What To Expect in the Next Few Weeks

Hello, all! I wanted to shoot out a quick post about what you can expect from this blog now that this semester’s blog series is over. 

First of all, if you haven’t seen my finale video from my other blog, PenguinPoweredPiano, PLEASE check it out. It took me months to record and edit. It is my recreation of ThePianoGuys’ “Five Guys One Piano — What Makes You Beautiful.” Five guys playing one piano. Like, playing the strings on the piano…and the keys…and the lid…and everything. It’s pretty awesome. You can find my version HERE, and the link to the original is there as well.

Next, the itinerary. Dec. 10 – January 7 will be pretty much a dead zone around here, as I’ll be taking a break and getting some final preparations done. However, starting January 8, the fun will (probably) start up again — big time! From January 8 – January 27, I’ll be in China studying traditional Chinese medicine and immersing myself in the language and culture, as I am so prone to do whenever I get the chance. 

The positive? China. The negative? May not have internet access. So hypothetically things get exciting in January. For you guys? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on if I can actually upload anything. But if I can’t (which I anticipate), don’t fear. In that case, the China series will become my spring semester blog series (mixed in with some other cool stuffs, of course).

So yeah, stick around and see what happens. After China (and now that my thesis is done, woohoo!), I’ll be chilling around in spring semester doing some fun things, then it’s off to Japan (again)! And that, my friends…THAT will be a long blog series. I’ll be there for 4 months.

Anyway, enjoy your day, have a good Christmas, solstice, Kwanzaa, New Year (oriental or western), or whatever holiday you so choose to celebrate.

Here’s a picture of a confused penguin.

Image

See ya!

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Fueling Up, Powering Down

Normally, January would be reserved exclusively for blog posts that tie all the loose ends of my travels abroad into nice little bows. However, yesterday was truly a blog-worthy day if I’ve ever seen one!

I got to breakfast at 7:15 when it opened, as usual, and hurried back to my dorm to finish a few pieces of Hungarian translation and bilingual video captioning before heading out for the a while. The goal? Les Miserables at Celebration Cinema with a matinee coupon.

What actually happened? Gas station. 3 hours.

Let me preface the rest of this post by noting that I have never actually read Les Miserables, although it is certainly on my list of great classics to read (along with The Great Gatsby and 1984, for example). However, after hearing all of the glowing reviews of this movie and realizing that January is probably the only time until summer that I’ll actually have the time to go see a movie, I decided to go. 

Out in the parking lot, I chipped the ice off of my windshield and hopped in, punching the address of the theater into the GPS (no, you Grand Rapidians, it’s not playing at Woodland….) and hooking up the MP3 to my aged car’s dash. Fordzilla, my trusty 20-year-old Ford Escort, grumbled a little as I started her up, but she hobbled out of the parking lot much in the way she always does. 

I turned onto the Beltline and switched to the left lane so that I could veer off into a gas station before I made my way to the theater. Once in the turning lane, Fordzilla grumbled again and gave a little lurch forward. Strange….I thought, more focused on the incoming traffic than the car. Suddenly, I took my foot off the brake to swoop into the gas station when the Ford grumbled, snorted, bucked forward, and then abruptly went to sleep.

There I was, sitting in the two-way turning lane, my front end a few inches into oncoming traffic, and Fordzi wouldn’t even turn over when I tried the ignition again. 

Silence. The only sounds I heard where the muffled whoosh of the cars zooming by on both sides of the beltline around me and the futile clicks of the keys as I turned them in the ignition. Not even a grumble from Fordzilla this time. 

I tried everything from turning the wipers on to taking the key out and putting it back in before I realized that she just wasn’t going to start and that I needed to get out of the car. In the meantime, people were backed up behind me and there was nothing I could do.

Oh the irony of running out of gas in front of not one but two gas stations. I called my mom, who also told me to get out of the car (which is what I was going to do anyway, as I had intended to dash over to the gas station). She suggested that I buy a fuel can and refuel on the road. 

Instead, I called AAA. It’s free for them to bring me gas, and that way they can stand in the middle of the beltline and refuel a car. I’m sure they’ve done it before. 

At the gas station, I quickly spouted off my membership number to the rather grumpy lady on the phone, and after a long series of questions she said that a tow truck with gas would be there within the hour. I waited for 28 minutes, having sporadic conversations with the clerk behind the desk in the Shell station, before I saw a huge truck pull up with a big red “Grand Rapids Towing” stamp on the door. He pulled straight in front of my car, taking up a huge portion of the turning lane, then hopped out and jerked back the lever to pop my fuel door open (which, in my old car, happens from the inside, as there is no notch on the fuel door to open it). He kept glancing at me, so I scurried back across traffic during a stop light down the road to meet him next to my car. He asked me to start her up, so I leaned in reluctantly, unwilling to find out if there was some greater problem than me not having gas — my gas gauge has been impeccably accurate for quite a while now, and it said I still had about 3 gallons before he put the fuel in. More than enough to move me 20 feet into the gas station, I’d imagine. Usually, four gallons is enough to move me the entire length of the Ohio Turnpike. 

