Due to an unpredictable chronic illness, I was not able to get medical clearance to participate in study abroad or study-elsewhere opportunities during my undergraduate years. Even though I never traveled outside of the United States, I still learned a lot about other cultures through on-campus alternatives to studying abroad, all without having to leave my college campus in Virginia. Here are some of my favorite on-campus alternatives to studying abroad and study abroad alternatives for students with chronic illnesses.
Live in international student housing
One of my friends signed up to live in an international student building to meet students from other countries as well as transfer students from a variety of different backgrounds. During my sophomore year, I ended up living in another version of international student housing when I was placed by random housing selection into an apartment-style dorm with several girls from China who were on an exchange program. This gave me the opportunity to learn Chinese by immersion, be introduced to different music and entertainment options, and one of them even gave me a few samples of regional dishes from their province. Because of this experience, I still have dreams in Chinese sometimes!
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Take a virtual class from another college
Some international universities partner with colleges to offer virtual classes on topics related to international business, language immersion, and several other topics. This is a great study abroad alternative option for students who want to take a class in a topic that isn’t offered by their home college, or who want to network with people from other areas. Taking a virtual class can also help students get placed in virtual internships in their country or field of interest.
Students who are studying at another college will need to re-apply for disability accommodations as these do not automatically transfer when a student takes a class at another college.
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Check out cultural events offered by departments or organizations
One of my best friends in college would invite me to join them at cultural events hosted by their student organization that showcased food, art, dance, fashion, and other experiences that were always a lot of fun. I also attended a few events hosted by departments, such as when the Chinese department hosted a lecture (in English) about a topic I was interested in, with options to examine items on display by touch.
Some ways I found out about cultural events on campus include:
- Searching my college’s online calendar for events I might be interested in
- Viewing listings for performances at the center for the arts or other event venues on campus/on satellite campuses
- Checking the calendar for the dining hall, which would host events themed around foods from different countries or regions
- Signing up for email lists for specific organizations or departments
- Talking to friends and asking “what are you doing this weekend?”
- Looking at the large colorful painted blocks outside of the student center or on bulletin boards
- Creating Accessible Bulletin Boards For College Dorms
- Tips For Visiting Art Museums With Low Vision
- Performing Arts Centers and Low Vision: College O&M
Consider domestic study-elsewhere opportunities
My college offers several opportunities for students to go on trips or special sessions for classes in various parts of the state and country, and also has a special program for studying at a Smithsonian research facility in another part of the state over the course of a semester. Unfortunately, my health issues kept me from being able to participate in this program, but my brother participated in this program and absolutely loved it/considered it the highlight of his undergraduate career.
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Visit the global education office on campus
The global education office has a lot of information on study abroad, as well as options for supporting students who want to go abroad but might not be able to commit to a full semester. One of my friends was able to go on a short trip as part of one of their classes that was much more manageable than the traditional study abroad experience, while another friend used this office to learn more about virtual classes and internships.
More tips for alternatives to studying abroad
- Some classes at my college have an optional study abroad component where students can travel during spring break, or learn about a topic through an international lens. For example, one of the classes in the assistive technology department at my college had an optional travel portion to visit South Korea with the professor
- My college has several international performing arts groups and exhibits that come to visit campus, including dance and instrumental groups. This is another great way to learn more about a different culture!
- Even though I couldn’t travel abroad, I still went on a few different domestic trips during college, such as going to Broadway plays for a research project and attending professional conferences in Florida, Texas, and California- read more about my trip to Texas in Attending The Grace Hopper Celebration With Low Vision
- It’s worth noting that having low vision/vision loss alone is not the reason I couldn’t study abroad- I have an unpredictable neurological condition and chronic migraines. I talk more about this in How I Explain Chiari Malformation and Managing Chronic Migraines in College