For students with disabilities, the thought of studying abroad and leaving your support network at home can be extremely daunting to the point that you may not think you would be able to study abroad. Arcadia wants all students to be able experience this life affirming event and our dedicated in-country staff are there to help you throughout your time in-country. Working closely with our partner universities we will make sure you have all the support necessary for a successful semester. For our next "Stories from Scotland Alumni" we sat down with Rachael Rooklin from Roger Williams University to discuss her experience of studying abroad with a disability and the challenges she accomplished during her time in Scotland.
For me, having a disability, I never thought I’d be able to live abroad and that was a major accomplishment
Name: Rachael Rooklin
Home School: Roger Williams University
Semester Abroad: Fall 2019
Major: Political Science
Scottish University: University of Stirling
Hello Rachael, would you please introduce yourself for the Blog; when you studied abroad, where you studied and what’s your homeschool?
Hi, I’m Rachael, I studied abroad in Fall 2019 at the University of Stirling in Scotland and my homeschool is Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI.
First of all, why did you choose Scotland as your Study Abroad destination?
I chose Scotland because I knew I wanted to go to the UK but I didn’t necessarily want to do London since I’d already been there and I wanted to get a new lay of the land, go somewhere different, and my mom and I were discussing about where I should go and one of the rules she gave me was please go to an English speaking country in-case anything happens so I figured why not Scotland?
And how did you settle on Stirling as your University?
I settled on Stirling because that was one of the schools that my home university provided a Study Abroad opportunity for and as I was looking it up I really liked that it was a smaller campus that had that smaller feel and I wouldn’t get too lost.
So, thinking back to when you arrived, what were your first impressions of Scotland and then of Stirling when you arrived there?
My first impression of the country was that everyone seemed really friendly and willing to help. My overall feeling as I was waiting in the airport before going was that I wasn’t sure how people would treat me and whether or not I’d get lost but I felt as though everything was easy to find and the people were very helpful. When I got to Stirling it sort of felt like my home campus. It was much larger than what I was used to but I was able to figure everything out and to get to my classes on time and I was able to settle in very quickly.
How did you find the general adjustment period coming from the US; did you have any homesickness?
Settling in at first was a bit hard. In the first week or so I got very homesick; I tried to keep away from social media as much as possible but I just kept seeing everything my friends were doing back home and that was getting to my head and that I wasn’t going to make any friends in Scotland. Overall, after I decided to shut of social media and take a walk, I eventually started my classes and made new friends and joined new societies and I’m still in contact with a few people I met while abroad.
We’ll touch on that a little later on but my next question is how was your accommodation in Stirling; where were you staying?
I was staying in Juniper Court and I loved it. It was easily accessible for me with my disability but I’m glad that it had an elevator! It made things so much easier for me. I had my own single room plus en-suite bathroom with a shared kitchen and living area with 6 other students.
What were your classes at the University of Stirling like; did they differ from classes at Roger Williams?
Yes they did! The one thing that really confused me at first was the difference between the lecture and seminars; when I first heard it I was like what does that mean? At Roger Williams a seminar is completely different. When I was in the main lectures at Stirling I wasn’t used to being in a classroom full of 100 students so that took me by surprise. At first I felt like I couldn’t talk to the main lecturer but I was able to email them and share my feelings and request any accommodation I needed. It was hard at first but I was able to manage and get help from people in my class.
Did you feel that was a confidence thing, knowing who to ask or asking the right questions?
Excellent. And in terms of coursework and assessment, how did that differ?
That took me by surprise; especially the grading system over there! I’m used to having very strict grading rules so when I first got a 56 back on a paper I had to remind myself that that’s a good grade. I was texting my parents about it and they were like “you got a 56!?” and I was like that’s a good grade, please! When it came to tests and quizzes most of them were online. There was only one in-person exam that I had to take but the lecturer told me that instead of taking it in-person I could submit it online through the Portal. That was very helpful and I appreciated that.
Did you find that the accommodations you needed for your academics were well addressed by Stirling?
Yeah, I think Stirling offered them pretty well and to some extent better than my home university.
You mentioned this earlier but did you join any Clubs or Societies during your time in Stirling?
Yes. I joined the Disabled Students Union and the Board Game and Strategy Club. I looked them up online before going just to get a feel for when they would be taking place and what they would be like. I also went to the Stirling Club Fair and met and talked to other people.
Did you meet local people through these?
Yeah I did; I met a lot of people from Scotland there and they were all pretty nice and they joked about me being American.
Did you understand the humor or was it a little bit too sarcastic?
I knew some of it! Some of the slang words I knew but at first I was kind of confused. I messed up big time because I know the word pants is completely different there so I made a comment and knew that it was the wrong use of the word; I meant to say trousers!
Would you recommend future students joining Clubs and Societies?
Yeah, it’s a good way to meet new people and it’s also a good way to keep away from homesickness and going on social media.
Was there any costs associated with your societies?
There was no cost for the Disabled Students Union but the Strategy and Board Game Society was about £10 for the semester; nothing too outrageous.
Did you participate in any of the Arcadia organized events?
Yes, I did. I went to the weekend in the Highlands and I went to Thanksgiving Ceilidh and I went to the Scotland vs Kazakhstan soccer match. I would definitely recommend students taking advantage of them because it helps you get off campus and talk to other people who are studying abroad.
Did you do any of your own travelling or organize any of your own trips?
I went to Paris with a friend and I also went to Barcelona. After the program ended I did a back-packing trip through Europe with my sister.
Would you be able to sum up how Arcadia supported you through your Study Abroad experience?
They were helpful, giving me tips and ideas with helping complete my application. When I got to Scotland you guys were very helpful and kind and pointed me in the right direction if I needed that and I really appreciated that.
Thank you very much; it was our pleasure! We’re getting to the cliched part of our questions now so what was the hardest thing about studying abroad for you?
I think the hardest thing for me was the homesickness part. I know that sounds cliche but for me it was about trying to get out and ignore the homesickness. It probably took me a week and a half to get over it and I still got little bouts of homesickness but nothing to the point where I didn’t want to get out of bed which I definitely had in the first week.
What did you learn most from your Study Abroad experience?
I definitely learned more about world culture and what it was like living abroad. For me, having a disability, I never thought I’d be able to do that and that was a major accomplishment; getting to live somewhere else and learn a new culture, new phrases, new food!
Since returning from studying abroad; how has it changed you?
For me it’s definitely changed how I’ve interacted with people and how I view the world. Because I study politics it’s helped change my view on politics and it’s more than just US politics now.
Last question; why would you recommend future Study Abroad students study in Scotland?
I would recommend it because, again, the people are very nice and kind. I’d also say it’s very close to everything in Europe, you are a hop, skip and a jump away from wherever you want to go. It’s also very small so if you feel overwhelmed by the larger cities you can definitely get acquainted with the whole country.