When I’m excited, my tongue trembles. When I’m nervous, it shakes. When I’m meeting new people, it disappears completely, leaving me with soundless lips and syllables that just won’t come, a magician with a vanishing act gone wrong, a ventriloquist with a broken puppet. My doctor says I breathe wrong. Exhalations come in spurts and bursts, like I’m holding my breath, like I’m swimming on land. Meeting new people and managing introductions is difficult with a stammer. I almost didn’t study abroad.
My U.S. college is comfortable. I have a solid group of friends; I’m in a coed fraternity; I know my entire department’s professors. The President recognizes me by name and we chat about books. It’s familiar now, but it took me two years to really settle in. Studying abroad would mean starting again from scratch.
I applied to IFSA-Butler on a fluke. I walked into a college study-abroad fair, and stayed for the glossy brochures. Argentina, Barcelona, Kenya, Vietnam. I could pick anywhere in the world, and the brochures promised they could make it happen. When I talked to study-abroad representatives, I concentrated on exhaling evenly. Experiences, Opportunities, Cultures, Adventure. The brochures smiled.
This article was supposed to be about studying abroad with a sort of disability, but the hardest part came before the applications, the visas, the flights, the classes. Making the decision to even try, that took the most courage of all.
I still don’t know what pushed me to take that final step. Was it excitement? Defiance? A sense of adventure?
At Oxford, I breathe unevenly, in bursts and gasps. There is so much here that excites, even more that frightens. The Oxford system is more institutionalized, more formal. I need to join societies to make friends, need to attend events, to socialize, to talk to the person next to me at dinner. My classes are individual tutorials with a professor, and I need to read my essays aloud. It’s easier than I expected: I’ve done this before, when I moved to the U.S. and began my freshman year at Franklin and Marshall College. I breathe a little freer. I stammer a little less. Still, there are days I’m completely soundless, when I avoid eye contact and barrel down the streets, umbrella held aloft like a weapon. Still, the next day, I talk. Haltingly, hesitantly, yes, but still, I breathe.