Student Stories: Being A Legally Blind Student Abroad

Post originally found on CIS Abroad. Guest author: Aly Hathaway, Semester in Aix-En-Provence – Institut Americain Universitaire, Fall 2018, Wagner College.

My name is Aly Hathaway, and I am a Senior French Studies major at Wagner College. I chose CIS because the staff were super helpful, and I knew that it would help me make the most of my study abroad experience.

Starting out, I had so many questions

FA18_Semester-in-Aix-en-Provence_Aly-Hathaway_Wagner-College_I-am-I-can-e1554929355797-768x769.jpgEver since I started taking French courses, I had dreamed about studying in France. However, when it came time to filling out the paperwork and moving forward with the process, fear almost got the best of me. The idea of throwing myself into an unfamiliar situation with my visual impairment terrified me.

I was interested in the Semester in Aix-en-Provence program, but I had so many questions that I didn’t know if anyone would be able to answer them all.

Will my French professors understand my disability and accommodate like my U.S. professors? How would I navigate airports? A new school? And even a new city alone?

It turns out that, while these questions may have seemed unanswerable to me, all I had to do was ask.

Support from CISabroad

CISabroad quelled my nerves, greeting me with open communication and warmth. Suddenly, I had the courage to ask my program manager these questions, and the answer was simple. I would never be alone; not in the sense that someone would be with me physically to hold my hand all the time, but rather there would always be someone willing to help.

“CISabroad staff showed me from the get-go that I would be safe and accommodated during my travels, and they were absolutely right”

After talking to my home university’s disability services office and Joan (my CISabroad program coordinator) it appeared that we were all on the same page when it came to making my academic success in France a priority.

My school sent Joan a letter listing my approved accommodations, and Joan served as liaison between myself and IAU College, where I attended school in France. She made sure that the school was aware of my condition, and in response, IAU assured us that my accommodations would be met.

IAU also told us that they would inform my host family, and that after about a week or two, I would have no problem finding my way around Aix given its small size and warm people. It was settled. I was going to France!

Arriving in France

When I arrived, I was not disappointed. And when I say that Aix-en-Provence welcomed me with open arms, I mean it quite literally.

After my cohort’s orientation in Paris, we took the train south to Aix together. When we arrived at the Aix train station, we were greeted by our site director, Christelle, who helped us find our host families. I nervously stood on the platform until a woman took me into her arms and greeted me with the famous French “deux bises” or two kisses–one on each cheek. I was startled at first, but she then introduced herself as my host mother. She then drove me to my new home for the next four months.Aix-en-Provence-France-street-scene-800-x-533

Settling into Aix-En-Provence

The next day, my host mother took me on a walk to explore the city. She told me that she wanted to make sure I could find my way around, so she showed me the route from her apartment to the school. Aix is a beautiful little city, and as we walked through the antique markets and cobblestoned streets, I realized how excited I was to be familiar with my new home.

I will never forget walking into the house after my first solo journey to and from school for IAU’s orientation. She was sitting at the dining room table, a big smile on her face, hands clapping. She was so proud (and relieved) that I found my way home.

After about three weeks, it seemed like everything was coming naturally to me. I no longer needed to use Google Maps to navigate the city, and I was getting the hang of taking five classes entirely taught in French.

My professors treated me like any other student in class, but would also routinely check-in with me in private to see if there was anything else they could do to help.

Overall, I managed to do very well in my classes, and by the end of my program, I had navigated through eight different countries.

I learned that no matter where you go, if you think you may be lost, there is someone always willing to help you find your way–all you have to do is ask.

Looking back, I couldn’t have done this without CISabroad

In retrospect, none of this would have ever been possible without the support of my family and friends (the American and the French), and companies like CISabroad, who believed in me and helped make my dream of studying abroad come true.

I was fortunate enough to experience firsthand CISabroad’s dedication to showing students that, with the right resources, no barrier is insurmountable when it comes to studying abroad. All it takes is a little spark of courage, an initial conversation, and a positive outlook. I never once felt alone throughout my time in France, and it feels amazing to know that there are now people cheering me on from another continent, while I carry them with me here in the U.S. And now I can continue to explore the world with the confidence to navigate and the courage to ask for help.

