Studying abroad can be an exciting but nerve-wracking experience. The comfort zones you are so used to back home become non-existent as you make your way through an unknown country meeting new people and immersing yourself into different cultures. For a college student with Rheumatoid Arthritis, there are a few extra challenges I have to face and while doing so, I often question if choosing to travel for a semester was the best option for me. As someone who has Arthritis in all of their joints and still undergoing surgical procedures, the idea of being in an unfamiliar place away from my family and doctors was downright scary. What if my joints got worse or something happened with my medications? What if I decide midway I can’t put my body through this anymore? These questions often swirl around in my head as the activities become difficult or the field trips become too strenuous that I am left lying in bed the next day. When I do ask myself these questions though, I reflect on why I chose to study abroad in the first place.
When I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis I was thirteen years old and ready to embark on the journey of high school. Everything I loved to do like playing tennis or going to school became incredibly hard and painful. I had to trade the classroom for a hospital room and I had to trade in my racket for a wheelchair. Instead of going out with my friends from school, I sat in the hospital for IV treatments of chemotherapy with my new friends, the nurses. I saw my entire class advance into the next part of their life while I was stuck in the same spot, a girl with a debilitating illness who could not walk.
At the time, seeing all the things I had missed out on was heartbreaking but it’s the same exact thing that still motivates me to this day that allows me to follow my dreams. Since I had missed out on so much as a teenager, I made a vow to myself to live my life to the fullest and to go after everything I had ever wanted. I was given a look at reality and saw that life is far too short to sit and wait for things to happen. Although my illness is painful and difficult I no longer wanted it to derail me from living my best life.
Studying abroad was one of my biggest dreams and I did what I could to make it come true. I focused solely on my health by meeting with my doctors, attending physical therapy, getting surgeries if I needed them and created a plan for myself that would allow me to accomplish this goal. It is true that Arthritis had taken control of my body but after all I had been through, who was I to not even try to take control of my life back.
I managed to study abroad twice, once over the summer in Oxford, England and the other, where I am now, in Sorrento, Italy. Both experiences have had its challenges but with an illness, there’s always a challenge to show us how strong we truly are. I knew that my Arthritis wasn’t going to magically go away abroad or that I wouldn’t be running on the beach like the others. I have to manage my illness the same as I do at home. The most important thing to recognize though is that I did it. I am here enjoying the world and making amazing memories and milestones. It is unbelievable to say that months ago I was bedridden from surgery and now, I am traveling all over Europe.
Arthritis may have taken away my childhood but I refuse to let it take away anything else. If you suffer from Arthritis, reflect on your own journey and realize that everything you’ve ever wanted to do is still in your grasp! We might not be able to do it as perfectly as everyone else, but just the fact we are fighting through it and living our lives the best we can is even more rewarding.
- 8 Tips for Pain-free Travel
- Patient Partner’s Words of Wisdom About Living With RA
- Holiday Travel Can Be a Pain