University of Chester student became a local celebrity on study trip to Spain

Posted on 26th October 2017

A University of Chester student overcame her fears and many obstacles and prejudices to achieve her dream of studying abroad.

Andrea Sapundzija, 24, who is originally from Macedonia and now lives in Bury, recently completed a year at the University of Granada, in Spain, as part of her Spanish Single Honours degree. As a student with disabilities, Andrea’s biggest fear was being away from her family for the first time – and she worried about whether or not her accommodation, transport and classroom would be accessible.

Andrea said: “Before I went, all those things were going through my mind – but I was excited about the challenge ahead.”

The university and her living quarters were on a hill overlooking Granada.  Andrea said: “Having a place in the university accommodation helped me get closer to the students and to university life.

“I was probably the only student using a wheelchair on the campus, so this wasn’t just a new experience for me, but also for the other students and people working on the campus.

“However, their shortage of experience was compensated with lots of goodwill and big hearts.  Everyone was really helpful and communicative, and by the second month, all the students, professors and staff knew my name – and I found it very easy to communicate with staff in the buffet while waiting for tostada and coffee!”

Curiosity about the ‘student with disability’ reached the Andalusian regional television channel, Canal Sur – and Andrea became an instant celebrity. She was interviewed for the regional news, and said the broadcast experience made her feel like a movie star!

She said: “Through this, I was able to raise awareness of the needs of students with disability.”

Andrea made friends with a Spanish girl who was taking notes for her in classes. “From the moment we met, we were constantly speaking Spanish and she took me out with her friends, who introduced me to the tapas culture and showed me round the city.”

Andrea’s study abroad year was part of the Erasmus Programme, an EU exchange student programme that provides foreign exchange opportunities.

She said: “I had never been on my own to another country before and the adventure has made me a more independent and self-confident person.

“Being disabled doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your dreams. You have to overcome plenty of obstacles and prejudices, especially in a new country.

“But I would definitely recommend to other disabled students embarking on this journey – it will open new horizons and make them stronger and more confident.

“My Erasmus year abroad was one of the best experiences of my life.”

Brenda Garvey, Deputy Head of the University of Chester’s Modern Languages Department, says Andrea’s confidence ensured she made the most of her time in Granada. She added: “She went on to successfully complete her degree in Spanish and is a credit to herself and to the University of Chester.”