The following is part of a personal statement I originally wrote to apply for the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP) last year, before I came to study in Finland and eventually settle in the Nordic countries. I plan to discuss the culture and challenges of the Autism/Asperger’s community, and how I believe the issue of the disabled is treated in the Nordics, over the course of the summer here on Migrant Tales. This will be the first part of a series, dealing with social issues related to neurodevelopmental disabilities and eventually introducing the concept of neurodiversity to a Finnish audience.
I am a third-year history student at Virginia Commonwealth University. I am applying for a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to fund my study-abroad to Germany this fall. I hope that this funding will aid me in my exploration of a culture that is totally apart from my own. I have developed a desire to walk on strange soil, meet with new people, and live in a country with an interesting history to be learned. I believe that the Gilman scholarship will offer me some financial security as I set out to do this—and will not take opportunity for granted should I be accepted.
My future plans, following my graduation in [Finland/Sweden], include starting parallel careers in scriptwriting for films and speechwriting for politics. I feel that my education in history, gained during my time both at VCU and at the two community colleges I attended beforehand, would serve me well in both professions. Historical knowledge could help me create scripts serving as allegories surrounding a person, an event, or an issue. Historical knowledge could also help me navigate cultural attitudes surrounding a particular topic, and engineer an effective political campaign.
I consider myself as coming from a diverse background—not because of a difference in race or nationality, but in mind. I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism which affects how I neurologically register the emotions of myself and others. Several awkward encounters involving my disorder remind me of awkward encounters that happen between people of differing cultural backgrounds all the time. But despite my social mishaps, I have learned how to act around new people and handle myself in new environments; I feel that I could reasonably get along well at an international site.
I have experience interacting with foreign people, namely exchange students who have come to VCU either through ISEP or inter-collegiate partnerships. For the 2010-2011 academic year, I participated in VCU’s “buddy” program and was paired with a British biology student. This year, I have been paired with a German student studying urban planning. I guided them through American culture in several interactive ways, and my efforts were met with great appreciation by both the exchange students and the faculty members running VCU’s international office.
My immediate goal for integrating into my host country is to acquaint myself with its history and culture. I have read travel books, have taken history courses, and have gleaned information from news outlets in the host countries I am considering; by doing this, I aim to know which topics I can discuss with members of the host culture, which topics to avoid, and which topics related to America that might interest them. Another goal is to learn the dominant language(s) of the host country, which I am currently practicing for by taking classes in German at VCU.
I feel that my experience with Asperger’s Syndrome and with the exchange students at VCU has trained me for daily life in an unfamiliar place. My empathy and my patience with others have been made more resolute by my experiences, and I feel more mature for it. Once I am abroad, I plan on gaining the best knowledge from my experience in the most resolute posture possible. I am also going out of my way to learn about where I’m going and not come across as another “ignorant American” wherever I end up. I hope I am given a chance to prove that with the financial help I may receive through the Gilman scholarship.