Taylor Hein ’21 is an English Literature, Rhetoric, and Cultural Studies major and studied abroad in Ireland in Spring 2019.
In January of 2018, I was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune disease that targets your joints and internal organs. Later that year, I was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia, another autoimmune disease which instead caused muscular and nerve pain. Chronic illness immediately became an integral part of my life and it was often difficult to cope with such a big change. I had always wanted to study abroad, but I was worried about if it was even a possibility with my newfound health issues. However, I was not going to let chronic illness define me. I had wanted to study abroad in Ireland for more than five years and I was determined to not let my diagnoses change such an essential desire of my college experience. I knew that there was an overwhelming number of factors and issues to consider; and, many of the problems I encountered I had never foreseen, even in all my planning and preparation. It was often frustrating and scary, but choosing to go abroad was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.
I wanted to study abroad in a non-traditional country and city, as opposed to being in London or Paris. However, I also wanted to be in an English-speaking country, so Ireland ended up being the perfect choice for me. I had wanted to attend Trinity College in Dublin, but I found my home just southeast of the Cliffs of Moher at the University of Limerick for a more authentic cultural experience away from the tourism of Dublin. Limerick is the third-largest city in Ireland, but it really has more of a small-town feeling to it. Downtown Limerick is bustling with shops and restaurants. Specifically, the Locke is a great pub that has traditional Irish music and dancing every night. UL had day-trips almost every weekend for the first part of the semester to different cities and sites around Ireland, such as Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, The Aran Islands, and even to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day. The university itself has one of the top-ranked international programs in Europe; as a result, there were hundreds of other students from all around the United States and the world studying at UL, so you have a very diverse exposure to other cultures and ways of life. I was also able to travel to 11 different countries while I was studying abroad in Ireland.
If you are a fellow student with a chronic illness and are doubtful as to whether you can go, or even if you are a parent/guardian concerned about a loved one, I would like to share some important advice and wisdom I obtained throughout a yearlong journey in my study abroad experience that I wish someone had shared with me. I hope to help others understand that it is very possible for someone with a chronic illness to study abroad and have an incredible time while they are there. I have written an extensive document on how to prepare for this journey and study abroad with a chronic illness. Here is a summary of these tips:
- Planning: Be proactive and meet with you specialist doctor and a professional counselor to discuss how to prepare and plan for different situations
- Accommodations with Disability Services: Understand the disability laws in your host country and notify your program/university in advance so they can help you prepare before you arrive.
- Medication: Start the process of researching and obtaining all the medication you need in advance, as it may be difficult to work with your insurance company.
- Self-Advocacy and Transportation of Special Medications: Think about how you are going to transport medication and how you may need to get all the equipment through TSA.
- Medical and Emergency Information: Keep comprehensive medical and emergency information with you at all times.
- Communicating Abroad: Make sure you have a phone plan that doesn’t rely on WiFi and have an emergency communication plan.
- The Spoon Theory: Studying abroad can be an exhausting but ultimately rewarding experience. Be kind to yourself and know that it’s okay to take a step back.
Living and studying in Ireland was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I definitely had the cliché study abroad experience, even with chronic illnesses. I won’t ever stop talking about it or showing people pictures from my travels and favorite moments. Ireland isn’t always everyone’s first thought for a study abroad program, but I would highly encourage others to consider the gem of the Emerald Isle.
The Spoonies are a student-led organization dedicated to educating our campus about chronic illness and providing a community for students living with it, including (but not limited to) diabetes, lupus, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, endometriosis, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and complex regionalized pain syndrome. You can find us on Instagram at @thechapmanspoonies. For further preparation and support in your study abroad experience, you can contact The Chapman Spoonies via the Chapman Student Organization Engage Portal or email firstname.lastname@example.org.