by Andrea Jenkins
From the Editor: Andrea is a young person who had a dream, but before she could fulfill it she had to believe it was possible, get the training to do it, and then summon up the courage to do it. Here is her story about her journey through training and her journey to Spain:
As a little girl growing up in the small rural town of Cairo, Georgia, I was full of dreams. “One day,” I would think to myself. “One day, I will travel the world, experience new cultures, and even speak a different language.” As I grew into adolescence, my hunger for culture and languages only increased. Throughout my childhood I would frequently check out language lessons on audio tape from the local library and absorb them like a sponge.
On graduating from high school in May 2007, I had taken every Spanish class my school could offer, and I had also learned a smattering of French. While it was obvious I possessed the brains to attend college, I knew that without proper blindness skills training I would flunk even the easiest college exam, and perhaps I would be unable to achieve my dream of traveling abroad.
From an early age I was taught a double standard of sorts. On the one hand, my mom was always telling me how proud she was of me, and I think she always believed I would go places and make something of myself. However, the messages I received from society at the time were not as optimistic. Throughout my childhood I was plagued with the fear that, as a blind person, I was not on the same playing field as my sighted peers. In my little Southern town it seemed that to many people “blindness” was an enigma.
From July 2007 to March 2008, I attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, Louisiana, and obtained the instruction necessary to live a normal, happy, and productive life as a blind person. After completing my training, I attended Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia, where I graduated cum laude, with a BA in Spanish Language and Culture in December 2012. According to my family and friends, I had done something amazing by finishing college and learning a language other than English. But, for my part, I was not completely pacified.
For you see, there was still a fire down inside of me that had never died. My dream of going abroad and staying a while had not come to pass. So in February 2013 I applied to the Ministry of Education of Spain to serve for an academic year as an English language assistant (Auxiliar de Conversación) in the Spanish primary school system. In June 2013 I was utterly speechless when I received the response to my application. I had been chosen to serve as a language assistant in the village of Guadalupe, Extremadura, Spain!
Upon my arrival in Guadalupe at the end of September 2013, I underwent some moderate culture shock, as well as three initial weeks of jetlag. However, after being in Spain for a little over a month, I began to grow accustomed to the Spanish way of life. Throughout the eight months I spent abroad, I was able to impart some helpful insight to the people around me. For example, I demonstrated some cane techniques to the children at my school and shared some nonvisual cooking ideas with a couple of my Spanish friends. Above all, I simply lived life as a normal, productive individual abroad.
Toward the end of my stay I traveled to London for five days and to France for two. These excursions only served to increase my confidence as a blind person. I felt that every time I hopped a train, walked to a café, or shopped the local markets for groceries or souvenirs, I was being a successful and productive individual. I feel it is absolutely imperative to face the world, not run from it. I chose to challenge myself, no matter how uncomfortable or scary that experience might be for me. It is safe to say that, when I returned from my eight months abroad, I was elated to find I felt more confident at that point than ever before in my life. It seemed that the world had truly opened up for me in ways I had never known.
While I most certainly have struggles in life, I consider it a great blessing to have traveled abroad and fulfilled my dream of living in Europe, at least for a time. I give credit to the Lord, my friends, and the instructors at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, who pushed me to be my very best and achieve excellence. Without this support, I would have never attempted to chase my dreams.
Currently, I am serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) with Florida Campus Compact, in Tallahassee, Florida. I work with my fellow colleagues to build capacity for college access programming. As someone who has attended college and obtained a Spanish degree, I want students to understand the value of education and be inspired to fulfill their dreams, no matter the obstacles they might encounter. I believe anyone, regardless of circumstances, can achieve success.So, to anyone out there who feels you can’t succeed or you don’t have the confidence to live life as a blind person, trust me! I’ve been there, and I can tell you from personal experience, the sky is the limit if you believe. This being said, I pray you will take my experience as a call to action. Whether you are blind or sighted, it is never too late to chase your dreams. I won the battle over fear the moment I boarded the plane to Europe. The moment you step out and take control of your life, seek the training, and do your best, you become a winner.