I was definitely not a little girl who knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. My interests varied from becoming an astronaut to writing scripts and performing mini-plays. I was creative, yet practical, and by the time I graduated from high school I was ready to leave Oregon far behind and travel the world!
In college I chose communications, because the department included theater majors. However, my classes morphed into cross-cultural ethnographies and culminated with a six-month internship in Manila, Philippines. While there, I lived among squatter communities and volunteered with a micro-finance loan organization. I had no idea at the time how profoundly this experience would reshape my worldview.
Three years later I was accepted into the Peace Corps and spent two years teaching English to grade school students in Lithuania. I lived and worked with people in my adopted community. By living in the Philippines, U.S. and Lithuania, I learned wealth and poverty come in many different forms and are not measured by money alone, but by people’s access to opportunity. Education holds the key. After my time as a volunteer, I became committed to gaining skills and resources to affect change.
Returning to the United States, I worked in Washington, D.C., teaching English to adults from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Peru, El Salvador and Korea. These were hard-working, talented students. Many held multiple jobs and then attended evening and weekend classes. I remember one student nodding off in the back, only to learn he’d worked 18 hours straight before coming to class.
Some of my students struggled with pronunciation and articulation. It broke my heart to hear how their inability to pronounce and speak English correctly often made them appear unintelligent, uneducated or even lazy to strangers. Opinions often get based on first impressions and I saw how language holds the key. During this time, I saw the movie “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” It provided my first introduction to treatment for communication disorders and piqued my interest in becoming a speech-language pathologist.
When I first learned about the training requirements for becoming an SLP, I shied away. It was too daunting. Neither of my hardworking parents graduated from a four-year university, and I didn’t know anyone in my extended family with a master’s degree. However, throughout my volunteer work, I witnessed the power and impact of educating girls. To educate a girl affects not only her life, but also the community around her. The theory of empowering women through education continued to resonate and I had an epiphany—what I believed to be true for others I needed to apply to my own life.
With encouragement from friends and family, I returned to Oregon to pursue post-baccalaureate work and then earned my graduate degree in speech-language pathology. I wanted to give myself the power of educating “this girl.” I wanted to gain real skills, to provide real services in helping people communicate effectively.
In 2014, almost 20 years after earning my bachelor’s degree in “communications,” I graduated from the University of Oregon with a master of science degree in communication disorders and sciences. I’m about to finish my second year as a school-based SLP in my home state of Oregon.
I traveled around the world and back and took 20 years to figure out where my professional passions lie. Last week I received the following note from a student. I’ll cherish it forever.
Genealle Visagorskis, MS, CCC-SLP, is happy to be back in Oregon working with elementary school students in the Central Point school district. She assists with a variety of articulation, fluency, language and social communication needs. She’s also an avid gardener and volunteers with Dogs for the Deaf, a program providing professionally trained service dogs for people with hearing impairments and autism and to professionals such as counselors, teachers and physicians.