Going the distance with study abroad
For her whole life people have been challenging Ava Roesslein to see what she can and cannot do.
“They’ve said, ‘Can you do this? You’re always going to have problems with this.’” Roesslein said. “I think I’m Wonder Woman and can do everything.”
Roesslein, junior journalism major, has cerebral palsy, a congenital disorder which, in Roesslein’s case, was the result of brain damage from being born three months prematurely. Roesslein has limited mobility, and can be seen most days in a motorized scooter, although, she can move without the chair and walks as much as she can.
Roesslein, 22, is studying abroad for the first time this summer. She will spend six weeks at Webster University’s London campus at Regent’s College.
“I think it’s one of those opportunities that you just can’t pass up in life, that you need to take,” Roesslein said about studying abroad. “And I would never let my disability get in the way of anything.”
Roesslein has been planning to study abroad since her orientation at Webster after she transferred in fall 2011. Her interest in travel, however, began much earlier.
The first trip Roesslein remembers taking was a visit to Disney World when she was approximately four years old. She remembers sitting in her stroller and being terrified to give Mickey Mouse a hug.
“It sounds like I hated it then,” Roesslein said with a laugh, “But as I kept going on planes, and got used to seeing all these different places, I was fascinated by it (traveling) and all that I could learn about it. “
Roesslein’s father works for American Airlines, and his job benefits allow Roesslein and her family to fly standby for free on American Airlines to any destination in the U.S.
Roesslein and her family traveled Europe together when Ava was in elementary school. She traveled to Paris and Germany and remembers loving it there.
“I was in love with the idea of traveling and I was like, ‘You know what, dude? I want to study abroad,’” Roesslein said. “I want to be here for longer than a week.”
When Roesslein first mentioned studying abroad to her parents, she expected hesitation. This semester was her first semester living away from her home in St. Charles. Roesslein was afraid her parents would be nervous about having her farther away than Webster Groves.
Roesslein’s mother was receptive to the idea of her daughter studying abroad.
“I thought, ‘Wow, what a good experience this was going to be for her.’” Frankie Roesslein, Ava Roesslein’s mother, said. “It was going to be very good for her and I hoped she could do it.”
Frankie Roesslein acknowledged the difficulty in trying to talk her daughter out of something.
“All you’ve got to do is tell her she can’t do something, and she’ll just do her best to prove you wrong,” Frankie Roesslein said.
Ava Roesslein’s study abroad trip will be the first time she has traveled without the company of her family.
Along with the forms and signatures every student needs before studying abroad, Ava Roesslein needs to take extra measures to ensure she is prepared to study abroad. She must talk to the disability coordinator of Regent’s College, academic advising and a local London hospital before she can board the plane for London on May 19.
Ava Roesslein said she did not want her disability to determine which campus she went to, but she said she happened to pick one of the most accessible campuses.
“That (the accessibility) was a big plus for me, and really I didn’t even look at that before I went,” Ava Roesslein said. “I was just like, ‘OK, which campus do I want to go to the most?’ But it’s always nice when I didn’t pick the most difficult one to deal with.”
Ava Roesslein usually navigates campus on a motorized scooter. She will not be bringing the scooter with her to London, however, because she is afraid it will be damaged on the plane. Instead, she will either walk, or have someone push her in a small portable wheelchair.
Carrie Mosebach, former study abroad advisor at Webster, said the first step she took when assisting a disabled student in studying abroad was to check with the abroad campus. She needed to make sure the campus had the necessary resources to accommodate the student.
For some campuses that aren’t easily handicap accessible, such as the Leiden campus, she said special arrangements have been made for a partially wheelchair bound student. All of the student’s classes were on the first floor of the academic building, and ramps were placed on top of a set of stairs in the campus dormitory.
Mosebach said disabled students should not only consider the accessibility of the campus
they are traveling to but also the accessibility of the country as a whole outside of campus.
“It’s definitely something that students need to consider, just so they know that everywhere might not be as easy in other countries as it might be in the U.S.,” Mosebach said.
Mosebach said she has never seen a disabled student be discouraged from studying abroad because of their disability.
“I think that most of the students that I’ve worked with in the past were very determined and they ended up going,” Mosebach said.
Because Regent’s College is an independent university, it is Webster’s only abroad campus to have its own disability coordinator, Philippa Goldsmith. Ava Roesslein will coordinate with Goldsmith to ensure she has support while abroad and to make sure her needs are met. She will need a handicap accessible room and will need to plan her routes to her classes depending on the handicap accessibility of each on-campus building entrance.
Goldsmith said the accessibility of Regent’s College has increased since 2008, with the addition of more handicap accessible entrances and wheelchair platforms to guide disabled students up stairs. Goldsmith has posted photos of accessibility features at Regent’s to their website, to give disabled students an idea of the accessibility of the campus.
As part of the treatment for her cerebral palsy, Ava Roesslein had a Baclofen pump implanted in her back when she was a sophomore. The little silver pump, about the size of a hockey puck, connects to a catheter implanted in her spine. Baclofen is a muscle relaxant that the pump injects directly into her spinal cord. It helps to ease some of the muscle spasticity that accompanies the condition of cerebral palsy. The pump must be refilled at a hospital every six weeks. Roesslein said she had a moment of panic when she realized she might miss a refill while she was abroad.
“I was thinking ‘Oh, my God, six weeks? That’s how long I‘m going to be abroad. What happens if I run out?’” Ava Roesslein said.
She decided that if she gets her pump refilled right before she leaves for London, it will last her just until she returns home. However, Ava Roesslein will contact a local London hospital with the resources to refill her pump in the case of an emergency.
Ava Roesslein chose the London campus not for the accessibility, but for the city of London itself.
“London has always been on my bucket list of places to go,” Ava Roesslein said. “I’ve always wanted to see the London Bridge and Big Ben, and I’ve always wanted to ride a double-decker bus. “
Ava Roesslein said she was more comfortable going to a country that spoke the same language as her.
“I feel like I’m going to have enough of an adjustment period, because just going over there and doing it with my handicap issues,” Ava Roesslein said. “That was probably a bit too much, to go to a different country where they don’t speak the language.”
While in London, Ava Roesslein wants to take classes that will immerse her in the culture of London. She wants to take a London theater class, which will take the class on tours of theaters around London and takes them to see plays. She also plans on taking a history of England class.
“I like learning about other countries and how they do things,” Ava Roesslein said. “And I like to think that that would be an interesting class to take. They all sound interesting and fun and they (study abroad advisors) always say to take classes over there that you can’t take here.”
She already has a list of countries she wants to visit while in Europe. She wants to revisit Paris and visit Italy because she really wants to try real Italian gelato and see the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Ireland is also on her list.
“I’ve heard so many people say it’s breathtaking there (in Ireland),” Ava Roesslein said. “Probably most of these places are breathtaking.”
Ava Roesslein said it hasn’t yet sunk in that she is leaving the country in about six weeks.
“Part of me is like, ‘Oh, it’s right close,’ and the other part of me is like, ‘It’s six weeks away. I got other stuff to do,’” Ava Roesslein said.
She said her parents aren’t in “panic mode” yet, but as soon as the semester ends, she said she knows her mother will begin to worry.
“She’ll be like ‘Call me when you land.’ ‘OK mom. What if it’s three in the morning?’ ‘I don’t care, just call me when you’ve landed,’” Ava Roesslein said.
Ava Roesslein said she will probably feel very proud after her study abroad experience.
“I’ll probably just be proud that I did it. That I didn’t let my disability interfere with my studying abroad and just happy that I went,” Ava Roesslein said.