By Rebekah McHale, Law LLB University of Sheffield.
The idea of embarking on a new journey can be daunting, even more so when you have a disability. Before going on a year abroad, I couldn’t help feeling slightly apprehensive about the challenges this experience might present but I’m glad I didn’t let my disability hold me back.
I’m currently on an Erasmus year abroad at the University of Cyprus. Three months in, I can happily say that doing a year abroad was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I’ve made friends from various countries, explored new cities, and vastly improved both my independence and confidence. Living abroad will put you out of your comfort zone, but it will also teach you valuable life skills about managing yourself, and your disability.
Things to consider before you go
First and foremost, you need to consider how you will manage your disability abroad.
Doctors and Hospitals: if your disability is one that requires extensive monitoring, you will need to research provisions for this in your host country; it is worth making a note of general practitioners and hospitals in the area you plan to live in. When you arrive in your temporary home, make registering with a GP a priority.
Insurance: ensure you are adequately insured for healthcare declaring your disability and all medical conditions; failing to do so will invalidate your insurance. If your host country is within the EU, make sure you apply for your EHIC card before you leave; this will enable you to claim back healthcare costs incurred while abroad, however, this is not a substitute for comprehensive travel insurance.
Medication and special equipment: if you are on medication, check the availability of your medication in your host country and you will need to take enough medication with you to last you until you next plan to come home. The same applies for any special equipment you may require.
Medical evidence: Ask your Doctor to provide a letter detailing important medical information, including any past history that may be relevant and a list of the medication you’re currently taking; this will make it much easier for medical professionals to treat you if required Your home university should be able to help you to get your doctors letter translated.
Support from your UK and host university: your home university has a duty of care for you whilst you studying or working abroad and will help you put provisions in place to manage your disability during your time abroad. When deciding where to study or complete a work placement, find out how different hosting organisations are able to support your needs, and ask them what assistance they give to disabled students. When you have decided which institution you will join, it is also worth informing them of your disability in advance to give them time to prepare for your arrival.
Carers: if you require a carer or helper, you should make arrangement for this before you go. Some countries may not have easily accessible carers and you may need to bring a family member or friend. Extra funding is available to assist you with this which I will discuss below.
Accommodation: if you require specially adapted accommodation, you will need to plan this in advance. Contact your host university/ place of work to see if they have accommodation to suit your needs. If not, ask them to put you in touch with estate agents or private landlords who may be able to assist you. Remember to ask for photos, as they cannot correctly judge what accommodation you require.
Transportation: if you struggle with mobility, check that public transport can accommodate you. Try to secure accommodation within a reasonable distance from public transport. In countries where public transport is limited, ask your host university for local taxi firm numbers. Check that these firms can accommodate any mobility needs you may have.
You will still be entitled to your student loan and any grants whilst you are away, whereas any entitlement to disabled students allowance will not be available to you whilst abroad.
However, as well as the basic Erasmus+ grant (approx. £2000 depending on the host country) disabled students may apply for an extra grant to cover any extra payments you have*. This will not be applicable to any material items you wish to purchase and you will be required to provide receipts. It does cover extra costs you may incur as a result of your disability, such as taxis and specialised accommodation. It will also cover the costs (within reason) of the flights for family and friends who are caring for you, or for a carer to assist you in the host country.
Arrive early: give yourself time to settle in and accommodate to your new surroundings. You will feel more relaxed when term starts.
Making friends: It is up to you if, and how, you share information with new friends about your disability. There are however many benefits to being open about your disability; by explaining how your disability affects you, friends will understand that certain things present difficulties for you and that you may need to access support or adjustments. Sharing information about your disability with close friends will also enable you to build up a support network – something which is invaluable when you are away from home.
Your host university: clarify that your host university understands how your disability affects you. It may be helpful to tell your lecturers so that they can accommodate any support or adjustments you require. Here are 5 questions you may want to ask.
Your home university: remember your home university is on hand to provide ongoing support to you (albeit from a distance!) during your time abroad.
I have had tremendous support from both my home and my host universities, and speaking to other students in similar situations, I find they feel the same.
This is your year and it will be what you make of it. Most importantly, ENJOY IT! It is a once in a lifetime experience. You will gain countless memories, friends, and of course, the chance to expand your education.
*This information is correct at the time of writing, however, it is unclear how Brexit will affect this grant.