BY Amanda A. Taylor

After a 30-minute hike through the Scottish countryside, Jaquelin Duenez, of Hidalgo, made it to Arthur’s Seat, the highest point in Scotland that overlooks the gorgeous city of Edinburgh.

“The view was the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Duenez, a UTRGV junior majoring in social work.

Duenez was part of a UTRGV study abroad group of 14 students who spent three weeks in the United Kingdom, traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland, and London, England, in June. The course was Family and Disability (REHS 3320) under the direction of Dr. Bruce Reed, UTRGV professor of Rehabilitation Services and Counseling and director of the School of Rehabilitation Services & Counseling. It was assisted by Dr. Joan Reed, lecturer III within the University College of the Office of the VP for Student Success.

“During the course, we looked at the impact of having a disability on the entire family,” Reed said. “Additionally, we looked at things such as physical accessibility, and the attitudes toward disability in the United Kingdom compared to the United States.”

Some of the key points in the curriculum were the knowledge that a disability affects more than just the individual; the realization that attitudes and approaches in the UK are very similar to those in the United States; and the fact that accessibility is a problem in many of the older cities – many of which do not have accessibility ramps, or even streets – so it is harder for people with physical challenges to get around.

The group spent two weeks in Scotland and one week in England, meeting with agencies that work and advocate for people living with disabilities, including a drug rehabilitation institution.

“What stood out to me the most about our class was how much of a responsibility it is to be a family member and to have a child or adult living with a disability,” said Samuel Cavazos, of Edinburg, a UTRGV senior studying Exercise Science. “It is obvious to assume how big of a responsibility it is for a family member, but on our trip, we learned that there were services available to providers – like counseling, yoga and other services – that give support and relief to providers.”

STEPPING OUT OF THE COMFORT ZONE

Aside from their studies, the students were able to visit some of Scotland and England’s most acclaimed points of interest, such as the Scottish Highlands, Edinburgh Castle, Loch Ness, Glasgow, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Oxford University, Cambridge University, Stratford-upon-Avon (the birthplace of William Shakespeare) and, of course, Stonehenge.

“Stonehenge was a breathtaking view,” Duenez said. “I could not believe my eyes, or the fact that I was there – a Valley-born and raised girl – standing right in front of one of the most amazing wonders of the world.”

Reed said study abroad courses help instill confidence and independence in students, all while introducing them to other ways of life throughout the world.

“It also, hopefully, introduces a love of world travel, of stepping outside your own local experiences,” he said. “For example, staying in the University of Edinburgh dormitories allowed our students to meet other students from many different places. It shows students that people around the world have much more in common than differences.”

For Cavazos, who dreams of becoming an occupational therapist, the trip opened him up to new ideas about what he can do to become a better advocate for people living with disabilities.

“Study abroad is so important for learning. It gives you experiences like no others and allows you to see the world from a different perspective,” he said.

“Also, if the class is associated with your desired profession, it allows you to become a well-rounded professional. I feel I can be more prepared as a student as I get closer to applying to occupational therapy school.”

UTRGV STUDENTS – STUDY ABROAD: ENGLAND & SCOTLAND

· Amanda Aguilar, Rehabilitation Services, Weslaco.

· Andrea Almaguer, Rehabilitation Counseling, Laredo.

· Jacklyn Barrera, Rehabilitation Services, Brownsville.

· Carolina Barron, General Rehabilitation, Roma.

· Valerie Campos, Social Work, Weslaco.

· Samuel Cavazos, Exercise Science, Edinburg.

· Maria Deandar, Psychology, Mission.

· Anelly De La Paz, Biology, McAllen.

· Jaquelin Duenez, Social Work, Hidalgo.

· Cynthia Gonzalez, Nursing, Weslaco.

· Andrea Guerra, Rehabilitation Services, Roma.

· Maria Guerra, Nursing, Roma.

· Abel Puga, English, Edinburg.

· Edna Valadez Ortiz, Exercise Science, Brownsville.