Sunday 18 February 2018

'I hope my story gives confidence to other students with, or without, special needs'

Erasmus+ and me: Jessica Gough

Jessica Gough from Dungarvan, Co Waterford. Picture: Patrick Browne
Jessica Gough from Dungarvan, Co Waterford. Picture: Patrick Browne

Far from allowing her mobility challenges from preventing her from travelling abroad for study and traineeships, languages teacher Jessica Gough used Erasmus to develop independence.

The 27-year-old, from Dungarvan, Co Waterford, who has a form of cerebral palsy, which affects her mobility and balance, completed her BA Applied Languages degree in the University of Limerick, topping it with a Master's in Conference Interpreting at NUI Galway.

While in Limerick, Jessica opted for a work placement, as a teaching assistant, in Poulx, France, under the then-EU Comenius initiative, now subsumed into Erasmus+.

Jessica, who uses a walking frame, and, occasionally, a wheelchair for long distances, followed that with an Erasmus study placement at the Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain.

Her love of travel and language learning didn't stop there. After her Master's, she did a fellowship at the European Centre for Modern Languages, (ECML), Graz, Austria.

Many students, or their protective parents, will be daunted by the thought of travelling abroad for study at a relatively young age but, even with her additional challenges, Jessica says: "I didn't think twice. If there is a will, there is away and I wanted to be treated the same as every other student."

When she was organising her trips, Jessica was very clear that it was up to her to advise her host organisations, about her needs.

"Nobody knows your needs as well as you do. I talked to them about what I would need to complete the course, such as personal assistants, or getting to and from my accommodation," she says.

Jessica is now working in her home town, teaching Spanish in night classes at Coláiste Chathail Naofa, and is also qualified in French and Irish.

She is "very happy" in her job and, although travel didn't faze her, she admits that her "parents are delighted that I am grounded, at home".

Jessica hopes her story "will give confidence to other students, with or without special needs. The network of friends I developed through the experience will sustain me personally, academically and professionally for the rest of my life."

Irish Independent

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