How I Survived a Year Abroad with Food Allergies (And How You Can Too)

Margaret Geanacopoulos is a Senior at Towson University majoring in International Studies. For the duration of her Junior year, Margaret studied abroad through a TU Exchange Program at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan. Margaret also works at the Towson University Study Abroad Office as a Peer Advisor.

IMG_5642Around the time I was seven years old, I decided that I was going to live in Japan someday. Growing up with Japanese movies, manga, and music, I always felt a strong connection to Japanese culture and wanted to experience it for myself. Around that same time, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, meaning I would have to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet for the rest of my life. Bummer.

However my allergies didn’t deter me from following my dreams anyway. When I was a junior at Towson, I studied abroad at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan for 2017-2018 academic year. Although I was aware that many Japanese foods such as Ramen, Udon, and Melon Bread (which surprisingly doesn’t taste like melon) were made with gluten, I had no idea how much of a struggle eating gluten-free in Japan would be. Things as inconspicuous as soy-sauce, miso soup, and even rice-balls had gluten snuck into them. However, after a year of trial-and-error, here are some lessons that I learned that made travelling with food restrictions much easier.

Do your research

Before I left for my year in Japan, I spent a lot of time online researching what Japanese foods I could and couldn’t eat. Not only did I learn what foods to steer clear of, but I also found lists of gluten-free snacks and even entire restaurants that were gluten-free in the cities I would be travelling to. If your allergies require medication or the use of an EpiPen, make sure you have a sufficient amount before you leave and research how they could be potentially refilled if you’re staying for a long time. Besides saving you a lot of time and stress, knowing what foods to look out for and researching restaurants in your area ahead of time will let you focus on the more important aspects of your time abroad like making connections and gaining experience.

All three of these pictures were taken at restaurants that were completely gluten-free or had dedicated gluten free options! (Pictured: Gluten-free Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima, Gluten-free Carrot Cake at “Sunny Bread” in Seoul, and “Cafe Littlebird” in Tokyo, which is completely gluten-free and has dairy free options!) 

Make a plan (and bring snacks)


Whether it was cooking a meal for myself to bring to school or stopping by a convenience store to buy some granola bars before a long day out, it’s always important to be prepared. At school, my friends usually ate at the cafeteria for lunch. I would check online what their menu would be for the following day, and if there were no available options for me I would meal prep a lunch the night before. When you’re travelling with friends who maybe don’t have any food restrictions, you never know when the group might spontaneously decide to stop and get something to eat. In case you might not be able to find something you can eat, it’s a good idea to have a couple snacks on you so that you can enjoy your time with your friends and not focus on your growling stomach.

Communicate your needs, and don’t feel bad about it

In American culture, it’s fairly common to ask for substitutions in restaurants or for restaurants to have designated allergen menus, so back home I had always been very vocal about my allergies to waiters and was met with minimal resistance. However, in Japan the culinary culture is very different. I had read online that most Japanese restaurants will be offended if you try to make substitutions to their menu or sometimes won’t allow it at all. When I first arrived I felt embarrassed having to ask if there was gluten in dishes, especially when the language barrier created some misunderstandings between me and the staff. Overtime I noticed that if I explicitly stated that I had an allergy and that’s why I was asking about their food, servers were much more understanding, and often went out of their way to accommodate me. There is nothing to be ashamed about having allergies. Don’t be afraid to communicate your needs! The more you do it, the better your experience will be.

*PRO TIP: If you’re not fluent in the language of the country that you’re studying in, you can print out cards that state your allergies that you can give to servers if they don’t speak English.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

I know firsthand how frustrating and scary travelling with allergies can be. For me personally, food is a huge part of my life and not having the stability of knowing when, what, and where I could eat would cause me a lot of anxiety. However, these challenging moments could never compare to the amount of life changing experiences I had while I was in Japan. While it’s important to do your research beforehand and be conscious of your allergies once you arrive, don’t let food restrictions become the main focus of your time abroad. Travel to new places, meet interesting people, and take advantage of all of the wonderful opportunities in front of you.


Some of the amazing friends I made with our homemade Japanese-American Thanksgiving!

