Back to SummaryMolly Fausone - Student Profile
I had already met with the Office of Accessible Education (OAE) and they directed me to the BOSP office on campus where, after evaluating the pros and cons of Santiago and Madrid, talking about my interests, and speaking to the student advisors of the programs, we decided I needed to contact the program staff abroad to learn more about the cities and how we could make this work.
The encouraging reality was that the program staff at both locations was more than willing to make it work. After some preliminary research (I basically knew the metro had some accessible stops and there were curb cuts throughout the city) I decided Santiago was where I wanted to spend my three month hiatus from The Farm. Having no idea what to expect, and no experience living abroad (or anywhere other than home and Stanford) I started planning. I exchanged emails with the housing directors in Santiago about how tall beds had to be for me to get into them, the narrowest width of doorways I could fit through, the size of bathrooms, set ups of showers, and the kind of help I would need at home. It wasn’t until after I got to Santiago that I realized the Staff in Santiago went from home-stay to home-stay, measuring apartments and talking to families until she found the right fit. I spoke on the phone to the other members of the staff about the trips and outings they had planned, where we’d be staying, what we’d be doing, how we’d be getting there. By the time I left for Santiago I had spoken to three of four members of the staff, my host mom, and a friend of a friend who lived in Santiago. Still I knew little about the city, less about the country, and virtually none of the 25 other Stanford students that would be living with me in the Chile’s capital city.
I didn’t expect to travel (I mean how many hostels could accommodate a wheelchair, right?) and I knew life in a new city would be challenging. I set the goals of being patient, creative, and flexible and approached my time abroad as an adventure… if things went smoothly it would be an adventure, if things didn’t go quite as smoothly as I had planned it would be no less an adventure, and I’d still have plenty of stories to bring back with me to the States. Chile was… the adventure of a lifetime.
Planning paid off and my host family took me in as one of their own. I may have learned as much at the dinner table as I did in the classroom. Over Pastel de Choclo, a traditional Chilean dish, I listened to my host mom talk about living through the rein of both a socialist president and Chile’s only dictator. (I quickly learned to tread lightly when talking about politics in Chile.) My host brother helped me with my Spanish homework and took me to an American movie with his friends, and my host sister taught me to navigate the metro and call for radio taxis. Her boyfriend even built me a little wooden box so I could carry a ramp on the back of my power wheelchair. With plenty of aunts, uncles, and cousins, gatherings with my extended host-family were the events I enjoyed the most. I’ll always remember Uncle Jose’s 50th birthday party as one of my favorite nights in Santiago.
That’s not to say the transition wasn’t a challenge. My first few weeks were less than seamless and closer to overwhelming. It took three elevators to get from platform level to ground level at the metro station near the Stanford Center, and the words I needed most like board, screw, brake, pull, lift etc. (which I needed when explaining to taxi drives how to brake down my wheel chair) were not ones I had learned in Spanlang 2A. Like a typical Stanford student I registered for as many classes as I could fit in my schedule and found myself spending unreasonable amounts of time on wordreference.com until I scaled back to a more forgiving twelve units. And still with only three classes I had the opportunity to study Latin American art, culture, and politics; topics I don’t normally encounter in on-campus Humbio classes, and certainly don’t run into on my way to class. But in Chile class and everyday life are intrinsically intertwined and you find yourself relating news articles, food, and even graffiti to lectures you heard from professors the week before.
The Chileans were tirelessly accommodating. I met more than a few locals that apologized for the city’s inaccessibility and even more that proudly told me about the bill they passed just last year creating a National Disability Council and instating a slew of laws similar to our ADA. Getting around the city turned out to be an education. By the end of my stay I was showing up to inaccessible metro stops on purpose knowing that within minutes a group of young Chilean men would offer to carry me up the stairs. (Not exactly the most conventional way to meet Chileans.) My trip was also a testament to the character of Stanford students. I couldn’t have asked for a group of people I’d never met to be more helpful. They carried me up hundreds of stairs, squeezed me into closet sized bathrooms, and became some of my best friends to this day.
And travel… I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was right bout the hostels- they aren’t accessible in the strictest sense of the word, but we called ahead about doorways and bathrooms, and were always ready to make last minute adjustments if needed when we arrived. I was pleasantly surprised to find that we always made everything work. I sipped wine at vineyards in Argentina, danced in a seven story club in the port city of Valparaíso, watched a sunset in the driest desert in the world, ate lunch beneath a volcano on black sand in the lake region of Puerto Montt, sat on a boat fifty feet from a glacier in a hailstorm in the heart of Patagonia, slept in an airport, on a beach, and on buses winding through the Andes … and well I could go on for so long you’d stop reading.
In Chile, everything was an adventure, whether it was buying a notebook in a Librería, eating empanadas on the streets of Providencia, making idle conversation with locals on the metro, scouting the best happy hour deal for pisco sours, or drinking terremotos (a beer-wine-ice cream- and-who-knows-what-else concoction) at a blue-collar bar in a run down corner of Chile’s vibrant capital city. I quickly fell in love with the colorful murals, the social acceptability of being late, and daily schedule (eg. dinner at 9pm, going out at 11, sleeping in). But over the course of my time abroad I didn’t just improve my Spanish and learn about another culture, I learned an incredible amount about myself, facing challenges, accepting help, and working towards independence in new situations. My time in Santiago opened my eyes to what it means to be disabled in a country that only recently earned its second world status, and really what life is like for people with disabilities in most of the rest of the world. My trip abroad took planning, there were times that were frustrating, but as a whole my experience was awesome. I know no other way to describe it. If you are thinking about going abroad, go. If you are worried about challenges either unique or more common there are more people than you know willing to help you. It will be ten weeks you’ll never forget.
Have questions about Santiago or going abroad? I’d love to chat or help you out if I can. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org