First Abroad Stories: Shalom Hernandez and Managing a Physical Disability Abroad
How studying abroad served as a confirmation that anything is possible.
As a Freshman First-Generation student at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin I moved from table to table with glimmering eyes at my first study abroad fair. Every location looked interesting, however I did question how I would be able to afford studying abroad. Being at UT Austin itself was a financial struggle. Coming from a lower-income family and being raised by a single mother I am proud to be pursuing a college degree. I left the fair with wishful hope that one day I would be able to travel; however not my first year. I first needed to know how to navigate through school. I am a Hispanic, first-generation woman with a physical disability from a lower Socioeconomic Status (SES). I could not see studying abroad as a reality for me. Every year I attended the study abroad fair to look, to get informed, to see what opportunities were available for me.
Throughout my college career I continued to hear studying/interning abroad was part of a full, complete college experience, reminiscing on my child-self that would tell my mother my dream was to travel the world. At the time my mother would say, “Si mija tu puedes”, however deep in her heart she did not want to crush my dream of an aloof possibility for me, for my family. Understanding our low economic resources and my physical disability my mother could not picture that 5 year old girl’s dreams weren’t too big for her.
Finally junior year of college I made the decision that no matter the obstacles present I was going to study/intern abroad. I face challenges every day of my life due to my physical disability from figuring out how to perform simple tasks to advocating for my rights and that of others with disabilities. The financial barrier was present because I was conscious that my mom would not be able to help me financially. Regardless I decided I was going to take this next step for me. I travelled independently in the States all the time since I started college. I know I am independent, and studying abroad was the confirmation I needed to know nothing is unattainable. I applied to intern abroad and was delighted when I received my acceptance email to intern in Barcelona, Spain during the winter break!
The next steps were to figure out how I was going to pay for the program. I could not believe I was a step closer to accomplishing a lifetime dream. I knew there were scholarships available, unfortunately I missed the deadline and did not received a scholarship. I decided to start a GoFundMe and reach out to my friends and family. Thanks to their generosity I received $1,383 towards my internship program. I will always be grateful to all the individuals who invested in me. I was not going to let go of this opportunity that I had worked so hard for. I looked at other alternatives to finance my trip. I was open to getting a loan from my bank, the majority of my study abroad was paid by the personal loan I took out from my bank; however I view it as an investment towards my career advancement because I knew this opportunity was going to create many opportunities. I am having my return on investment.
The International Office at UT Austin and the CISabroad staff were extremely helpful through the whole process and answered any questions I had with sensitivity and in a timely manner. My main concern was the accommodations I required while in Spain due to my physical disability. Thanks to the diligent effort of Katherine Uhlrich - Internship Coordinator, Study Abroad at UT and Chelsea Couture- CISabroad: Senior Program Coordinator- Spain and their constant communication in verifying every accommodation I needed was taken care of for my arrival in Spain. From an accessible housing location to making sure I could participate in all the activities and day-trips offered in the program their personal care truly enhanced my interning abroad experience.
My mother was nervous to see my fly an ocean away from her, but like always I never ceased to surprise her. She gave me her blessing as I prepared to embarked on a life-changing experience. I was both excited and nervous but more excited than anything.
From seeing with my own eyes the majesty of La Sagrada Familia, to eating the best gelato in my life, to enjoying having dinner at 9:00 p.m., meeting incredible people, shopping through Las Ramblas, to feeling that I made an impact at the nonprofit I worked for- Fundacio Pare Manel interning abroad has been one of the best investments I have made as a 21 year old.