TWU student Demetria Ober spreads wings, flies solo in Spain
December 16, 2021—DENTON—Texas Woman’s social work undergraduate Demetria Ober is studying abroad in Granada, Spain this year. As an individual who experiences blindness, she never imagined having the courage to leave her support system behind in order to fully immerse herself in a foreign language and culture.
Now, thanks in part to scholarships awarded by the National Federation of the Blind, the Kursweil Foundation, the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and International Studies Abroad, Ober is attending Universidad de Grenada’s renowned Centro de Lenguas Modernas. She hopes to gain Spanish fluency and new cultural perspectives from her study abroad experience.
Ober was diagnosed as legally and progressively blind in elementary school after a teacher realized her struggles during a test were symptoms of visual impairment. She attended the Texas School for the Blind in Austin, where she was inspired to pursue social work after a school counselor supported her through a difficult time.
Although her trip to Spain is her first time traveling solo, it isn’t Ober’s first time abroad. In 2017, she competed on the U.S. Paralympic Team in the Goalball World Youth Championships in Budaörs, Hungary. Goalball, a team sport developed for athletes with a vision impairment, is played in two teams of three with a ball that has bells embedded inside. All athletes are blindfolded to eliminate possible advantages due to differing levels of impairment. Most importantly, according to Ober, “it’s really aggressive and fun!”
While visiting TWU’s Denton campus during a summer program for the blind, Ober fell in love with the welcoming campus community and decided to enroll in the university’s bachelor of social work program. She is pursuing a minor in medical Spanish interpretation to establish more personal connections with future clients.
As a life-long learner and natural-born teacher, Ober believes real knowledge is the result of good communication and information that flows in both directions.
In her classes at TWU, she enjoys gaining new skills while sharing her experience with others. “I love that everyone wants to learn. My service dog, Flash, comes to class and everyone asks questions. I love that they ask questions rather than making assumptions.”
And although going online during the pandemic was challenging at first, she was able to work with her professors, who often asked for her input and assistance in making their courses more accessible.
So far, her favorite part of the study abroad experience has been the opportunity for personal growth. “Every day is a learning experience. The culture is very different than what I am accustomed to in Texas. Spain is such a peaceful and tranquil place, and the community is very aware of blindness, which has been very helpful in overcoming my cultural and language barriers.”
Through the student organization Best Life Experience, she has been able to attend parties and events, visit Portugal, Málaga, Caminito del Rey and Gibraltar, and is planning a future trip to Morocco. “They have definitely helped me travel in a safe and manageable way, while still experiencing things I would never have had the opportunity to before.”
She also discovered an organization called ONCE that caters to the needs of the blind. ONCE hosts seminars and volunteer booths where people experiencing blindness can go for free assistance.
Ober considers herself extremely fortunate to have been placed with a supportive host mother. In addition to helping her acclimate to her new environment, she is an excellent cook and is teaching Ober how to make paella, her favorite Spanish dish, after she moves back to Texas.
The most challenging part of her experience has been homesickness, which is most difficult during holidays or important family and academic events. “I’ve had to stop comparing my life here to my life in Texas and simply live day by day. Navigating these challenges has definitely made me into a stronger person.”
She hopes to return with a new perspective that she can share with those around her, “particularly with others experiencing a disability. I want them to also strive for success by putting themselves out there and studying abroad.”
After her year abroad, Ober looks forward to completing her degree. She is on track to graduate in May 2023 and will be the first in her family to do so.
“Growing up, I never had enough resources to experience anything beyond school-related trips, and my family rarely steered from our set routine,” Ober said. But she knew that she wanted to challenge herself, overcoming barriers by doing things that previous generations couldn’t even imagine and future generations could learn from.
She is already researching graduate opportunities that will allow her to continue her social work and Spanish studies. More than anything, she looks forward to continuing what she considers to be her life-long education, “learning when and wherever I can.”
Page last updated 12:31 PM, December 16, 2021