The Importance of Being Black and Going Abroad

Author: Zenab Bakayoko

Zenab studied abroad in Paris, France with CEA in Spring 2018 and works as a CEA Alumni Ambassador. 


Since 1976, February has been celebrated as Black History Month, during which many different prominent African American figures are recognized and celebrated for their contributions.

In honor of Black History Month, I want to share some of my experiences of being an African American abroad while also emphasizing why it is important for people of color to go abroad.

When looking back at history, we are reminded of how Africans were dispersed all around the world through the slave trade, which had lasting effects on the overall geographical placement of and opportunities for African Americans. Because of this, the experience for people of color to travel abroad can be unbelievably rewarding.

Last week, I attended a seminar at my school that hosted the creators of Black & Abroad, which is a brand started by two male entrepreneurs, Eric Martin and Kent Johnson. They got the inspiration to begin the brand from their own experience traveling and noticing that most flyers and advertisements directed toward travel did not include any African Americans. Through their research, they found that African Americans spend about $63 billion in travel per year and were shocked that they rarely saw representation.


In an effort to change this, Eric and Kent created Black & Abroad. It’s a growing business that not only encourages people of color to go abroad and share their experiences, but also sponsors trips. Their T-shirts are worn by people of color all around the world, and the company gained a lot of popularity by people taking pictures abroad and adding the hashtag “#BlackandAbroad.”

Eric and Kent were speaking from a business perspective. However, I was able to gather the true meaning behind the overall message and movement; as people of color, our history instills a duty in us to educate ourselves of the world.

My experience abroad was a special one. I was the only African American in my program, and this was not a situation I was anticipating but one I grew to embrace. It was nice being able to connect with the people of color in all five countries I had the chance to visit while I was overseas.

While studying in Paris, I was shocked to see that in certain arrondissements, (the French word for what could translate to “districts”) the African population was much more dominant. In these parts of the city, you would find quite a few products unique to African culture. This could range from specific hair products, to foods, restaurants, clothes, and more.

There’s no question that Africans and people of color, are major contributors to the culture of any community. From music, fashion, and hairstyles — our contribution can be seen as universal. Think about how popular Reggae and African music is worldwide!

Here are some quick international facts about Black History that many people don’t know:

Did you know Haiti was the world’s first black Republic to gain their independence?  

Haiti gained their independence on January 1, 1804, making them the first black Republic and Caribbean island to be independent. The movement that set the tone for the revolution was led by a Jamaican who was a free man.

Did you know an African slave was the first person to introduce inoculation (another word for vaccination) in the United States?

A slave named Onesimus introduced the idea of vaccination to his slave master while talking about old African traditions.  When a small epidemic of smallpox broke out in Boston, the master shared the tradition with a doctor named Zabdiel Boylston. The doctor adopted the tradition and was condemned by the public to the point where his life was in danger. However, he was able to save many lives. This practice was later used for slaves during the Revolutionary War. This introduced the concept of inoculation/vaccination in the United States. Onesimus is thought to be from Sudan or Ghana. Onesimus was given to his slave master, Puritan church minister Cotton Mather, as a gift.

52469075_352062365393114_3940025533596696576_nDid you know singer Josephine Baker was a spy for the French during World War II?

Baker would smuggle military information to the French by pinning them inside her dress and hiding them in her music sheets!

The House of Slaves Museum

The House of Slaves is a museum located in Gorée Island in Senegal. One of the main features of the museum is the Door of No Return, which is said to be the final exit for slaves before being shipped to the Americas by boat. The walls tell the heartbreaking story of this process, as they display nail scratches when people would attempt to fight their way off the boat.

As Black History Month comes to an end, I want to urge people of color to learn more about black pioneers and revolutionaries from countries other than the United States. You will be shocked to find that everywhere in the world, people of color always pushed through to create a difference.

Originally posted on:

Studying Abroad as a Student of Color

Thoughts from Brianna James, Peer Advisor.

Naturally, each student preparing to go abroad has their own set of concerns. As a student who’d booked their flight a day too early, had never been out of the country before, and had never even been on a plane, I think it’s safe to say I fit the bill. My biggest concern however, was the color of my skin.

