Sight impaired student embraces new cultural experiences
Feb. 4, 2022—DENTON—As an individual who experiences blindness, Demetria Ober never imagined having the courage to leave the comfort of her support system in Texas to transplant to another country and immerse herself in a foreign language and culture.
But with the added incentive of 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 in Granada, Spain. And the Texas Woman’s social work undergraduate student hopes to gain Spanish fluency and new cultural perspectives from her study abroad experience.
“Every day is a learning experience,” Ober said. “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.”
Ober was diagnosed as legally and progressively blind in elementary school. 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 solo traveling experience, 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 advantages less impaired athletes may have.
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. 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.”
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.”
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.
Assistant Vice President, University Communications
Page last updated 4:40 PM, July 7, 2022