Home Speech-Language Pathology From Peace Corps to SLP in 20 Years

From Peace Corps to SLP in 20 Years

by Genealle Visagorskis
written by
globes

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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.

note from student

 

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.

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11 comments

Dayna March 22, 2016 - 10:49 am

Thanks for sharing your experiences, girl! We’re never too old to tap into our passions!

genealle@gmail.com March 29, 2016 - 7:07 pm

Thanks Dayna! I totally agree.

Gehee March 22, 2016 - 6:54 pm

Thanks for sharing. I too have the fear of getting my post Bacc and eventually my masters in slp but reading this encourages me to give it a try and reach out to this communities!

genealle@gmail.com March 29, 2016 - 7:10 pm

I’m glad to hear that. I have not regretted my decision to go for it. It’s a wonderful field and there is definitely a need for our services.

Lindsey Good March 23, 2016 - 2:58 am

Motivating story Genealle, thanks for sharing. I had a similar case where teaching ESL to adults in Chicago sparked my interests in pursuing a masters in communication disorders. Now I am a bilingual SLP in Spain and although I work mostly with the preschool population, I do have a lot of adult ´artic´ students who are trying to make it in the global economy and good English pronunciation is a must.

genealle@gmail.com March 29, 2016 - 7:17 pm

Lindsey thanks for sharing your experience as well. How neat to be working as a bilingual therapist in Spain! I absolutely love working with international populations and hope to do more as I continue to grow my skills.

Nancy Collman March 24, 2016 - 12:28 am

I am and always have been inspired by you and your vision. You are Awesome. Thank you for sharing Nancy (mom)

genealle@gmail.com March 29, 2016 - 7:17 pm

Thanks mom 🙂

sandra wagner March 24, 2016 - 9:57 am

Genealle, may I use your entire post on my school district’s SLP newsletter? The point you make about being poor not necessarily being related to wealth is HUGE and this piece would be great to share. The newsletter is shared with the SLPs in my district and sometimes with some other districts. Thank you!

genealle@gmail.com March 29, 2016 - 7:26 pm

Hi Sandra, that would be fine with me. 🙂 I’m glad you found it helpful. It was fun to write.

Yumi Sumida April 11, 2016 - 5:19 pm

Wow thank you for your story, it is powerful ! The cost of education is too often a deterrent for too many who could really make a difference.

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