Justin Roberson is an international relations and global studies/linguistics senior who plans on pursuing a challenging career in international law. An aspiring polyglot, Roberson’s favorite hobby is studying languages and culture. On any given weekend, he’s watching movies in Mandarin or conjugating verbs in Spanish. We sat down with him to learn more about his experiences here on the Forty Acres, his love for international travel, and what’s next after graduation.
Going global… Ready to wrap up his senior year and get started in his career, Roberson is considering working for a non-governmental organization with a focus on economic development in countries across the globe. “I love learning about the global culture and how everything interconnects politically. We’re more connected now than we ever have been—and it’s important that everyone understands this.”
Getting a second opinion… Roberson knows the journey to law school won’t be an easy one, but he’s determined to overcome any hurdle that comes his way. Early into his freshman year, he decided to confront one particular obstacle that had been plaguing him since high school. Unable to remain awake and fully alert during class and critical study sessions, he decided to see a doctor and get a second opinion. He was soon diagnosed with narcolepsy, a neurological disorder that derails the brain’s sleep-wake cycle. “After the diagnosis, I struggled with it for a while. But then I realized I can’t take care of the problem with just will power. I can’t will my brain to properly function.”
Time on his side…With assistance from Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD), Roberson is learning how to navigate school and life with a chronic condition that often causes episodes of sleepiness during the daytime. The biggest challenge, he says, is finding time in between sporadic sleep episodes to meet deadlines and prepare for tests. “The narcoleptic brain goes on and off like a light switch. So it takes me twice as long to finish assignments and study for tests. I put a lot of effort into my schoolwork, but it’s so worth it. I have to climb a mountain, and the reward is at the top.”
A way with words… Roberson is looking forward to taking one less class this semester—lightening his load from the usual 15 hours to 12. The extra free time will allow him to do what he loves most: learn new languages. Currently he is working on his fluency in Spanish, German and Mandarin.
Diversifying study abroad…This semester, Roberson will also continue his job at the university’s International Office, where he’s leading a diversity campaign for study abroad. As a peer advisor, he also works alongside students with disabilities, encouraging them to push past their limitations and travel the world. He is also working to build a database designed to assist students with disabilities who are interested in studying overseas. After a life-changing trip to Shanghai, he wants more students to benefit from similar experiences. “I proved to myself that I could study abroad with a disability—and now I’m showing students they can do this too.”
Life after UT Austin…After graduation, Roberson plans on taking the summer off for medical treatment to strengthen his brain’s sleep/wake cycle after living under the constraints of a structured schedule for several years. Although it will take him a little longer to get there, he’s more than ready to get started in law school and has already set his sights on more world travels. Next on his list are Korea, Vietnam, Spain and Colombia.
A word of advice… “Trust your body. Back when I was first experiencing symptoms, so many people told me that there was nothing wrong. But yet I knew something was really off when I woke up feeling sore from not having REM sleep. When you’re having pains and something isn’t right, listen to your body and find out why.”