At the beginning I was very frustrated, I wish I would have been more prepared to answer questions. It was not easy explaining my impairments in another language. Also, I was not prepared for the doubt I would have to face from other people. I could see the worry in their eyes when I brought my bike home for the first time. The teachers would ask me everyday if the print in the book was too small. Looking back at it now, it was a tough first few weeks. I really had to give it my all in order to make people believe that I was fully capable of doing everything that a sighted person can do.
Once I had my teachers and my friend’s confidence, I was able to relax a little more, and enjoy life. I have since then made many precious memories. With a few adjustments here and there, I have been able to do everything I have set out to do. One of my favorite accomplishments is being able to ride a bike in the rain while holding an umbrella. However, on a more serious note, after school I have a part time job. I work at a meat shop selling fried food. Another fun accomplishment is being able to travel alone to go see friends in other parts of the country.
My main challenge was in the beginning, but every now and then I run into a problem. I can usually just adjust to it though. For example, sometimes the print in my book is too small to read, but if I go to my teachers, they’re usually very glad to help me out. Being here for a year has taught me that the most important thing is to remember to be patient, and never give up. Communication is a key factor to surviving in a foreign country.
The last and most important thing to remember is be proud of who you are. We are as capable as a person with no disabilities, and do not ever let anyone tell you otherwise - going abroad is an amazing opportunity. By going abroad, you can make a life time of memories, and make friends around the world. If you decide to go abroad, I wish you the best of luck, you will not regret it.