With racial tensions ever present in the States, I have to admit that being a student of color is scary; especially for those of us attending predominantly white institutions (PWIs). While most students aren’t racist, we have to be aware that they could be, and be prepared to deal with these situations, God forbid they ever arise. So it only makes sense that these fears would be heightened at the the thought of studying in another country.

Your identity as a person of color is something that follows you wherever you go, so it makes sense to be concerned about how it will impact your time abroad. I looked back at my own experience and came up with some tips for other students of color studying abroad:

DO: research…but not too much. I didn’t have any friends or family that had been abroad, and at the time I felt silly admitting to others that the color of my skin was one of my concerns. So I did what any millennial with a pressing question would do…I went to google; like actually googled “racism in London.” Most of what I found were discussion forums, and while some stories were helpful, others were definitely less so. Interestingly enough, what I found most insightful was research into Britain’s history. It helped me put the country’s racial relations onto a timeline, and really changed my perspective.

DON’T: expect another person’s experience to parallel your own. Everyone’s time abroad is different. Don’t allow yourself to be immediately turned on or off by something someone else encountered abroad.

DO: brace yourself for horror stories. It happens. When I was abroad, a man came up to me in a bar and told me he hated black people. I was stunned and had no idea what to say. Fortunately the amazing friends I’d made abroad had my back, and responded to him before I even had the chance.

DON’T: let a horror story paralyze you. If for any reason you do have an uncomfortable encounter abroad, do not let it intimidate you from enjoying the duration of your program. Take time for self care and reconnect to your support system.

DO: and I absolutely mean do, be comfortable expressing these concerns prior to your study abroad experience; it’s more difficult to face them alone. When possible, reach out to other persons in your community that have already been abroad to get a feel for their experience. More times than not, it’ll ease your mind. If no one you identify with has been abroad, take your concerns to an ally; explain them in detail because talking can be quite therapeutic.

At the end of the day, studying abroad is one of the best decisions you can make as a college student. Worrying about your experience as a student of color abroad is completely valid and worth preparing for, but DON’T let it keep you from participating in the experience of a lifetime!

The Towson University Study Abroad Office partners with Diversity Abroad to offer resources and scholarships for underrepresented students. Interested in Study Abroad? Come to one of our information sessions, M-F at 2pm in PY 408, or email us at


Advice for Veterans Studying Abroad

Veterans represent a growing population on college campuses, and that means more students that should study abroad! Plus, if you receive G.I. Bill educational funding,  you could be traveling for little to nothing! Check out thoughts from Chris Powell, the Study Abroad Office Veteran Liaison, on studying abroad as a Veteran.

Thoughts from Chris Powell, Study Abroad Veteran Liaison

Sure, many veterans have been abroad, but have you been abroad without the uniform? Now is your chance. Veterans have been identified as an underrepresented community for study abroad! What does that mean for you? Well, for those of you utilizing the G.I. Bill, you can study abroad and learn valuable skills and experiences for a fraction of the normal cost by using your benefits. Veterans who study abroad are still eligible for their housing allowance. I studied abroad in India and was able to live very comfortably because of continued housing allowance while abroad. Studying Abroad is an amazing opportunity that you shouldn’t let pass you by. Doing so will allow you to expand your network and add some very valuable skills to your resume, such as language training, or even showing an employer that you have been abroad and are culturally competent and globally savvy in foreign environments. These are important skills that are sought after in the civilian sector of employment, where international work is continuously growing.

Studying abroad also grants us the opportunity to get rid of the stigma about veterans overseas. For those of us who have been abroad or lived abroad with the military, we have all heard the same old saying about the U.S. military overseas, and most of the time it involves negative opinions. Well now is our chance to get rid of the stigma and become proud ambassadors for our country and to show other countries that we are a valuable asset to work with. Not only will your study abroad experience grant you credits towards graduation but also help fulfill requirements for your major and or minor, including elective credits or Core credits, but also gives you the opportunity to build your resume, forge new friendships that will last a lifetime, and gain new and interesting experiences by learning other languages, cultures and customs that could change you in ways you never thought possible. Studying in a different country allows you to live life and learn through a new positive perspective. And as we know, what we encountered during our time in the military, most of us have lived through very rough and stressful situations. Studying abroad can be stressful going to a new country where you don’t know the language or customs, but often this may be easier for us since we’ve had to do this before, but in war zones, where stress levels can be through the roof. Being resilient and adaptable really make studying abroad perfect for veterans. Please consider studying abroad during your time at Towson University, as studying abroad forever changed my life for the better, and it can change yours too, if you take the leap.

