A University of Toledo Occupational Therapy Program graduate student recently spent a month helping to improve the life of a 16-year-old burn survivor from a gypsy family in Bucharest, Romania.Working with a foundation called The Door, which was established to provide assistance and support for children and families in need, Emily Fahrer not only helped the boy but also learned a great deal about the gypsy culture.
“Despite feeling overwhelmed in a new and different culture, I met some incredible people that showed me generous hospitality the whole time I was in Romania,” said Fahrer, who is pursuing a doctorate in occupational therapy. “I learned so many valuable things about occupational therapy.”
In addition to the language barrier, which required an interpreter, the experience was intense because she had just two weeks to complete her objectives and make a difference in the teen’s life, whereas most students work directly with clients for approximately two months.
“At first it was hard to establish a trusting relationship with my participant while there was someone relaying messages between us,” Fahrer said. “After assessing his needs, we decided that the highest priority was to address his inability to read or write and then focus on his self-esteem issues because of the burn scars. We came up with some new strategies to help him learn.”
Fahrer said that before she worked with teenager, he could not retain basic information such as the Romanian alphabet. Fahrer learned much of the Romanian alphabet from YouTube and with help from her translator, she was able to teach the 16-year-old how to recognize and pronounce more than half of the letters.
She is using the experience as a case study as a part of her capstone project, which is one of the requirements of occupational therapy students to receive their doctoral degrees at UT.
Students can choose from several different types of disseminations for their capstone projects, such as a case study, program development, program modification, advocacy or course development, which all require a combination of 640 hours of practicum, mentored studies, writing about the experience, and presenting the final project to the community during a 15-minute presentation.
Fahrer’s case study is the first international capstone project in the program.