On March 20-26, the ExchangeAbility Week took place: all 40 ESN countries united to make sure that mobility is an accessible lifestyle. Today we're sharing three stories of students who were not afraid to follow their dreams, face the unknown, and go on exchange! If you feel a lack of motivation to take on a certain challenge, reading these three true stories about students with disabilities and their Erasmus adventures is exactly what you need.
Filiberto is 23 years old and about to graduate from the Faculty of Law of the University of Milan, Italy. Last year, he did his Erasmus in Castellón de la Plana – a small sunny coastal town in Valencia. Diving into Spanish culture had been his dream for a long time, as he had been studying Spanish for five years and had also been there on holidays several times.
Filiberto fell in love with Castellón, where he could always find what he was looking for – be it the peaceful sound of the sea, the hospitality, and openness of the local people, or the electric atmosphere of numerous festivals. As usually happens during Erasmus, Filiberto found true friends, improved his Spanish and English, explored new cultures, and experienced five months of autonomy while living alone, without his parents, for the first time. ‘Erasmus is something I will never forget’, says Filiberto.
It is hard to believe that in fact, Filiberto has a congenital retinal pathology that prevents him from seeing things that are located either too close or too far. Nor is it easy to realize that, despite his love of sunbathing and swimming, he has a photophobia and can’t see clearly in natural daylight.
So why did Filiberto decide to go on exchange in the first place? Wasn’t he afraid? Not at all, and he hopes no one else will ever be:
Filiberto’s parents stayed with him for the first week of his Erasmus and helped him learn the key routes between the university, the apartment, the supermarket, and other important facilities. Later on, his new Spanish and international friends showed him around, always giving him a hand – both literally and figuratively.
Right now Filiberto is planning to move to Latin America to study Criminology. He is extremely excited about getting to know a culture that is completely different from the European ones. Once Erasmus, always Erasmus – what else can you say?
Our second story follows Eric, who is currently doing two Masters at the same time – in Italian and Spanish – at the University of Lorraine in Nancy, France. Afterward, he is planning to apply for a PhD in Translation Studies. Eric’s passion for languages started back in 2008 when he got his Bachelor’s degree in IT and decided to make a switch. This was followed by two more Bachelors in languages with 1 year abroad in Genoa, Italy, in 2010-2011.
As Eric explains his motivation to go on an exchange: ‘having a father from La Réunion – a French island close to Madagascar – and a mother from Brittany in the European part of France turns you into a natural traveller’. In fact, his younger brother did his Erasmus in the same year as Eric, just in a different place – Cork, Ireland! Eric, however, chose Genoa as his exchange destination in order to improve his Italian and enjoy the sheer beauty of the cliff town rising above the sea.
Time flew by really fast, and Eric came back to France. Missing the international atmosphere, he started to get in touch with exchangers at his home university and eventually took part in the creation of ESN Aix-en-Provence. Later on, he also became the first national ExchangeAbility coordinator in France and even the international ExchangeAbility coordinator afterward!
Eric has Friedreich’s ataxia – a recessive inherited disease which manifests itself as gait disturbance (he needs to use a wheelchair) and loss of coordination (for example, he can’t write with a pen). Judging from his own experience, Eric believes:
This was the best motivation for him to join the ExchangeAbility project and its follow-ups – MapAbility and MappED! Now, thanks to Eric and other enthusiasts, further information is available both on the application and grant procedures, and accessibility of different university and city facilities. Eric hopes this will motivate more students with disabilities to go on exchange and have the time of their lives – just as he did six years ago.
Mamerta’s story would fit perfectly into a movie script. In 2010, during her last year at school, she got into a terrible accident and broke her back. All her dreams, hopes, and ambitions – everything crashed on that day. She spent six months in a hospital, with half of her body paralysed.
After one year of medical treatment, Mamerta was finally reborn and moved to Vilnius, the capital, to study History at the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences. She used crutches to walk and had back pain from time to time, but overall, she was physically fine. The real issue was her mental state. Mamerta had never been shy before the accident, but afterwards she couldn’t help worrying about what other people would say or think of her disability.
In 2012, Mamerta and her group mate Margarita decided to go on exchange to a tiny Turkish city in the middle of nowhere – Kütahya. Margarita helped her out a lot, starting from the very first day at the airport where she offered to carry Mamerta’s luggage – due to her back problems, Mamerta is not allowed to carry more than five kilos.
Erasmus has changed Mamerta completely. In Lithuania, she was always pushed to tell people her ‘sob story’, but in Turkey, everyone cared about her personality and cultural background much more than her crutches. ‘Erasmus has taught me to accept other people and myself’, she explains.
Back at home, Mamerta kept the feeling of freedom that she got during her Erasmus. In 2013, together with some friends from the university, she founded ESN LEU – and became the section’s president for two years. After that, she joined ESN Lithuania as Vice President and the ExchangeAbility coordinator. In summer 2015, Mamerta also had a two-month excavation internship in San Salvatore, Italy. This year, she is finishing her Master’s in Educology in Vilnius University, and she craves for more travelling and exchanges!
Now you know Filiberto’s, Eric’s, and Mamerta’s stories, and it’s your turn to make your own! Life is full of opportunities – don’t miss out if you want to change your life. So, what will your story be about? Find out and tell it to the world!