My name is Elise Schiller and I am a bilateral Cochlear™ Baha® 5 recipient and a 2018 Anders Tjellström Scholarship winner. Follow me as I share my hearing journey throughout the next month, from studying abroad in Ireland to interning at Cochlear Americas! This is my hearing journey.
At birth, I was diagnosed with a rare genetic syndrome, causing blindness in one eye and leaving me with ear malformations, which resulted in conductive hearing loss. When I was younger I wore the Cochlear™ Baha® Softband. Then, in 2008 I got bilaterally implanted with the Cochlear™ Baha® Connect System.
The only thing I could feel was the cold tip of a metal spoon piled high with cookie-dough ice cream, reminding me of every doubt I had about myself. I emptied the tub, still staring out the window at the snow falling, pondering over the uncertainty of my future. On that cold, winter night, I had received a rejection letter from my first-choice university. It came the day after my 18th birthday, on December 14th, 2016. At this pivotal time in my life, I refused to let go of the one thing still holding me together: hope.
After my grandmother’s death, it prompted a mass of relatives from my mother’s side to visit Ireland, the land of which both my maternal grandparents took descent. On her return from the Emerald Isle, my mother’s sister, Aileen, was pressuring me to reconsider my options and was convinced she could sway me to apply to schools in Ireland. At the time, I was uncertain. To me, I felt like my world ended after I got that rejection letter and I was not ready to begin looking at other options.
Despite feeling afraid of even more rejection, I convinced myself that I had nothing to lose and I secretly submitted my application that night. Come February, I received an email notification letting me know a decision was made on my application. Preparing to cry, I checked my application status online. I began reading and my heart froze as every fear was drowned by excitement. The letter read: “Dear Elise, Congratulations! Trinity College Dublin welcomes you to the University Community and is delighted to offer you a place on the undergraduate degree course in Psychology for the 2017/18 academic year commencing in September.”
My screams brought my mother to my room. The moment she stepped foot in my room, she immediately squashed my dreams with the reality of college life. More specifically, the college life of an individual with a unique medical condition such as myself. She started by reiterating that I have a difficult time understanding accents and it continued with her concerns about where I would find an audiologist that specializes in Baha technology. Infiltrating my mind with even more denial, she explained to me that each country has different disability laws and she expressed her worries about accommodations I would be able to have at Trinity. Despite her misgivings, she agreed to let me visit, hoping I would not want to attend.
When I visited, I found that I understood the Irish variation of English better than the American variation. The Irish accent is crisp and loud. I found that they articulate — hitting the consonants and enunciating their words — whereas Americans slack-off on their speech by slurring words. In addition, Trinity College Dublin has an excellent disability service which informed me preeminently which accommodations I might be able to receive. They went a step further to give me resources for audiology clinics. At this meeting, it was important for me to know ahead of time which accommodations I valued the most. The accommodations I asked about included: the use of assistive technology such as notetaking software, on-campus housing with deaf-friendly fire alarms, extra time on exams, and the ability to type my exams.
To my surprise, when I returned to St. Louis, Missouri I found that my mom’s opinion had changed due to the information I acquired from the disability office. They assured her I would have supports in place for when I start classes. Only, this time, I was the one holding onto fear. I still thought I wanted to pursue medicine, but when I applied to Trinity, I applied to my major: Psychology. This meant if I decided on Trinity, I would be studying Psychology exclusively for four years and I was unsure I wanted to go that route. After all, I came from the American education system where I took a wide variety of classes. But instead of giving in to fear, I took the path that scared me the most.
One thing I could have never seen myself doing before my Baha® 5 Sound Processors was studying abroad. With them, the world is at my fingertips.