How I Learned to See: My Service-Learning Experience Abroad

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LaIndia Santos-Phillips is a student at Widener University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA Service Learning in Santiago, Dominican Republic.

This semester I had the pleasure of volunteering at El Patronato de Ciegos. It is an organization that serves the visually impaired community. Before I arrived in my host country, I was able to choose 3 places that I was interested in volunteering my time. My first choice was at a children’s dining hall. However, just weeks before I was leaving, my mother suggested that I try something different since I work with children at home. We agreed that the school for the blind sounded interesting and different. I had no idea what to expect from my placement, so I did not set my expectations high. I am very happy that I came in with an open mind.

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Items used to write in Braille

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I never would have thought that I would learn as much as I did. I was studying Spanish at the university and learning braille at my placement. I worked alongside visually impaired adults and I cannot put into words the important connections and friendships that I have made. I had only been at my placement for a less than a month when I was told I would be substituting for one of the professors who was having a surgery. She was out for the entire month of October, which allowed me to run her classroom in the best way I could. This amount of responsibility frightened me at first, but I stuck to what the professor had taught me before she left and assisted the students in developing their skills in the areas that I could help in.

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Daily Living Department that I substituted for
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John Luis, a visually impaired student using the computer

During my time at El Patronato, I volunteered in a variety of departments and developed both professional and personal abilities and skills. I know how to read and write in braille, make household items from newspapers, and use the computer as if I was visually impaired. During my last week, I also learned how conduct eye exams to members of the community. My position at my placement introduced me to a different world both professionally and culturally. I had a lot more responsibility than I had expected at times, and I felt as if I was truly an asset to the organization. In addition, I made great relationships with the students. Though they will never know what I look like, I will always remember their faces. I learned that a disability only serves as a minor setback in life. Once it is overcome, one can do anything. Some of the students had just lost their eyesight a few months before, but they were learning and mastering so many useful skills. At times, I would arrive late and the staff would tell me that the students were asking for me. When one can’t see, they can only judge by what they hear. They learned one’s personality, and physical attributes are left out. I was told I was beautiful every day by a student who unfortunately passed. They have taught me to truly see.

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Blocks that I used to learn Braille alphabet
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Me and the amazing student, Freddy, who has passed

The world awaits…discover it.

Author: laindiasantos

I am junior at Widener University majoring in Spanish Secondary Education. I decided to study abroad in Santiago, Dominican Republic because I fell in love with the country along with its people and culture , while working as a volunteer with Amigos de Las Americas. I love to dance , cook, travel, and watch "I Love Lucy" !

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