Before going to Finland, René Kremser had always lived in boarding schools or with his parents. The Erasmus exchange offered him the chance to live independently. As someone who is blind and uses a wheelchair, everyone knew that special arrangements would be needed. Fortunately both his home and host universities wanted to make the placement work. For him, ‘it was important to try things out – even when you think you cannot do it. It is worth trying things out, if you really want to do something.’
Going abroad required the appointment of a full time personal assistant. Through an advertisement in the local newspaper, he interviewed and appointed an assistant from Austria to accompany him to Finland. This enabled him to live independently for the first time. While there are many obstacles to overcome, he recommends that other students with disabilities go abroad as it helps you ‘to learn to fight for things as well as learn about other countries and cultures.’
Whilst abroad, he combined study at university with practical placements. ‘This helped me to experience a wide range of institutions and gain a broad view on Finland’s approach to disability.’ As the appointment of personal assistants is rare in Finland, his experience provided a focus for his dissertation and has informed his work on supporting people with learning disabilities.
Vorarlberg University of Applied Sciences, Austria (Fachhochschule Vorarlberg, Österreich)
VAMK, University of Applied Sciences, Finland (Vaasan ammattikorkeakoulu, Vamk, Suomi)
5 months (2005)