The first thing I thought when I arrived at the University of Michigan for my very first time was, “Holy cow, this is a big school,” and my second thought went along the lines of, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get around this place.” I wasn’t worried about learning directions; I picked that up in a matter of weeks. Instead, I was anxious thinking about if my body could handle the 25 minute walk from Oxford Houses to the Nursing Building.
- At the beginning of my first semester at Michigan, I made a lot of mistakes, and often found myself thinking that I just wasn’t cut out for life at a big college. However, after some serious exploration, I discovered that this place has something for everyone. Navigating campus as a student with a disability isn’t easy, so I hope sharing some tips I picked up along the way will help others with similar worries.
- Visit the Services for Students with Disabilities Office (SSD). Kind staff can help you set up whatever accommodations you find necessary, and will most likely offer you support in ways you never would have imagined. At first, I was afraid to step in here. However, after I finally made the trip to the SSD offices, located in Haven Hall and filled with qualified individuals and ample amounts of tea, I found that SSD will make you comfortable and a little less alone.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I was so determined to truly live as an adult on my own that I often found myself striving to meet unreasonable expectations of independence. Everyone needs help sometimes, and there is tremendous strength in reaching out.
- Share your story. When I began opening up with people, I started realizing that my illness had been a huge weight on my chest that I had never relieved. By letting people in to my experiences I discovered that friends were able to understand, offer support, empathize, or even share similar stories of their own.
- Use your experiences to join a club or organization that speaks to you. Whether that is the SSD advisory board, Students for Disability Awareness, a service fraternity, or an organization that works with a specific disease. There are over 1,600 clubs and student orgs at U-M, many of which can help give your difficult experiences a greater purpose, and they have really helped me broaden my connections.
- Remind yourself that there isn’t just one definition of a university student. We come in many different packages, and our experiences will not always be the same. This was the hardest realization for me, and I specifically struggled with feeling like less of a college student when I put my self-care over going out. The great thing about Michigan is that you get what you want out of it, and because of that, it can be navigated in any number of ways.
- While I wish I could wave a magic wand and make moving here an easier adjustment for people of all ability levels, unfortunately I cannot. I can, however, say that we are all still learning – about ourselves, the world, and how best to get by. What better place to learn than University of Michigan?