Interning abroad with a visual impairment: “I now feel able and unlimited in what I can do”
Traveling abroad can always be an overwhelming experience; whether you’re a seasoned veteran or an inexperienced first timer, you never know what to expect or how you will cope. That’s exactly what I’ve found at my slender age of 22; it doesn’t matter how many times I go somewhere, it will always be a uniquely different experience from the last. You definitely become better for every step you take into the unknown. There’s no better way to build confidence than facing these challenges in a foreign setting. Especially for me, as a visually impaired rookie still learning my way around the world. This is why I have plunged myself into the deep and gone for an international internship.
I was just two years old when I was diagnosed with a rare eye cancer called retinoblastoma, which took away my right eye. As incredibly difficult as my life has been since the trauma, I can be proud of how I have managed in day-to-day life growing up. It has broken me as a person, but I am trying to fix it all back together again. Uncontrollable pain, anger, confusion, injustice. I could not understand why this had happened to me. I was traumatized, frightened and completely not confident in the world. So to get rid of these feelings, I have had to go out and find out the best of the world, and discover that it is in fact a beautiful place. And we can find ourselves somewhere, anywhere across the globe. To dig yourself out of a hole, you perhaps need to dig deeper first.
When I was younger, it was more about the mental adjustment of being different with my artificial eye. As unknowing and uncaring of my physical limitations at such a young age, I always did everything just as well as the next kid. I played sports, ran around freely and did very well at school. My disability never held me back and I always welcomed all kinds of experiences. I really didn’t have a care in the world until somebody would say something about the way that I looked. As hard as it was every day having to deal with the negativity from others, I still battled on to be the person I am today. The mental insecurities have gradually softened but still it bears a scar every time I blink. It feels so different to what it should do. As a young adult, instead I have realized my physical limitations and have had to learn how to adjust to adult life. By going abroad this summer for my internship, it has given me the platform to do just that.
The age-old saying ‘experiences, good or bad, make you stronger’ has become my life motto. As you would expect, with a setback as great as I’ve had, my confidence was always going to need some serious rebuilding. Even now, I suffer greatly from insecurities and hesitations when faced with unknown challenges. Traveling abroad was always my dream growing up, but it was something I knew would be uniquely difficult with my impairment. Walking into the unknown is difficult enough, but being half blind really is a shot in the dark. The Intern Group made this possible.
Every time I walk down the street, I can’t walk to my right as I have no idea who is there. I feel agitated, stressed, vulnerable not knowing what’s there. And these are the same feelings we all have about traveling. We don’t know what is there and how to knock down those barriers. What I am saying is, all of these feelings I have felt about my impairment are applicable to life itself; there is no point thinking about what could’ve been, you should just go for it. Life is too short for worrying and we will never make ourselves better without new experiences. The more we experience, the better, stronger and more capable we get. As disadvantaged as I may be, I want to make it all better; I want to take on more; I want to see everything. I owe it to myself, and you do to yourself too.
It takes a brave and special person to commit to an internship abroad. Not many people take this chance to integrate into a new culture and test themselves personally and professionally alone. I arrived eager to begin and not be fearful of the demons from my past. I knew it was going to be a positive experience in both the short and long term. This was just the start of my journey and I was ready for it to all begin. I knew my limitations. I knew how to deal with them. I knew I had grown and was getting better. Being visually impaired can be used to my advantage as I become more aware and cautious of what’s going on around me. My mind is clear and I know what to do when faced with challenges. These techniques come from experiences before. Instead of panicking and feeling vulnerable, I double check everything I do and take it all slowly. To compensate for my lost eye, my other eye must do double the work. It can lead to feelings of severe fatigue and dizziness. This is from trying to do too much, but when you’re on your own, you learn that only you can help these problems. It gives me the independence and self-confidence I need away from home comforts.
You may not think it now, but the fact you are even considering something as big as this means you’ve done something before that will make you prepared. Every single thing is a learning curve, but we only get there from the last clue we’ve picked up on route. The last skill we taught ourselves. The last thing that led you to where you are now. When I was younger, I had to regularly go for hospital check ups and operations in London. As one of the busiest places in the world, it becomes overwhelming. Yet, because I have struggled then adapted to this, anything else seems easy. It surprised me when somebody told me Berlin is the also one of the largest cities in Europe. It really does seem like a piece of cake now. Those negative experiences from London have made positive experiences in Berlin. It’s like training for something, like I do with the gym. You have to make yourself better by challenging yourself to the limits. Just believe in yourself, or at least believe it will make you better for the rest of your life.
This leads to another trademark saying you would’ve heard from your wise old grandmother. ‘Every door opened is another possibility’. Every experience I have, it makes me stronger and more confident to take on more. This internship is just the start of my adventure. I now feel able and unlimited in what I can do. Even if those physical limitations are there, embrace them and learn how to overcome these fears. Reaching that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is what we all strive for. By broadening your horizons and traveling afar, you can prove to yourself that anything is possible. If I can do it, then what’s stopping you? The door I have opened here has a world of new people, cultures, places and experiences. It has allowed me to build a network, conquer things I haven’t before and learn new invaluable skills in my job and in the city. It’s the perfect opportunity to travel but work at the same time. You can get the best of both worlds, and the door never shuts behind you. When my internship is up at the end of the summer, I know that I will have the support from others and the confidence in myself for my next door opening. Now I can look people in the eye both assured of myself in appearance and personality.
The second-guessing, original struggles and cautious approach I take with me every second of my life will always be there physically with my visual impairment. Yet, mentally I feel these problems are disappearing from my mind. My eye may be gone and I can never get it back, but traveling the world can open that gaping hole. It has become my guidance and confidence-builder. ‘No eye unturned’ as they say, and I feel this internship will make people appreciate who I am today in the most positive light. If I fight my difficulties, beat my past and come out the other side the complete person I know I should be, then my disability really becomes my ability. Traveling is something I owed to myself and working is something I know that I need for experience. By combining the two together on my internship abroad this summer, I feel on the right road ahead. All I want to do is keep the momentum going and find my next experiences. This internship has put me in the right mindset for it.
I really cannot wait to travel more and I am telling you now; do it, just do it. Go for it. It will change your life for the better and beat down your problems! I’ll let you know where I am next year and how much further I go! Chao und Auf Wiedersehen meine Freunde! Vielen dank für lesen!
All photos by James Threadingham.