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Spanish education student learns anything is possible after assisting the blind in the Dominican Republic.

Traveling and service learning have always been an immense part of LaIndia Santos-Phillips’s life. At Widener, the Spanish secondary education major was able to broaden her experiences through an opportunity to study abroad in the Dominican Republic last fall.

What she thought would be a semester working at a children’s school for her service-learning project transformed into a life-changing experience, assisting blind and visually impaired adults at El Patronato de Los Ciegos in Santiago. Since she was fluent in Spanish, she ended up serving as a substitute teacher and even taught herself the basics of reading braille – in Spanish.

Spanish language has been ingrained in Santos-Phillips since she was a child. She started teaching it to herself when she was 10 years old. Her passion for learning and teaching the language is what led her to pursue a degree in Spanish education at Widener.

Her semester abroad not only provided real-world experience among a Spanish-speaking culture, but it also opened her eyes to possible opportunities post-graduation – taking her career goals on a path she hadn’t imagined.

“I never thought about working with adults, as I have always assisted children, but after this experience I want to find work in this field,” Santos-Phillips said.  “Working with the blind had such an impact on me. They never knew what I looked like; they could never judge anyone based on appearance. I kept thinking to myself, what would life be like without being able to see one another.”

Santos-Phillips has always been drawn to global learning, which made Widener a perfect fit. With her dedication to learning, travel, and community service she joined a group of likeminded students, as part of a Widener anthropology course, and traveled to Trinidad to engage in sustainability service learning.

On campus, she also took the initiative to create a Spanish club. “I have been able to advance in the language so much here, I want to be able to help open doors for others interested in pursuing Spanish education,” she said.

Santos-Phillips hopes to continue her work abroad after she graduates from Widener next year, but currently enjoys helping the surrounding community as a volunteer at the College Access Center of Delaware County and hopes to work at the Center for the Blind in Chester next semester.

Out of all her experiences abroad, Santos-Phillips believes her semester in the Dominican Republic was the most meaningful. “I learned not to take life for granted,” she said. “I look at the world through a new lens. Experiencing other cultures helps change my perspective all the time, but working with the blind has taught me anything is possible.”