Interested? Attend a Study Abroad Information Session (M-F at 2pm, PY 408, drop-ins welcome). Or, contact the Study Abroad Office for more information!

Recipes from Abroad Series

Bring the world to your kitchen!

Do you ever find yourself wandering down the international food aisle in the grocery store wishing you knew how to incorporate these ingredients into your cooking? Have you been abroad and miss the excitement of trying new dishes? Do you just love to cook and try new foods? If you answered yes to any of the above, this blog series is right up your alley!

For the remainder of this semester, we will be featuring a new international recipe on our blog every week. Follow along with us as we bring the international food aisle home!

5/2/2016: Recipe #3 is from Kristen, one of our awesome Peer Advisors!


Kristen’s Irish Soda Bread


  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and baking soda. Blend egg and buttermilk together, and add all at once to the flour mixture. Mix just until moistened. Stir in butter. Pour into prepared pan.
  3. Bake for 65 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the bread comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Wrap in foil for several hours, or overnight, for best flavor.

Fun Fact: The cross on the soda bread has several explanations. Legend has it that folks did it to “let the devil out” while it’s baking for good luck, and others say that it made it easy to divide into 4 pieces. It was also a symbol for a cross during Christian holidays.

Interested in study abroad opportunities in Ireland? Check out the link below for more info!

4/18/2016: Recipe #2 comes from one of our Study Abroad Advisors, Jen!


Jen’s Spanish Tortilla


  • 6 large potatoes, diced
  • 7 eggs
  • 2 small onions, chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pepper
  • Lots of oil!! probably about 1.5-2 cups (enough to fry the potatoes)


Peel potatoes and dice into small square pieces. Fry the potatoes on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Chop onion(s) finely and add to the potatoes, spreading them throughout. Once the potatoes are golden brown and tender, drain potatoes and onion in a strainer to get rid of excess oil. Add all 6 eggs to the potato mixture, and stir all ingredients so they are thoughtfully mixed. Pour mixture back into round pan, make sure the edge of the tortilla is rounded. Once the egg has cooked through on the bottom, place a large plate over your pan and carefully flip the tortilla (This is the tricky part- it takes a bit of practice. Having a second person sometimes helps!). The egg should look cooked through on the top now, but you’ll still have to let it cook through to the bottom. Carefully slip the tortilla back from the plate into the pan and use the spatula again to make sure the edges are clean and round. Add salt to taste. Cut like a pie or in small squares and serve with a baguette. Enjoy your authentic Spanish tortilla with cafe con leche and you’ll feel like you’re taking a short siesta in a cafe in Spain!

Fun Fact: Tapas, or appetizers, are a staple in Spanish cuisine, and the Spanish Tortilla is considered one of the most classic tapas. 

Interested in study abroad opportunities in Spain? Check out the link below for more info!

4/11/2016: We’d like to start off with a recipe from the Director of the Study Abroad Office:


Liz’s Quick and Easy Coronation Chicken 


  • Shredded chicken (4-6 cups or one medium sized rotisserie chicken)
  • 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • Mild curry powder (approx. 2 – 4 teaspoons)
  • Pineapple chunks or tidbits in natural juice (20oz can)
  • Cashew nut halves and pieces (8oz can)
  • Salt
  • Black pepper


Strain the pineapple chunks saving 2 tablespoons of the juice. Mix the mayonnaise, curry powder, and pineapple juice together until smooth. Add to the shredded chicken, pineapple chunks, and cashew pieces.  Salt and black pepper to taste. Serve with chips, crackers, lettuce wraps, or in sandwiches.

Fun Fact: The original recipe was created in honor of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Interested in study abroad opportunities in the UK? Check out the link below for more info!

Stay tuned for yummy recipes from India, Spain, Chile, and more…