Hi! My name is Emma, I am a sophomore in LSA, and I studied abroad in Winter 2023 in the Advanced Language and Culture Program in Madrid, Spain as a student with an autoimmune disease. A common misconception for students registered with Services for Students with Disabilities (commonly known as SSD) is that we can’t study abroad. As someone with a “severe” autoimmune condition, I would like to share my journey and tips of how I made study abroad work for me. 


Step 1: Plan, Plan Plan

Thinking ahead will be your best friend when you want to study abroad. For me, I knew that I wanted to study abroad since my first semester at Michigan. Everyone’s situations are different—so don’t worry if you have decided at a later date. For me, I started collaborating with my doctors in July, 6 months prior to my departure. We sat down with a list of potential programs, and talked about which ones would be safest for me considering my condition. 

Some factors we considered were: How is the accessibility in this city? How is the healthcare here? Where is the closest airport in case an emergency evacuation is needed? And, most importantly, do they have my necessary medications? It's also equally as important to make sure that your mental health is being taken care of!

Your list will look different depending on who you are and what your health journey looks like. My doctors and I decided the best location for me based on those factors. The accessibility here is wonderful, the public transportation is great, they have my medications here, and the healthcare is very good. Additionally, as someone who is immunosuppressed, there is not a track record of many potentially harmful bacterial diseases in my location. 


Step 2: Apply!

I would recommend having most of your logistics figured out before the application process. This will help smooth out a lot of uncertainties during the process, and make your life a lot easier! 

The CGIS website has great information about studying abroad if you are in SSD. If you are applying through CGIS, but the program you want to do requires an external application, it can be helpful to have a letter from your doctors on hand about necessary accommodations. If studying abroad in a language program, collaborate with translators in your doctor’s office for an English copy and a copy in the preferred language of your program. This shows the program that you have thought ahead, and it's really helpful to them! If you are worried about housing, CGIS will also be able to help you with any necessary housing accommodations, so make sure you contact the advisor for your study abroad program and have a conversation about what accommodations you will need in place prior to arrival. Every CGIS advisor I have worked with has been incredibly helpful when it comes to accommodations. 

Finally, consider your expenses. Do you require certain food that may be more expensive? Will you need extra transportation funds to arrive at doctor appointments? Are there certain accommodation measures that you need to take that will require extra funding? My best advice will be to take these seriously! You want to be in a good position while abroad. You may also apply to scholarships if eligible to help pay for the program, which will help ease financial burden for these other possible expenses! The LSA Study Abroad scholarship is a wonderful place to start, and oftentimes, there are departmental scholarships available as well. 


Step 3: Get Ready to Go!

When packing, take into consideration any objects you might need. For me, I brought a portable heating pad to help me if I had symptoms during my trip, and all of my medications that could last me for my full duration abroad. I would also recommend you to make some plans about how you will manage your health abroad. For example, what will you do if there are shifts in your health? The key here is to make detailed plans. I highly recommend downloading the GeoBlue app ahead of time, they have some really great care options available wherever you are studying abroad. 


This is Emma eating a traditional Spanish dish called Migas in a local restaurant in Madrid.

Step 4: Go!

Go out and see the world! Enjoy your time abroad; it’s truly life changing. When abroad, make sure to continue collaborating with onsite advisors and onsite doctors, (basically, whoever you may need to collaborate with). As students with disabilities, we CAN study abroad and have a great time, just don’t forget to plan ahead. Have a wonderful time, and take lots of photos!


Questions for Emma about her Advanced Language and Culture Program experiences in Winter 2023? Contact her at emmagrif@umich.edu.

Identity tags: Ability, invisible illness, IBD, registered disability, SSD