A successful study abroad experience will depend largely on making preparations and planning ahead so that your disability-related support needs can be met whilst you are abroad.
The information below is designed to help you think about the support and strategies you have access to in the UK, and how these may differ whilst you are abroad. However, this is not an exhaustive list and we would encourage students with a disability to consult with UCL Student Support and Wellbeing to ensure you feel prepared for your time away.
These may include GPs, counsellors, study skills tutors, note takers and so on. Inform your current support service of your plans to study abroad and discuss your specific disability/health and support needs, including medication and strategies for managing your health.
If you have received support from a support worker, carer or mentor, will this be available in your host country? Will you be able to register with a GP or access psychological therapies?
Many universities offer some kind of counselling service but some will not. If this type of support has been helpful for you at UCL, you need to find out about local services (and whether there is a cost attached).
You need to check if your current medication is available in your destination country and also who is able to prescribe it.
Might you need to request enough from your home GP to last you the year? Will there be a pharmacy nearby? What happens if you run out or need to change your medication?
Who will be organising this? Are there access issues, do you need any adaptations, en-suite, shared or individual facilities? Think about location, proximity to campus and services.
Reasonable adjustments for study
This might include specific exam arrangements or access to special equipment, technology or facilities.
What do you already have in place at UCL? What does your new department need to know? Is your destination university able to supply the equipment or make the adjustments to exam arrangements that you need?
Please be aware that although your disability may be recognised by law in the UK, which means that British universities are required to make reasonable adjustments, this may not be the case abroad.
Think about the support networks you currently have in place, e.g. friends, fellow students, family members. Maintaining sources of support will be vital, particularly in the initial stages of your time abroad.
Most people moving to a new country will experience feelings of stress and isolation at some point. For those with a disability or mental health condition these feelings can be more pronounced.
Who will you contact if you are worried and need to talk, or need support, or are experiencing a crisis or emergency? It is worth finding out what formal support services are in place through your host university e.g. equivalents to UCL Student Support and Wellbeing, the Advice Service in Students' Union UCL, or the Student Residence Advisers in UCL's halls of residence.
You may also wish to research and join social groups, societies and clubs in your host university, and connect with your host institution's social media accounts to find out more about what's going on.
Adapting to a new culture
You will experience new cultures, people, attitudes, food, music and probably a new language when you go abroad. Before you start to understand and appreciate the differences of your host country, you may experience some culture shock.
Culture shock is a logical reaction to differences we encounter in a foreign culture. For students with mental health issues, the common symptoms of culture shock (homesickness, boredom, anxiety, withdrawal, loneliness, frustration and feelings of powerlessness) can be experienced more intensely. As above, it is important to know where to turn to for support if you are struggling with any of these feelings.
Reading and researching about the country you are going to can help prepare you for cultural differences and attitudes to disability. Guidebooks, travel blogs, and international newspapers are great sources of information and these days there are a multitude of websites which can provide you with more information.
Universally, societies have explanations for why some individuals (and not others) are disabled, how individuals with disabilities are to be treated, what roles are appropriate (and inappropriate) for such individuals and what rights and responsibilities individuals with disability are either entitled to or denied. Learning about different perspectives and attitudes to disability can help to prepare you for your time abroad.
Who should I speak to about my support needs?
It is important that you feel confident you have made the necessary preparations for your year abroad, but remember that mild feelings of stress and anxiety are normal in this kind of situation.
If you wish to discuss your support needs abroad further please speak to the Study Abroad team in the first instance, who will be your main point of contact for all issues relating to your year abroad. If you have a physical disability, mental health condition or a long-term or chronic illness, it is highly recommended that you reach out to the Disability, Mental Health and Wellbeing Support team within UCL Student Support and Wellbeing, if you have not done so already.