Art Karshmer. University of San Francisco. June-July 2008

Moses Expected Forty Days in the Desert: I Got Thirty-Five Days in Karlsruhe

The bible reports that when Moses led his people out of Egypt, he expected to lead them to the promised-land in 40 days. Well, not quite. Forty years was the order of the day. Instead of a leisurely stroll in the desert, the Israelites faced hardship, famines and wars on their trek to the “land of milk and honey.”

Now, fast-forward about 2,000 years, into a time of fast air travel, light speed communications and the almost commonplace intercontinental visits. No Moses in our story, but rather a distant relative making his trek to a foreign land. Not a trek of 40 years, or even 40 days, but rather 20 hours. No need for 10 plagues, parting of seas, climbing Mt Sinai or facing internal rebellion. Instead of hitting rocks for water, water, beer and wine served by aging angels of the sky. By Moses’ standards, our modern Israelite made his trek in the lap of luxury.

Upon his arrival, our modern traveler was welcomed by his new tribe – the leader being the mighty Joachim. Under his command, a group of friendly and talented troops including Andrea (with origins tracing back to a tribe that spoke in a tongue which mystified most listeners), Angelica, Barbara, Gerhard, Karin and Susanne and finally another visitor by the name of Karel-the-younger, from a land in the north famous for the development of Pilsner beer.

Perhaps it’s time to return to reality – usually a difficult task for me. To summarize, my visit to SZS has been an excellent experience. I have had a unique opportunity to work with a group of talented and dedicated professions whose goal in life is to help students with disabilities achieve their life dreams. Dreams that would not be possible without such dedicated people.

During my 35 days in Karlsruhe I was able to accomplish a number of tasks that certainly enhanced my knowledge and hopefully offered something of value to the SZS staff. Simply stated, some of the highlights of my visit include:

1. On day one attending an interesting colloquium on navigational tools for the blind given by Andreas Hub of the University of Stuttgart.
2. Meeting the SZS staff and learning the function of the center.
3. Meeting a group of visitors from Ireland
4. Having extended discussions with Joachim Klaus concerning numerous issues including strategies for writing joint funding proposals.
5. Visiting the Ilversheim school for the disabled
6. Visiting the Karlsruhe school for the visually impaired
7. Giving an informal presentation on Dyslexia to the SZS staff
8. Giving an informal presentation on the MathGenie to the SZS staff
9. Working with Karin Müller to translate the MathGenie’s speech table to German
10. Working with Lukas Smirek to finalize the details of his pending visit to San Francisco.
11. Making a formal presentation to the Informatik Department at the University of Stuttgart
12. Making an informal presentation of the German speaking MathGenie to students in the SZS.
13. Making a formal presentation to the Informatik Department at the University of Karlsruhe.

In summary, I consider my visit to Karlsruhe to have been extremely interesting and valuable. I can only hope that my hosts have a similar feeling about my visit.

Karel Břinda. Prag,Tschechien. 2. Juni bis 8. Juli 2008 im SZS

My name is Karel Břinda and I am working at the Czech Technical University in Prague at the Centre for Support of Visual Impaired Students at the University called TEREZA ( Our centre is situated at the Department of Mathematics at the Faculty of Nuclear Sciences and Physical Engineering. We help university students in the whole Czech Republic (not only at the CTU) during their studies. Nevertheless, we have also many clients who aren’t students participating at our program of whole life education.

It was really a great occasion for me to come to Karlsruhe and spend five nice weeks at the SZS. My stay was very rich regarding to the experiences I made and I enjoyed it very much. I got the opportunity to compare different ways of how to support blind and visually impaired students at the university.

I met some very nice people at the SZS: Joachim Klaus who organized my stay at the center and who helped me with all common problems. Gerhard Jaworek was my tutor regarding computer technologies and thanks to him I got to know everything what I wanted to know about it. I hold also very interesting discussions with Karin Mueller, Andrea Gaal, Susanne Schneider and Angelika Scherwitz-Gallegos. Barbara Hanke solved all administrative things. All these SZS staff members created a very nice atmosphere and thanks to them I felt very comfortable.

Moreover, there was one other fine thing. Some people from abroad came during my stay and I enjoyed very nice moments with them too. It is necessary to speak about prof. Art Karshmer from the University of San Francisco, who spent a month in Karlsruhe at the same time like me. He told me a lot of interesting things and I also believe there will be some future cooperation. Furthermore, I got to know a few people from Ireland who visited the SZS during my stay.

Regarding my other activities here: I visited a school for visual impaired children, some colleagues at the Institute for Visualization and Interactive Systems at the University Stuttgart, a few very interesting lectures connected not only with special technologies for visual impaired users at University Karlsruhe and at University Heidelberg too.

