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Dublin, Ireland: Culture and Disability (Summer)
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Megan Bradson

Major: Psychology
Minor: Rehabilitation and Human Services
Hometown: Media, PA

How did you learn about this opportunity?

Because my minor, Rehabilitation and Human Services, is not in the same college as my major (Psychology), I was required to schedule an appointment with the RHS minor advisor to discuss the minor requirements. I am a Paterno Fellow, required to complete an intensive 24-credit minor instead of the typical 18-credit minor. To get a jumpstart on the credits because I added the minor as a first semester junior, it was suggested that I take a look into the 6-credit Culture and Disability program led by Penn State faculty to Ireland.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

Traveling in a foreign country with 11 other Penn State students whom I have never met before seemed a little intimidating at first, but I knew this study abroad enrichment experience would make a huge impact on my life. Each week day, we met for "class," meaning we traveled to various service agencies around Dublin, which provide services for people with various types of disabilities. For example, we attended schools specifically for children with intellectual disabilities as well as physical disabilities (The Raheny School, Enable Ireland, and St. Michael's House), an organization whose focus was mental health (Mental Health Ireland), a foundation whose mission was to research and provide emotional support to people who are blind (Fighting Blindness), and even an elderly community center (Friends of the Elderly). Each agency had a unique perspective on disability and disability culture in Ireland that made you reflect on the United States' own disability culture. Despite having pretty busy "class" schedules, there was always time to explore Ireland after class. There were cliffs and mountains to climb and beaches to relax at only a 20 minute train ride away. I am thankful that my peers were willing to take advantage of the four weeks we had in Ireland (which went by so fast) and explore whenever we had the chance. One of the things that has resonated with me the most since this trip is the following: everyone experiences loss, whether it be through disability, a person, or anything. It is how you deal with that loss that matters. The way you choose to experience anything, including a disability, can change your outlook on life. Try to find the good in the seemingly bad things in life.

How did this experience impact you academically?

This study abroad experience allowed me to interact with people with various disabilities, allowing me the opportunity to become more comfortable when communicating with people with disabilities. Attending different service agencies also taught me about a wide scope of disabilities I would not have otherwise known about. Between the service agencies and the Disability Summer School conference, I gained a unique perspective on and clinical experience with disabilities that I will apply in my future career.

I even learned a lot about myself and my own values that I never would have learned if it was not for this trip. 

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

Upon graduation, I hope to pursue a career as a clinical neuropsychologist at the doctorate level, working with post-war veterans with PTSD and TBI/blast-related injuries as well as other cognitive and mental health disorders. As I plan a future working in a rehabilitation and medical facility, this study abroad experience really impacted how I now think about and view disabilities. Attending the 9th International Disability Law Summer School conference allowed me to apply some of the concepts, such as coercion to treatment and involuntary commitment, to scenarios I may be faced with in the future as a clinician. I came away from this conference with a stronger stance on how to approach psychosocial disability treatment. As a result of this conference, I also feel more confident as an advocate for my future patients, while providing them with the best treatment available.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

I would definitely recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students, especially those who are open to reflecting on their our values and welcoming other perspectives on disability that may differ from their own. Ireland is a beautiful country - between the fast-paced city life of Dublin and the beautiful cliffs and mountains, it is so hard to be bored while you are there. I learned so much more about rehabilitation and disability than I ever would have in the classroom. I even learned a lot about myself and my own values that I never would have learned if it was not for this trip. I honestly find myself thinking "when I was in Ireland..." at least 3 times a day since I have returned.

How has the Paterno Fellows Program had an impact on this experience?

Had I not been in the Paterno Fellows Program, needing either a study abroad experience or a 3-credit internship and 6 extra credits towards my minor, I strongly believe I would not have gone to Ireland through Penn State's Culture and Disability Program. Through the financial assistance I received as a Paterno Fellow, in addition to the requirements pushing me out of my comfort zone, the Paterno Fellows Program truly changed my life.

For more information on global opportunities for Liberal Arts students, visit our website.
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