Teaching in South Africa — A Letter Before You Go

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Altman
My name is Samantha Altman and I’ve been living with T1D for 15 years (my diagnosis date was 12/15/2000) and Celiac Disease for the last 14 years.

I am currently 23 years old and a full-time Special Education graduate student at The College of New Jersey and am just about to begin the journey of a lifetime: I will be student teaching abroad in Johannesburg, South Africa for two months.

This process has not been easy: I’ve had in-depth discussions with my parents, my friends and my support team. I’ve faced professors questioning my ability to travel and to teach with T1D.

I’ve met school personnel who suggested I was inept to travel as an individual with a chronic illness. But beyond anything else, on what I like to call a “dia-ring” or T1D tiring day, I have convinced myself to stick by my decision.

This is the essay I submitted for my selection to the global student teaching program. My hope is to share this experience, the before, the during and the after with the T1D community.


Thank you,

Samantha Altman



Dear Eight Year-Old Samantha,


I know that you are terrified. Since you got your Type 1 diabetes diagnosis you’ve been frightened, avoiding needles and doctors and confusing Mommy’s wails with the howling of the neighbor’s dog. Before your first trip to the hospital, your biggest fear was the scary Physical Education teacher, because if your shoes came untied when running laps you got detention. Now, that teacher does not seem so frightening in the grand scheme of what life has thrown your way.

Why am I writing to you? Why now? I am now twenty-two years old and about to graduate from my undergraduate career in college. When I was young, my camp counselors told me, summer after summer, that I would make a fine teacher.  I listened to them. Next year, I begin work on a Master’s degree in Special Education. That means I will be a teacher of children who, for many reasons, struggle in some aspect of their lives. Children who are ill, children who think differently, children without parents, children who have terrible family problems – in short, children who need a loving adult to care for them.

I am sure you have a lot of questions right now. Yes, you will have boyfriends, fall in love and have your heart broken. You will make Honor Rolls and Dean’s Lists and also experience some failures. You will lose friends and loved ones. And sometimes, you will surprise yourself. You know that insulin pump you get nauseous at the thought of? You’ll get used to it. Traveling without Mom and Dad? You would be surprised at how easy it is. Living without air conditioning? That one, well, while it is not ideal, it is definitely doable.

And this one, little girl, is why I write to you now. A lot of people will tell you that because you have a disability you cannot do certain things. They will say that you have to dream smaller while working harder. You will meet a substitute teacher who will teach the meaning of disease by naming you as her prime example. At 16, your first time flying without Mom and Dad, there will be a TSA agent who will tell you it’s stupid to have your insulin pump on while traveling. You will meet a boss who believes intellectual disabilities override chronic illnesses and diseases of all other sorts. There will be many tears and there will be many letdowns, but never walk away.

I, your future big-girl self, want to thank you. Thank you for withstanding the first insulin-filled syringe, that led to 25,000 more, so I can live and breathe and walk confidently today. Thank you for being courageous when you did not even know what the word meant. Thank you for listening to the doctors and nurses and Mommy and Daddy, even when what they said hurt as much as a needle. I can make my own choices now without worries because you trusted that the grown-ups were right. Thank you for being open, for sharing the symptoms, the pain and the fears. Now, my friends know my blood sugars before I do. Thank you for teaching me about me, because it is something most people never get the chance to learn. Thank you for always being a part of me.

I want to help young people who are discouraged by what life has thrown at them. I want to student teach abroad, across the ocean, far away from friends and family. Why? I think it’s time to prove that I can dream just as hard and as big as the rest. The reality is that this goal of mine has nothing to do with the people who thought less of me because of diabetes. This goal is for me, for you, for us. This is our time to show the world that a disability is just an ability with ‘dis’ in front of it.

I hope to prove that. You, at eight-years-old, deserve to know that life with Type 1 diabetes only has the limits you place upon yourself.


Our life is limitless,

Your Older Self

Stitching a New Safety Net — T1D in Japan by Miranda Hewette.

Samantha Altman

Samantha, or Sam (her full name only enters the picture when she's in trouble) is a passionate future educator with a zest for learning, traveling and breaking out of her comfort zone. Before her diagnosis in December of 2000, she dreamed of driving her own ice cream truck, but T1D changed her plans. She currently is a graduate student in Special Education at The College of New Jersey, working on a Master of Arts in Teaching with a specialization in Severe Disabilities and Emotional Disorders. Her dream is to weave her T1D experiences into her teaching in hopes of proving that disabilities, like T1D, create extraordinary abilities some don't get the chance to experience.