Q&A With Lauren Presutti: “Study abroad, regardless of any limitations or physical challenges”
For Lauren Presutti, a sociology major at Central Michigan University (CMU), the personal discovery that came from studying abroad in Australia this summer was well worth the many months of planning, questioning and hard work.
Presutti, from Milford, Mich., has Muscular Dystrophy and uses a wheelchair to get around, which made her decision to participate in the five-week “Wanju Boodjah: Aboriginal Studies” in Perth, Australia, a daring one. She embraced the opportunity, however, with enthusiasm and overcame challenges as they presented themselves each day. In completing the June-July program, she became the first person from her university to travel abroad from a power wheelchair.
“After my experience, I would highly encourage any student to study abroad, regardless of any limitations or physical challenges,” she says. “I learned and gained more from this opportunity than anything else I have done before.”
And it was an experience that left her wanting more.
“It’s difficult to express in words how rewarding this experience was for me and how thankful I am for having the opportunity to study abroad,” she says. “I am definitely planning to travel abroad again, and I hope that others, whether there are physical challenges to consider or not, also find the opportunity to travel and experience new adventures.”
Presutti took a few moments from the busy start of her second year of college to answer a few questions about her Australian experience.
Q: What did you hope to get out of your time in Australia and the Wanju Boodjah course?
My main goal in studying abroad was to step out of my comfort zone and experience things that I never imagined doing before. Along with learning and gaining new insight from the course, I wanted to find adventure in Australia and gain confidence in my ability to travel.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you overcame while in Australia?
I wouldn’t say that I had one biggest challenge in Australia, but instead I had many smaller challenges that I overcame each day. I took each part of this experience one step at a time and faced many unexpected challenges, but remaining extremely flexible in the process allowed me to overcome these and enjoy my time abroad.
Q: What was the biggest “moment” for you while you were there and why?
One of the most important moments for me while I was in Australia was when I landed in Perth and fully realized that I made it to the opposite side of the world. I got off the last plane and was given my power wheelchair back, which fortunately was still working perfectly, and I was more than ready to experience life in Australia. Leaving the airport in Perth and entering the city was a sudden realization that I had succeeded.
The initial excitement alone was enough to make it the best experience of my life – and things only got better from that point on.
Q: Looking back from pre-departure to return home, what one or two planning tips or special arrangements were the most helpful in making your time abroad a success?
Traveling with two assistants that I felt absolutely comfortable with was the most important aspect of my planning and was most helpful in making my time abroad a success. Aside from simply finding two people who were available to assist me throughout this experience, it was crucial for me to find the right two people who I felt most comfortable with and who I could completely trust. For all students with disabilities who may need to travel with assistants, I would strongly encourage you to begin this planning early on and ensure that you are comfortable and confident with your assistant(s). I had extremely positive experiences with the two people that assisted me on this trip, and I know that it wouldn’t have gone as smoothly if I didn’t take this planning into careful consideration.
Q: In what ways has studying abroad changed you?
Studying abroad has definitely inspired me to travel again. If I can successfully plan to travel halfway around the world, then I believe that I can travel almost anywhere. While there are certainly numerous factors and situations to consider with traveling in a wheelchair, this experience has taught me that the world is full of adventure and opportunity and that I am capable of achieving that.
Q: What are one or two pieces of advice about studying abroad in Australia that you’d give other students with Muscular Dystrophy and/or mobility challenges?
I would tell any student with physical challenges that it is definitely possible to study abroad if that is something he or she is interested in doing. Traveling with special arrangements requires a great deal of planning and I can certainly understand that it may seem overwhelming, but it is possible and extremely worthwhile.
More specifically, one of the most important things to remember while traveling with physical challenges is that not everything will go as planned. I spent months researching and planning for my experience, but I still had the expectation of hitting roadblocks along my journey. There is nothing that you can do to fully ensure that everything will go as planned, but if you maintain the right attitude, stay positive, and remain flexible, you will be able to overcome any obstacles and be successful throughout your experience.