Liza photo 1

MDA Ambassador Guest Blog: Study Abroad by Lyza

5 Second Summary

MDA Ambassadors play an essential role in furthering MDA’s mission while representing and empowering the neuromuscular disease community. Quest Ambassador Guest Blog series provides a platform to share their personal stories, perspectives, and experience.

Lyza Weisman and a friend

I am Lyza Weisman a senior at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. However, I was originally raised in the Mountains of Colorado and thanks to the support of my family I decided to leap and go out of state for College. I was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy at thirteen months old and have since never let that stop me – I was skiing by the age of two and was SCUBA certified around age fifteen.

“I drove up a staircase!”  When asked about my study abroad trip to Poland last summer, that is my automatic response. Whether or not I should be proud about this specific adventure I have no idea, but… I wanted to see the Krakow castle.

I have wanted to travel abroad since I was a little girl. My family has always been big on travel, and I was never one to shy away from dragging my 450 lb. powerchair onto a plane for the sake of a new experience. I have never shied away from a challenge and this desire is what took me out of the state of Colorado to Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles. I am currently a senior studying Economic, English and Psychology with minors in Theology and Jewish studies. It is my Jewish studies minor that provided me the privilege of going abroad to Poland for the class Vanished Landscapes meaning spaces that have vanished or been altered by the Holocaust.  Prior to this venture traveling overseas was always a dream. The complications of traveling are vast for those living with a disability and, having been diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy when I was 13 months old, I was far too aware of the endless logistics necessary for international travel. I was not sure how to make it happen, but my professor was determined to see it through and make an entire study abroad trip to Poland accessible so that I could go. Most study abroad trips at LMU go through the studies abroad office, however, the Jewish studies program headed by my professor organized the trip to Poland independent from the office. As a Jewish studies minor I found the trip fascinating but another one of the many reasons that I wanted to travel to Poland was to learn more about the Holocaust and my own heritage.

Lyza Weisman with friends

Lyza Weisman and a group of friends

On May 21 I arrived at LAX airport with my caregiver for the fifteen-hour flight to Warsaw. The entire trip was so much fun and worth every second, but it was not without its difficulties. I learned immediately upon arrival that going with the flow and improvising were a must! The hardest aspect in arranging the trip was finding handicap assessable transportation for the two and a half weeks I would be in Poland.  I believed that everything was arranged but when I arrived in Warsaw, our driver thought he would fit my powerchair and manual chair in his Toyota Hatchback. To put it bluntly, this was not going to happen. We changed plans and my adventure started with me and my caregiver taking the bus to the hotel at eleven at night in a foreign country with absolutely no knowledge of the Polish language.

Within the next three days as the class started, we were able to explore and walk everywhere needed. Finally at the last minute, the hotel concierge found Woitek, a driver who had a fully assessable van. Woitek proceeded to be my personal driver from Warsaw to Lublin then Krakow and back to Warsaw for the remainder of the trip.  I was able to get almost everywhere and when steps blocked by path my classmates carried me inside. I was included and welcomed. It was an incredible learning experience for myself and everyone else involved.

Lyza in front of a statue

Lyza Weisman in front of a statue

I am grateful for my experiences on the trip, for my professor who made it happen, and for the gentleman who helped fund the trip for myself and my caregiver. I fell in love with the culture, the kindness and smiles from the locals, and of course the perogies that I became obsessed with. The trip opened a new door for me and, while it was hard, I got to try crazy things – like driving up a staircase like the one or problem solving by driving up wooden planks to get inside buildings. It is never easy, and you have to take each situation as it comes. For one I really wanted to see the Krakow Castle and out guide took us to the entrance upon which there were a series of stairs. Not wanting to miss out and with no knowledge of an alternative at the time I proceeded to pop around at curbs at 7.5 miles an hour. I later found out if I had gone a different way the was a ramp… but now I can say I drop up a staircase!

Nothing should stop someone from having an adventure and exploring the world, even if it must be done slightly differently. I took precautions to ensure I would not be without a chair by bringing two chairs with me, a power and a manual chair. I approached challenges with a “go-get-it” attitude and I am so grateful that I did because it was a trip of the lifetime. Now, I know that it is possible to see the world and I am not stopping. Next summer I am taking this show on the road again… this time to Japan!

Next Steps and Useful Resources

Disclaimer: No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.