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Salem State Student Managed Chronic Illness to Twice Study Abroad

Alayna Travaglione is an accomplished young woman: graduating this year summa cum laude from Salem State University, starting a master’s degree program this fall in history at the College of Charleston, sorority sister, honorary societies inductee, two-time student studying abroad, and more.

Alayna has done all of this while managing a chronic illness: severe rheumatoid arthritis, which was diagnosed when she was 13. This summer’s knee replacement surgery is only the latest challenge that her arthritis has posed.

Despite questions she hadWhat if my joints got worse or something happened with my medications? What if I decide midway I can’t put my body through this anymore?” among others—Alayna committed to studying abroad, just one decision of many to “live my life to the fullest.” She first spent a summer at Oxford University and then Fall Semester 2018 in Athena Study Abroad’s program in Sorrento, Italy at the Sant’Anna Institute .

As Alayna wrote in a blog post for the Arthritis Foundation,

“Studying abroad was one of my biggest dreams and I did what I could to make it come true. I focused solely on my health by meeting with my doctors, attending physical therapy, getting surgeries if I needed them and created a plan for myself that would allow me to accomplish this goal.”

At Oxford, Alayna, then a Salem State history major, took history courses about early English history to broaden her background. About her decision to study in Sorrento, she said, “Especially being Italian[-American], I was learning about my culture’s own history and that was important to me. Classes such as Mediterranean Culture and History, History of the Mafia and Italian Cinema, allowed me to learn and share family stories and experiences. Archaeology has also been something I always found fascinating so choosing that class was easy. Having the ability to travel to Pompeii and Herculaneum for class was amazing and something I always wanted to do. Italian language was a required class but I had no trouble with that because not only was I able to learn the language of my culture but I was able to use that language in Sorrento where I was living. Having a waitress at one of the local restaurants tell me my Italian speaking was ‘perfecto Italiano’ made my day.”

About her professors, she said, “The professors are so kind and seem really excited to work with us so I am looking forward to seeing what interesting things I will be learning! The class sizes range from 5 to over 20 depending on the class! I know some students are even the only person in their class since they were the only ones who signed up, but the bigger classes like Italian 101, has the majority of the students.”

Overall, Alayna concluded, “I see my study abroad experiences as a way for me to gain a deeper and more special access to these worldly classes. Not only am I learning of a different country’s history, but I am physically immersing myself in that country while learning and that’s incredibly special.”

While in Sorrento, Alayna enjoyed eating the local foods (“I haven’t had one bad meal”), visiting a spa (quite different from those in the US, she says), shopping the Italian fashions, and getting to know fellow students from Ireland, Sweden and other countries. But she also was able to travel, although her illness forced her to miss an Athena/Sant’Anna trip to Capri. By the end of the semester, Alayna still had visited the islands of Capri, Ischia, and Mykonos; the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Athens, Amsterdam, and Brussels, several of those with her parents and aunt who came to visit.

Alayna’s study abroad experiences turned out extremely well overall. But that was because of her extensive advance planning, assistance and advice from people ranging from her doctors to study abroad experts to Sorrento professors. A resident of Raynham (about 37 miles south of Boston), Alayna had chosen Salem State because it is close (about 15 miles) to her Boston doctors, and she had surgeries every year in college. Indeed, she recalled, “I had arrived to Sant’Anna in a medical boot since I had had surgery a few months prior and was still healing.”

Alayna explained, 

“Studying abroad with an illness is always challenging and a bit scary. There are many things that people have to think about such as medications, location of the school, being away from doctors, how we are going to make our illness work with traveling the world. To some people with an illness, it might seem impossible but it is very much possible! That is one of the reasons why I wanted to study abroad. I wanted to show people that no matter the obstacles and limitations, our dreams are always possible. There are always ways to make things work.”

(See her article, How to Study Abroad With an Illness or Disability, featured in the July 15, 2019 issue of Athena’s Passport.)

Alayna has become an advocate for young people to pursue their dreams despite illnesses or disabilities. In 2015, she wrote for U.S. News & World Report on attending college with an illness. Last fall in Sorrento she wrote about her experiences for both the Arthritis Foundation and Athena Study Abroad blogs. And she has been invited to speak later this year at the Arthritis Foundation’s nationwide teen conference.

“People don’t know that kids get arthritis,” she said in Salem State’s April article about her. “When I share my story with other people, I want them to know that they can follow their dreams, that disability doesn’t limit their passions. When people email me or reach out on social media, it makes me feel so special that I can help. When my illness is hard, having these people supporting me and telling me how much my story inspires them gives me more strength to keep fighting!”

As Alayna wrote last fall for the Arthritis Foundation, “Both experiences have had its challenges but with an illness, there’s always a challenge to show us how strong we truly are. I knew that my arthritis wasn’t going to magically go away abroad or that I wouldn’t be running on the beach like the others. I have to manage my illness the same as I do at home. The most important thing to recognize though is that I did it. I am here enjoying the world and making amazing memories and milestones. It is unbelievable to say that months ago I was bedridden from surgery and now, I am traveling all over Europe.”

In an April article written about her by Salem State’s public relations staff, Alayna concluded, “I’ve been working so hard and I’m excited for the next chapter. I feel like I can conquer anything.”

For more information on Athena’s Sorrento, Italy program or any of our other study abroad opportunities, please visit www.AthenaAbroad.com.

Editor’s Note:

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