Alumni Spotlight: La India Santos

La India Santos studied abroad with ISA Service-Learning in Santiago, Dominican Republic in Fall 2016. La India was an ISA Global Ambassador before graduating from Widener University with a BA in Spanish Secondary Education. She recently received her Master’s in International Educational Development from the University of Pennsylvania. We reached out to La India to learn more!

  1. How has studying abroad influenced you? What lessons did you learn that you carry with you today?

Study abroad has influenced me tremendously. I first studied abroad at the age of 14 in Costa Rica. The ISA Santiago program was my third study abroad experience, but had a significant impact on me because I was able to study and complete service-learning. I had a scholarship at my home university that required community service hours and was able to fulfill those through my ISA Service-Learning program.

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I have always worked in education with children, but I decided to take a different route during my time in Santiago. ISA had the option of doing service learning at an institution for the blind, El Patronato Nacional de Los Ciegos. I have never worked with the blind or visually impaired community, so I was a novice in the field. Additionally, my classes taught me a lot about the history of the country and allowed me to think critically about current and past situations.

  1. What were some of your responsibilities while working at El Patronato Nacional de Los Ciegos?

While working at El Patronato Nacional de Los Ciegos, I learned the processes of each department and even had a chance to assist with eye exams for community members. Eventually, I became the substitute instructor for the daily living department due to a professor’s medical leave. I taught the adult students how to basket weave, identify money, button a shirt, etc. I also began teaching myself how to read and write braille in Spanish, and navigate the internet and a keyboard with my eyes closed. Upon my return, I made a PowerPoint about my experience called “How I Learned to See,” which I have presented to numerous high school students in my area. I was challenged in every aspect (language, culture, university culture, peers, schoolwork), and I am forever grateful to have experienced those challenges.

One unexpected challenge was the death of one of the students, Freddy, at the institution for the blind. Freddy was completely blind, but he would take my hand into his and tell me how beautiful I was every day. He will never know the impact he has had on me and my life. That simple action has taught me a new definition of beauty and how we connect with others. I have learned how to see past societal standards of beauty and examine the beauty inside. I have also learned to appreciate all that I have; my senses, my family, and my ability to do simple everyday tasks. I am forever grateful for him and this experience.

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  1. What are some goals and aspirations you would like to accomplish with your Master’s Degree in International Educational Development?

Three years prior to my ISA experience in Santiago, I volunteered in a rural community as an Amigos de Las Americas volunteer. This experience, as well as my ISA program, influenced me to pursue my studies in International Educational Development. 

As an Amigos de Las Americas volunteer, I worked with Plan International on children’s rights and gender equality. I assisted with the campaign “Por Ser Nina” or “Because I am a Girl,”  and hosted educational activities with children in the community on a variety of topics. I focused my Masters around girls’ education and empowerment. I hope to work as an education consultant or specialist for international or grassroots organizations on projects pertaining to girls’ education, health, and empowerment. I have a strong interest in menstrual hygiene management and girls pursuing secondary education. I hope to be able to assist with projects on these issues.

  1. Are you continuing to use your Spanish? How?

Absolutely! I use my Spanish all the time. I still speak with my host families in the Dominican Republic and am a Spanish interpreter for a school district outside of Philadelphia. Additionally, I hold a BA in Spanish Secondary Education, which now allows me to be a Spanish instructor. I love that I am able to communicate with the largest immigrant and ethnic population in the USA, along with my family who is of Puerto Rican heritage.

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My host mother from ISA and I
  1. How did you end up back in the Dominican Republic and what are you doing there?

While studying abroad in Santiago, students would take trips to the beach in Sosua and Cabarete. I became close with the owner of Mosha’s Reggae Lounge, the first Jamaican restaurant in the DR. We stayed in touch over the past four years. I also stayed in touch with my host mother and my other host family in the campo. I graduated in December and felt the need for a break from the hustle and bustle of life in the USA. I booked a one-way flight and decided to visit everyone and help out my friend with his business. I stay in Santiago sometimes, but I am currently located in Sosua.

Check out La India’s secondary Instagram, @myphillypassport, a project and hashtag that she started to introduce residents of Philadelphia and surrounding areas to the amazing and diverse immigrant communities in “our city of brotherly love.”

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