Everybody has a chance to succeed
Last year, 956 students of the University of Economics in Prague got an opportunity to spend a semester abroad through the exchange program. They could choose from more than 220 universities on four continents. VŠE encourages its students to go abroad for at least a semester. Last year, VŠE sent 100 more students for a semester abroad than in 2013, and among them was Josef Sarkány – a blind student, who wrote this article about his international experience.
My name is Josef Sarkány and I was practically blind from birth. There has been a gradual deterioration of my vision until now, when it has been stabilized. My way of seeing can be compared to watching through a thick fog. I can see large objects such as buildings, but cyclists, traffic signs, banners, addresses, numbers, bus lines and much more I cannot register. One of my best friends is my white cane, which makes my space orientation and walking safer. I don’t use a guide or assistance services. While studying and working, I use a computer with voice and magnifying software. Any black print materials that I need to read, I digitize or ask the VŠE Center for Disabled Students to convert them into electronic form.
The choice of any foreign university for Erasmus was difficult, because every overseas and European university that I was interested in accepted my handicap. In the end, I chose the University of Victoria in Canada, where I spent summer semester 2014/2015. This school impressed me with its concentration in management, which I was planning to focus on during my master’s study at the VŠE Faculty of Business. I also wanted to visit an English speaking country, where I would have an opportunity to meet with English language at every step. In addition, I asked myself why I should stay in Europe if I had a chance to travel around the whole world. This was a very unique opportunity which might not come my way again.
The biggest challenge for me was to get oriented in a completely foreign environment. Initially there was a little problem with the language barrier, but this was quickly overcome. I did not use guide services even there. I preferred to ask somebody on the road and try to walk myself alone. My own experience has always given me the most of all, especially when learning new possible ways to get somewhere. The academic environment of the University of Victoria was wheelchair accessible, helpful and very friendly. Everything that I needed was within walking distance. On campus, there was a cantina, hair salon, fitness center with a swimming pool, bar, cinema, drugstores and more. Canadian and international exchange students accepted me even though I was disabled. Professors tried to help me. The center offering assistance to students with various forms of disability worked very well. At the beginning of the semester, I got all materials in electronic form. When I needed some book to be divided into smaller parts because the big size of the document means slower opening, they converted it for me in a week; then I had a Word document divided into various chapters. Tests were transferred into electronic form by the center. Then we wrote them on a special computer, where there are various special software packages installed (for example MAGic for visually disabled).
Retrospectively, when I think about this journey, I have to say that it was such a great experience – not only from the professional point of view, but also from the personal one. On the other hand, there are much more difficult life situations that we, disabled people, challenge. I definitely recommend to taking part in a study abroad, because thanks to it, you will gain experience, skills, friends and much more.