Studying Internationally as a Blind Student

Published: June 05, 2023 | Author: Abbie Cochrane | Read Time: 6 minutes

Matthew Robinson at Machu Picchu, PeruThunderbirds at Southern Utah University are constantly soaring on campus and around the world. Two T-Birds in particular, Olga Krylova and Matthew Robinson, are paving the way for international study. These two students are exemplary scholars and international travelers, and they also happen to be blind.

“Olga and Matthew are remarkable not only because they are curious about the world and have sought adventures overseas but also because they are persistent in striving to reach their goals, no matter what obstacles they face,” said SUU Director of Learning Abroad, Dr. Kurt Harris.

Olga Krylova, a foreign exchange student from Moscow, Russia, is majoring in economics. She currently resides with a local Cedar City family and is one of three Russian students attending SUU via a special grant.

“Getting the grant was a competitive process,” Krylova said. “I filled out an application and was interviewed, then there was an English language exam, and I was finally selected along with other students to come here. Our mission is to be cultural ambassadors.”

One of Krylova’s main goals in studying abroad was to perfect her English. Students in Russia are required to learn English, and she was introduced to it at an early age. Once she realized she could better learn English in a place where people spoke it, she looked into study abroad programs. While the move to the United States brought many culture shocks for Krylova, she quickly adapted to her new environment.

“To me, the culture shock I expected was actually very exaggerated,” said Krylova. “As a foreigner, I am fortunate to be able to have this experience where I can learn the reality of this country. And my culture is not as different to this culture as it would be in some other countries. For example, it was easy to adapt to food, but there were still some things I had never heard of–like putting ice cream in soda. I never would have thought of that!”

Along with her studies, Krylova enjoys playing the cello, learning the guitar from her host father, swimming, studying languages (specifically English and now German), and horseback riding. She also enjoys spending time with her American host family and participating in activities she has never done before.

“I have a great host family,” Krylova said. “It was a pleasant surprise to see the differences in our family dynamic. They have many kids and in Russia, two kids is considered a lot.”

Matthew Robinson recently returned from his internship abroad in Cusco, Peru, which took place from September to December of 2022. Robinson is a Spanish and English education major from Beaver, Utah, who enjoys creative writing, reading, playing the piano and guitar, exercising, and outdoor activities, specifically tandem biking. His path to his internship was one that took lots of time to solidify, but his time abroad changed his life.

“I’ve always wanted to travel abroad. For my internship, I knew I wanted to go somewhere Spanish-speaking because I learned Spanish in high school,” Robinson explained. “I first applied the semester that Covid really hit, and then I tried two other times. The most common problem I ran into was that there weren’t a lot of resources for the blind in Peru, but that actually motivated me to look for resources.”

Robinson was presented with the option to go to Costa Rica instead, but despite the appeal of the tropical climate there, he was set on going to Peru to experience the diversity and rich history that exists there. And he was finally accepted.

During his study abroad trip, Robinson taught in an after-school program for children giving him the chance to learn more about teaching and practice his skills.

“The hardest part, I think, was coming up with lesson plans,” said Robinson. “I remember one day I wanted to teach the kids Green Eggs and Ham in English but I could not get anyone’s attention, so one of my co-teachers told me to try starting with more basic material. Looking back, it was so worth it because I got so much practical experience and the trial and error that comes with lesson planning.”

According to Dr. Harris, setting up the internship for Robinson proved to be a challenge, the Office of Learning Abroad worked with Dr. Iliana Portaro, associate professor of Spanish, and Carmen Alldredge, director of SUU’s Disability Resource Center, as well as with colleagues at IAHQ, in Peru, to make sure Robinson would be able to get where he needed to go safely. In terms of resources, there are notable differences between Peru and the U.S. when it comes to accessibility.

“Every accommodation in the U.S. is relatively easy to understand, even in places that aren’t familiar, the infrastructure is generally more blind-friendly,” said Robinson. “In Peru, it’s doable, but it’s different. Like, in Peru, I face planted into signs that stuck out at eye level all the time. Another thing that mostly has to do with different economic conditions, Cusco didn’t have as many auditory signals. Overall, it was doable, it just took some adjustment.”

According to Robinson, SUU has constantly been raising the bar in accessibility for all students.

“I started at SUU in 2015, and there were already a ton of accessibility accommodations then, but there is still progress being made, most notably in awareness,” Robinson said. “My professors reach out and ask what they can do to help me succeed in the class. Overall I feel I’ve had a very positive reception here. In some places, they are accommodating, but the awareness isn’t as present as it is here. The one thing I wish they could adjust would be the map of campus on the SUU app to be more accessible to blind people."

“I love that the doors all have Braille numbers next to them, but what is even more useful for me is that America has the same number system and the numbers above the Braille are raised so I can feel them,” Krylova said. “My university in Russia is working to do the same thing, but they aren’t as far along as SUU is. It’s a very accessible campus for me. And that’s part of why this trip is so important to me.”

SUU works to make accommodations for students with a variety of different abilities, according to the American Disabilities Act standards, both on SUU’s campus, online, and abroad. In Krylova and Robinson’s case, they had SUU-assigned mobility guides for the first few weeks of the semester until they memorized their routes to get around campus.

“I want people who are blind and those who look after them to know that it’s possible, that they can do something like this and gain that independence,” Krylova said. “Someone out there figured out how to, say, fly from Moscow to Las Vegas on their own, and you can do it too.”

The Office of Learning Abroad offers many study abroad programs for students. With trips ranging from semester long to two weeks, SUU students are always traveling to all parts of the world. To learn more about study abroad opportunities, global ambassadorships, and information for international students, visit the Office of Learning Abroad.

Tags: College of Humanities and Social Sciences Spanish CurStu FacStaff Study Abroad School of Business Economics International Affairs English

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