My whole stay in Karlsruhe was full of social events, fun and I enjoyed it really very much. I believe in a successful future cooperation between the SZS and the Centre TEREZA.

Lukas Smirek. Tagebuch meines Auslandsstudienjahres 2008/2009 an der USF - University of San Francisco /USA

A different view of America, but still a colourful…

November 2003 marked a tremendous change in my life. Due to serious problems with my macula I lost the vision of my left and only functioning eye. Nevertheless, I was able to finish school in 2004 and after one year spent on learning blind working and living skills I was able to start my studies as a Business engineer at the Technische Universität Karlsruhe in October 2005. The beginning of my studies marked an important step back to normality and it was also time when my wish to study abroad for a while started to grow. I just wanted to do the same as a lot of my fellow students wanted or still want to do.
But such a plan should be well conceived and so it took another two years before I started to work on it more intensely. At the end of 2006 I talked to the managing director of the Centre for Visually Impaired students of the Uinversität Karlsruhe about possibilities for studying abroad. After some discussions we decided to contact Professor Arthur Karshmer, teaching at the University of San Francisco (USF) and whose research field is, among others, in the area of assistive technologies and mathematics for visually impaired people.
After some emails and phone calls we were able to make the deal that I was allowed to come to USF in September 2008 and so I started to apply for a Fulbright travel grant, which I was confirmed for in March 2007. So I was able to prepare the final usual steps for my trip.  In June I was informed that I was one of the lucky Fulbrighters being allowed to participate in the four-week-long Pre-Academic Program at the University of Connecticut.
July 11, 2009 was the big day. In the morning I took off from Stuttgart Airport to Frankfurt, Washington, and finally Hartford. Since all airlines provide assistance at the airports for handicapped people, travelling by plane wasn’t a problem for me. Maybe it was even more relaxed than it is for sighted people. Relying on personal assistants, knowing the airport like the back of their hands I never had to search for the next gate in a rush and usually the assistant also had time for a quick chat which was nice after the long flights on my own.
In Hartford I was picked up by a student of the University of Connecticut who drove me over to the Campus of UConn located in Storrs. Here I had to spend the first two nights in a hotel before I was able to move into the dorm. I remember pretty well and also still a little bit proudly the moment when I arrived after a 21-hour journey in my hotel room and I was able to say that I had come as a blind person and almost on my own all the way from Germany to America.
At the beginning I wasn’t worried but of course interested and also a little bit curious how the other international students would accept a blind student. Fortunately all of them were open-minded and pretty soon first friendships started to develop.
At the beginning of August it was the first time of the year  to say goodbye to some new but already pretty nice friends and I moved on to San Francisco.
At the San Francisco Airport I was picked up by my guest professor Art Karshmer and his wife Judy.
In San Francisco I stayed in a student’s dormitory. I was taught all the ways to and around campus by a professional mobility trainer enabling me to organize life on my own.
In terms of textbooks I had two main sources: the university’s e-library and e-learning system and Hand it’s Students Disability Service.
I am reading all my literature with my laptop via a voice output or a refreshable Braille display which is connected to the Laptop and can show one line of the screen in Braille letters. The texts from the e-learning systems were directly readable and books were either scanned by the SDS or ordered from the printing houses in a digital version.
The different way of teaching at American Universities was sometimes a bit of a challenge for me. Written homework every week, participation in class discussion and the tremendous amounts of readings were requirements with which I had to deal with for the first time since I went blind. Thanks to the good cooperation with the SDS, teachers and other students I was able to handle all challenges successfully. Therefore my stay at American universities widened not only my academic perspective but also my working skills and experiences.
Due the closeness to the IIE which is located in San Francisco I got to know a lot of other Fulbrighters which gave me the chance to get a lot of insight into different cultures and again new international friendships started to evolve. Together we began to explore the Bay Area. I can tell you, if you go for a walk in the hills of San Francisco your legs will tell you much more about the steepness of the ascends than your eyes could ever imagine…
Going for a run in Golden Gate Park on a sunny Sunday morning or at Ocean Beach on a sunny November day are also quiet grandiose even without all the visual impressions and of course not to forget the international Christmas day I had with some Fulbrighters and also the wine tasting in Napa valley…
Further impressions I got thanks to my supervisor and guest professor Art Karshmer and his wife. They gave me fantastic insights into the American way of live. They have become fantastic friends during my one year long stay in San Francisco and I want to give special thanks to them for a great year.
After all it was an intense and impressive year and even without any visual impressions it still was a pretty colourful picture of America…