The word "can’t" is not in Amanda Parkman's vocabulary. She is a junior majoring in family studies at The University of Arizona, who risks breaking bones at even the slightest movement, is wheelchair bound and yet is heading to Australia for international study on Feb. 6.
Parkman who smiles often and genuinely, was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder commonly known as brittle bone disorder. The disorder is characterized by bones that break easily, often with no apparent cause. People with the disorder may break a rib while coughing or break a leg by something as innocuous as rolling over in their sleep.
Parkman embarks on the 12-hour flight to Australia alone even though she has extremely limited use of her limbs and has had to have her spine, arms and legs reinforced with rods to help protect her fragile bones from harm.
She heads down under despite the risks and fears of only ever traveling once on a plane and never having traveled anywhere alone. Parkman does so in hopes of setting an example for those interested in studying abroad.
Parkman, who was born in South Korea and has been raised in Arizona since her adoption when she was 6 months old, became interested in international study once she and her friends became aware of the educational opportunities through the UA Office of Study Abroad and Student Exchange. “My friends started talking about studying abroad and one has even gone and returned. I began to wonder how I’d feel if I didn’t try or at least investigate going. Ultimately, I knew that I would live to regret not trying,” Parkman said.
She put aside her fear and that of her parent’s when she decided to move out of her family home in Tucson and into UA campus housing. “I had visited campus each year since I was in junior high and loved it. It was familiar and that took a lot of the fear of getting around campus out of me,” Parkman said.
Once at the UA, Parkman became actively involved in the campus community through the New Start Program and blossomed into a leader. She is a Family Studies and Human Development Ambassador, a UA Blue Chip Leader, a part of the UA’s Millennial Student Project and is working as a desk manager and desk assistant for Residence Life.
Upon investigating the cost of international study Parkman was surprised to find that the UA had partnerships with universities throughout the world and that many honored UA tuition fees. Still her choice to study in Australia and its associated flight costs put the adventure out of her economic reality, but Parkman did not give up.
As she investigated financial options through workshops and scholarships recommended to Parkman by her UA study abroad advisor, Parkman was encouraged to reach out to the Tucson community. “The Going Global workshop suggested writing letters to community leaders and businesses. I felt encouraged and explained my situation and hopes to travel abroad to show that anyone can do it. I let them know my goal was to return and serve as an example and encourage others to get out of their comfort zone and experience all that a university education has to offer,” Parkman said.
She received a lot of no’s but felt hopeful that a few yes’s would come through. To her amazement, a Tucson businessman agreed to pay for the flight in full.
She discussed her decision with her doctor and he was able to recommend a doctor in Australia who will see to her care should Parkman fracture any bones during her travels and study. "My most vulnerable area right now is my shoulders. They are not reinforced with rods so I have experienced small fractures in them at a rate of about once a year," Parkman said.
With funds and medical care secured, Parkman began planning her trip and embarked on an effort to share her experience with others and began writing blog. In her blog, she shares practical information she has learned on studying abroad such as fees to be aware of, units that will transfer and the cost of traveling and the help available for someone with two wheelchairs.
She hopes the information she personally learns and gathers from others with disabilities that have traveled alone will help prepare others mentally and financially for the adventure of international study. Upon her return to the UA she will become an ambassador for the Study Abroad program encouraging others with or without disabilities to give international study a try.