Maria Georgakarakou

Long School of Music, Cambridge, Massachusetts
1997-1998 Fulbright Graduate Student

Echoes and Reflections from A Fulbright Scholar who Happens to be Blind

My story begins rather obscurely in July 1968 when I entered this world 15 weeks premature at an Athens hospital that no longer exists. The first months of my life were marked by a struggle for survival as my undeveloped lungs could not yet function. Ventilators saved my life but over-oxygenation caused blindness, a common phenomenon in premature infants.

From then on, the byword was no longer survival. It was acceptance... I cannot remember a day in my life when I have not taken a step towards inclusion in the world of the sighted. Greece has a lot to learn with regard to equal rights of individuals with physical or developmental disabilities. Disabled people tend to receive a stipend from the state instead of being encouraged to work towards finding a job which may render them productive, confident, and, all in all, successful members of society.

This is where my encounter with the Fulbright Foundation played a catalytic role. The first time I walked into their Athens office, I expected some sort of preamble with the usual inevitable subtext... "Blind people can only be switchboard operators. Why would you wish to study in the US where you would fail and be disappointed? After all, if you graduated first in your class at Athens University, that was only because your professors offered special favors. Had they not done so, you might have never graduated..."

This had been the theme and variations I had heard elsewhere. The Fulbright experience was the unexpected pleasant surprise which marked a turning point in my life and well-being. I received my MM in Early Music, Vocal Performance from the Longy School of Music in Cambridge Massachusetts. As I was interested in research as well as singing and teaching my professors encouraged me to delve into more academic fields. Thus, in January 2015 I received a PhD in Historical Musicology from Boston University. My husband and I recently moved back to the Boston area where I am pursuing my teaching and research interests.

I wonder if the Fulbright-Foundation members who literally opened the door to my newly acquired healthy well balanced life, can actually realize the unique qualities of their contribution. There is a special place in my heart for each and every one of them, and, needless to say, mere words are not enough for me to express my thanks...

Now times have changed and it is my turn to give. I would be honored if I were given the opportunity to help any prospective Fulbrighters with physical or sensory disabilities. The future holds many opportunities for seemingly disabled individuals if they are encouraged to dust off their wings and fly as high as their talents and abilities can take them. Together we can render this world a better, more welcome place.

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