Sara, from Iraq, is one of our students on the Foundation Programme. She was born with Osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) – brittle bone disease. She has a fragile body and significantly reduced stamina, but her character is strong, her mind is sharp and inquisitive, and she possesses a well-developed sense of humour. In Iraq, she explained, children are supposed to go to school at the age of 6. However, at the time when children of her age were starting school, she was embarking on years of operations and physiotherapy, mainly in Austria. Her father became a volunteer with SAAR (Society for Austro-Arab Relations) after a chance encounter in a hospital in Basra when he was seeking medical help for his daughter. This organization has funded Sara’s treatment, among other things. Eventually Sara started school at the age of 8. In her mainstream school it was difficult to be in a wheelchair and she was afraid of her boisterous classmates who ”kept jumping around” and easily could have fractured one of her bones in play. Her mother accompanied her to school and sat in classes with her every single day throughout her school career.

When Sara was offered a scholarship to study in Norway, her family was understandably concerned about the potential risks. To make this possible, Sara’s father was invited to accompany Sara to the 3-week RCN Summer Course, giving him the opportunity to meet with staff, observe practices, advise us on the support Sara might need, and much more.

Sara with her English teacher

Sara with her advisor

Sara faces a lot of challenges here, learning to get around in her electric wheelchair, adapting to the winter weather, figuring out how to meet the demands of the daily schedule without getting exhausted. When she needs to rest for an extended period to recover her energy and get relief from discomfort, she sometimes has to takes a day off, which is one of the reasons why she feels very grateful to join the Foundation Programme. For many participants int he programme, it gives them the chance to get used to an English-speaking environment. In Sara’s case, it enables her body to get used to the environment. Now much more comfortable with the academic systems and the residential expectations, she is learning to manage her time, gaining understanding of how to cope with very different demands from what she is used to. She is looking forward to returning as a confident First Year student in August, 2017.

One of Sara’s greatest joys here is meeting people from different backgrounds. Back home she could not see her friends easily outside the academic day and it was hard to develop strong friendships. Here she is able to chat with her friends at any time, communicating in Arabic, English and German. She is also learning Norwegian as part of her Foundation timetable, along with a full programme of lessons. She is very grateful for the safe community, teachers, the Extra Academic Activities (EAC), and Project-based Learning weeks. Through “The Knights” EAC, she is trying new activities such as canoeing, kayaking and swimming, savouring the fresh air and beautiful nature around her. Working closely with a physiotherapist at the Red Cross Rehabilitation Centre which shares our campus, she is becoming more aware of what her body is capable of doing. Through Haugland she has also met others with OI for the first time.

“I find my new life wonderful, but hard. Thanks to the Foundation Year that difficulty is slowly decreasing.”

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