Exploring Opportunities: Discovering Myself In College While Studying Abroad
Authors: Demetria Ober, College Student
Keywords: independence, confidence, self-advocacy, college, studying abroad, transition
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My name is Demetria Ober and I am a senior at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas. I am pursuing my Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work with the intention of continuing my education into graduate school. I am minoring in Spanish interpretation with a specialized track in Medical Spanish Interpretation. My eye condition is Congenital Maculopathy. I have little central vision and have trouble distinguishing small details and some colors. I decided I wanted to learn Spanish a while ago but found it to be difficult to do so with only having class twice a week.
When COVID struck, I found myself contemplating things that could make my life more meaningful. I made the decision to study abroad for the Fall 2021–Spring 2022 academic year in Granada, Spain. This decision to challenge myself in a new and somewhat intimidating situation was both physically and emotionally difficult because I am legally blind, and it was in the middle of the pandemic. I didn’t want to let anything stop me from this opportunity, however. At the time, I was only an elementary level Spanish speaker, but despite the language barrier, this ultimately became the best decision I have ever made for myself. I had so much support when deciding to study abroad. As a first generation college student in my family, sometimes I struggle to find family members that I feel can truly understand things that I go through and decisions I need to make. Additionally, I am also the only person in my family experiencing blindness. However, my family does their best to support me and offer advice when I seek it. They are my number one supporters. I have also built a network of individuals who inspire me. This includes blind mentors in the National Federation of the Blind’s Career Mentoring Program, my university professors, friends, staff I met at TSBVI that I now consider family and role models, and now life-long friends I met while in Spain. Although I have had to navigate my university experience alone at times, I have found the support of my community very beneficial. I am inspired by so many successful individuals in my life, which pushes me to keep striving to break barriers for individuals with disabilities. My goal is to be a positive example for my family.
As a college student experiencing blindness, I have learned that there are some key differences from when I was in high school versus attending college. The obvious difference between attending a university versus high school is that I had to really use independent problem-solving skills to figure things out for myself and get the information I needed. Everything had to be initiated completely by me. This was a bit overwhelming because I was so used to having things already available and provided to me by all of my teachers at TSBVI. However, in higher education, this is not the reality, and I had to really begin advocating for myself, which is something that took a ton of practice. I became in charge of my own accommodations, planning, organizing, and scheduling everything. Though this skill was challenging at first, I have truly grown as a person and am now able to express my needs.
My growing confidence and self-advocacy skills have opened many doors for me. I am involved in so many different activities at my university. I am the vice-president of Pathway to Accessibility. This is an organization through the Disability Services for Students Office. We help promote, advocate, and make both the classroom and the campus accessible to all students. Additionally, I serve as the vice-president and public relations chair for the National Society for Collegiate Scholars. I am also secretary for Phi Alpha. This is the Society for Social Workers on campus. Finally, I also work part-time on campus as part of work study. My campus part-time jobs are a front desk assistant in the Office of Admissions Processing, and an assistant in the Fit and Rec center.
My heart’s passion is serving others. While in Spain, I participated in a service learning experience. I worked with the local public school with students who ranged in age from 3–16 years old and who had various levels of English. Part of my work responsibilities was serving as a substitute teacher in the English classes. Some of my teaching strategies involved creating small groups where we would play games, talk, take quizzes, or any activities I could think of in order to further English language progression. This entire experience was very meaningful for me and brought me joy. Studying abroad and participating in the service learning experience truly changed my perspectives. I believe I am now more open minded to change, and I also actively put myself into new and even uncomfortable situations in order to keep growing. Completing studying abroad in a foreign country for one year has definitely enhanced my confidence and independence.
If I could give any piece of advice to blind/low vision students, it would be to not be afraid to fail. Think of it as an opportunity to grow. It’s okay to make mistakes, to not have the answers, or to be uncomfortable in situations. Keep trying to figure ways to improve yourself and don’t let your lack of vision be a barrier to trying new experiences. I would also encourage students with disabilities to surround yourself with people that push, encourage, and inspire you. My mother, someone I truly admire, always tells me, “If you are the smartest, most successful, and hardest working person in the room, you need to leave the room.” I also truly believe that mentorship from blind adults and peers and networking are extremely valuable. There is always something to learn and improve on. Finally, do not keep knowledge to yourself. The way to build a successful future and world is to teach those around you. We are a community.
For more on Demetria, please check out two articles in the Spring 2022 issue of TX SenseAbilities. One article is by her mother in the Family Wisdom section, and the second article is by Kevin Markel, Program Specialist with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), in the News & Views Section of the same issue.