The moment I completed my final writing project for my primary school graduation at age 14, discussing my personal and professional plans, was when I felt I came up with a great idea. I thought I had found the key to success. According to what I thought and wrote then, a successful person is a person who knows how to define his limits. In order for me to have a successful career, I thought, I would have to be very aware of the limits that my blindness can create. I would have to think about all the obstacles that might stand in my way and think of a way to overcome them before I go on to setting and achieving my goals. What I did not discuss in my assignment, however, was the possibilities of getting beyond those limits.
I began to realize, as I was growing up, that my limits were decreasing. As time passed, I was able to do many things I did not think I could do; I went to study in a university in another country and attended a summer school in Germany as well as two leadership conferences in the U.S. and the UK. Living and working in a foreign country on another continent, however, only a year ago, was a dream, something I was always yearning for, but thought I would not be able to do. The idea of acting according to my limits was then an excuse that tried not to let that dream become a goal.
In the summer of last year, at age 21, I found myself thinking about it again. I was done with more than two-thirds of the courses offered for my majors, journalism and political science; a perfect timing for an internship. I knew exactly what I wanted to do: I wanted to work as a reporter in an English-speaking media. I was well aware that such an opportunity would give me a chance to put my skills to real-world use and to get strong feedback from professionals in an English-speaking country. Then, according to what I thought at age 14, I had to think of a way to overcome the obstacles that are likely to stand in my way. Fortunately, it did not take me long to realize that setting strictly defined limits is an obstacle that, most of the time, will stand in my way. I also realized that the only way to overcome it is to set myself free of that obstacle. Apparently, thinking about the limits was not the key to success for many blind individuals who traveled over the world, climbed Mount Everest (and reached the summit) and took part in the winter Olympics. Though I could not think of a straightforward way to make it possible, I was determined to do what it takes to achieve my career objective – to become an intern of a news organization in the United States.
But Rome was not built in a day, and neither was my ambitious endeavor. It took three months of work and many rejection letters before I got an offer that I could not refuse: a fall internship with the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire Semester in Washington program. What I could not foresee is that this endeavor would last much longer than I thought and would provide me with more than I bargained for.
However, that was not what I thought during my first week in Washington, D.C. The big city looked scary and unfamiliar; the people looked either pitiful or ignorant. I felt lost and useless. I did not think there was a way to use the touch-screen microwave, or to safely operate the gas oven. Going out was even harder. I dreaded escalators and I had to use the elevator or take the stairs to get to any Metro station. The way out, as I soon learned, was going to take much longer then a four-month-long fall internship. That was attending a training center, where I could learn to safely negotiate an urban environment, independently cross streets and use public transportation.
As a result of an accidental set of circumstances, I first ended up attending the Colorado Center for the Blind, a training center that did not meet my needs. However, this experience gave me a chance to look for another training approach that was likely to work much better for me.
Three months after I came to the U.S., I felt extremely frustrated and resentful. It seemed to me that I was losing hope of finding a placement in another training center and continuing with my plans. I found myself thinking that I failed to define and set my limits and that it would turn out that I am spending my time and money in vain, unable to take a step forward.
In the meantime, I tried contacting a number of individuals, organizations and foundations that could help me get the training I longed for. The most promising one among all of them, the American Council of the Blind, brought a gleam of hope in this ordeal. Thanks to their effective advocacy efforts, I ended up getting a placement in one of the top-ranking independence training centers in the country, the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind. I soon learned that putting dots of different shapes and sizes on a touch-screen microwave is one of many creative ways to make those appliances accessible. Using the gas oven was not a risky business anymore, nor was going up or down on an escalator. By the time I graduated from my training, I was well on my way to learning the necessary skills that would help me to safely and independently cross most intersections by listening to the traffic sounds and analyzing the possible risks.
Three weeks later, I was back in Washington, D.C., the big city I was afraid of. I no longer dread the escalators; I confidently travel to the Metro. I do not run away from the sound of the cars, but I am paying attention to their sound so that I can safely cross the intersections I come upon. I am happy for having the chance to grab another excellent opportunity: to be an intern at the American Council of the Blind. I find it both pleasing and rewarding to give back to the organization that helped me pave the way toward my independence. An important part of this internship is the learning experience I am getting from working with the staff members who manage ACB’s advocacy and governmental affairs, development and public relations.
Thanks to this growing experience of living and training in the U.S., my future does not look scary and uncertain any more. I am looking forward to stepping into the newsroom of the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire, ready to go many places and cover various events. This year-long stay in the U.S. has already provided me with many opportunities and benefits of learning about lots of creative ways to make my life easier and make myself more productive. This unique experience has made me aware that what it takes to become a go-getter is a can-do attitude, finding a way out of the problems I encounter rather than finding excuses for not doing anything to solve them. It has also made me realize that what is crucial for achieving my goals is not how long it takes to make the effort, but how soon I set my mind on getting them accomplished.
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