By Rachel Barcellona
Traveling is something I really love to do!
I’ve been to many U.S. states and was able to go to London, England, to take part in Autism’s Got Talent, an event where autistic individuals showcase their talents. I sang opera at The Mermaid Theatre and met lots of new people. I was able to ride the London Eye, go to the pier, tour the Royal London Opera House, and even sit in the Queen’s box! My experience in London was exciting because I traveled to a place that is different from home, but I was able to see my friends that lived there. But most importantly, my Mom was with me.
Even though every place I visit to has something special about it and will always have a place in my heart, one of my most memorable travel experiences was when I went to the Czech Republic to help train autism therapists, professionals, and parents on how to accept autistic children.
I am part of an organization called The Global Autism Project.
Our mission is to travel to different countries to help autism professionals support and accept autistic children. The countries we help don’t really know much about Autism so we travel to places like India, Czech Republic, and Kenya to go and offer our knowledge. I chose Czech Republic because I really liked the country and its history, I’ve always wanted to go there and of course, I wanted to see how autism was viewed there.
Challenge 1: Coping with the Time Change
I went by myself, staying in a room with a few other people for two weeks, which I thought was great! However, my family missed me a lot. There were so many ways that I coped with being away from home for so long, and one of them included talking to my mom. Talking to my family always helped me when I felt lonely, but there are loopholes with talking to your family back home; you can’t just call them whenever you want because of the time change.
It took me a few days to get used to the time change, but eventually I figured out when I could call home. I would look up what time it would be at home and made opportunities to call when on breaks during my work time overseas, and another good time to call was at night because it was daytime back home!
I also had to cope with the time change for other reasons on my trip. Like most people, I’m not good at waking up in the morning and while my team and I went to the Czech Republic, we had to go to the place where the autism therapists worked every day and get up early so we could work alongside them. This was so much fun, but I haven’t set an alarm since high school and I’m always up way before my classes in college start.
Challenge 2: Missing My Daily Routine
Another challenge faced me : Not having my daily routine. But my instincts came back to me and this new routine was very nice. I would wake up at seven in the morning and get ready for work throughout the two weeks – this routine was the same as at home, but I was following it across the ocean. Everything became routine, even though I was a foreigner, I felt like I was a part of the project. I was working all the time, doing the same thing and helping people understand what autism was. Sometimes I ran into people who asked if autism was a hotel or a dessert and felt discouraged, but I never gave up hope; I enjoyed what I was doing.
Challenge 3: Language Barriers
Another thing I had to cope with was language barriers and spending money, which go hand in hand. I made the effort to research the money throughout the two weeks, which made me better at knowing how to spend it. Language barriers were a struggle too, but in big cities a lot of people speak English. However, it all depends on their age and whether they are fluent in English. I really wanted to go to a marionette store because Czech Republic is known for their puppets. While there, I was buying one and I was met with a sweet, elderly lady at the counter who must have never spoken English at all, but that didn’t stop her from trying to communicate with me.
I was having trouble with the money and trying to communicate my thoughts in Czech, complete that with a crowded city, being away from home and lack of sleep, I started crying a bit. I was vulnerable at that moment, but I pulled through and coped by taking deep breaths. One way to make your traveling experience easier is to learn a few simple phrases in the language of the country you’re visiting. That’s exactly what I did when I went to the Czech Republic, which also helped me buy things.
Throughout the two weeks, I learned to barter, which is helpful when you encounter street merchants, tourist shops, or people at flea markets, which we got to visit, much to my excitement. I love flea markets and it was my first time going to one in the Czech Republic; my instincts came to me and I bartered just like I’m used to doing at home. However, at this flea market, the merchants expect American tourists and think they can get a lot of money from them. They expect the tourists to be rich and I unfortunately saw my teammates get ripped off because of this. This is when you can put your Czech phrases to use! Dobrý den means “hello,” Kolik to stojí? means “how much is it?” and Děkuji means “thank you.”
When a Czech person hears you attempting to speak their language, they will respect you more and a shop merchant is more likely to give you a better deal on an item, this happened when I used some of my phrases and got three books for what was supposed to be twenty five dollars in U.S. money, but I got it down to ten dollars!
Overcoming the Challenges for a Life-Changing Adventure
All of these ways were helpful for me when I embarked on this memorable experience, and memorable it was. I will never forget having the opportunity to act as a guest speaker at Prague’s Russian Cultural Center, speaking to thousands of people about my journey with autism and having it translated in four different languages. I will never forget the lives I changed, the people I educated, and those who taught me new things. You may be experiencing your first traveling adventure, or your 100th, but just remember; you can always learn something new and carry it with you.
Rachel Barcellona received her A.A. degree from St. Petersburg College, and is currently attending University of South Florida, majoring in English with minors in creative writing and communication. Rachel won the Els for Autism award in 2017, is a spokesperson for the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) at the University of South Florida and is on their advocacy board. Rachel has been working on her platform “Ability Beyond Disability” for the past 9 years now and recently sang the National Anthem at the sold-out Tampa Bay Lightning hockey game. Her goal is to inspire others and to teach them that they should never give up on their dreams! Follow her on her website and Instagram @rachelbarcellona
Read more articles on “Traveling the Spectrum Way” in Zoom Autism Magazine, Issue 16:
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