I turned the key hesitantly, a relieved smile coloring my face when Fordzilla started with no problems. The mechanic smiled at me and said, “You’d better run across the street and get some gas!”

I grinned back and said, “You bet!”

He backed his truck away, and I whipped into the gas station at pump #2 to refuel. As I was taking the cap off my fuel tank, I noticed an employee with one of those “sticky poles” changing the prices of the gas to $3.36. I whirled around and punched the 87 button quickly, glancing up at the pump screen. Price per gallon: $3.16. Victory.

However, my happiness was a bit tempered when the pump shut me off at 6.6 gallons. The AAA driver had only put in a gallon, so I’d had gas the entire time, just as my meter said. Shrugging, I decided that I’d sort through it later. I got back in my car and turned the key, happy to hear her grumble. Rather, it was a grumble, then a cough, then a I give up. She sputtered and went out like a candle.

I put my forehead on the steering wheel and turned the key again with predictable results. Again and again I tried, but she just wouldn’t go. Dejected, I walked back into the gas station. The clerk was surprised to see me, and I simply said, “Well, it’s better than being stuck on the beltline.”

*****

By then, it was a little after noon, and I’d left before 10:30. I had no choice but to call AAA again (thank goodness for free services). First, I called the tow truck guy who’d just been there to ask if he could just come back or if I had to start a new file with AAA. He chuckled and said, “Aren’t you the girl I just delivered gas to?” He told me to start a new incident report, so I thanked him and got back on the line with a much kinder AAA lady. Although she repeated much of my information incorrectly, she did eventually get it all down right. Once again, she told me they’d be there within the hour, and I gave them the address of my trusted mechanic in Grand Rapids, Zandees, in case it needed a tow and couldn’t be fixed by the itinerant mechanic.

I waited and waited, this time for about 35 minutes, when I saw a tow truck that was decidedly not the one she told me would be coming. However, he had a AAA stamp on the truck, so I went out to talk to him and asked him if he could figure out what was wrong. He got in and she started up, but it took only a few moments before Fordzi stalled out again. Over and over he repeated this process without any positive results until he looked at me and said, “You want it towed, or you want to try to drive it?”

…What do you think?

I hopped into his tow truck while he hooked Fordzilla to the bed, and we were off to Zandees to surprise them with the cute “little engine that couldn’t.” I had no ride back from the mechanic, but it was an undeniable fact that Fordzi had to go, so I figured I’d cross that bridge when I got to it and try calling some friends or even Calvin to see if they could set me up for a ride. Worst case scenario, I’d have to wait at the mechanic for about 5 hours until my friend Ashley was on her way over with her grandma and then ask them to intercept me on the way. 

I told the mechanic what was happening, and he said that he was booked up until Wednesday. 

“Is that okay?” he asked.

Well, my car doesn’t work. What other choice do I have?

The tow truck driver was in and out as I talked to the mechanic, and the first thing I did after scheduling the repair was to call Kevin, whom I take to our off-campus class to let him know that he and Kyle needed to find a different way to class for the next day. The tow truck driver popped back in and gave something to the mechanic, then opened the door to leave.

“I guess I’ll just find a ride home somehow.”

The truck driver paused, hand on the doorknob, and then stepped back into the shop. When I got off the phone, he offered to take me back to the edge of the Calvin campus. I was truly appreciative — he could have dropped me anywhere near Calvin and I would have made it back to the dorm, so anything was fine.

I really hated to be manipulative and guilt him like that, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Zandees would have closed before I could call Ashley, and I’d be standing alone in the cold for a few hours. 

With many thank yous and smiles, I said goodbye as he dropped me right at the edge of campus. I haven’t entirely figured out how I’m going to get back to Zandees for my car, but once again, we’ll cross that bridge when I find out more about when they’ll be done with it.

What an adventure!

This Semester’s Housing Hassle — A Verbatim Retelling, from Beginning to End

Well, I’ve been waiting patiently for this whole situation to resolve itself, and after months of hard work, uncertainty, and stress, I can gladly say that everything has been fixed. Some of you who have followed this blog faithfully may recall numerous mentions throughout my posts of the difficulties I have been having with Calvin’s disabilities office and the housing department, beginning with my disability coordinator revoking my doctor’s note without warning (in fact without telling me at all) and then displacing me from my chosen roommate so that I was without housing for the interim and spring semesters. As the whole situation has finally resolved itself now, I’d like to do something that I’ve been planning to do for a long time — I’d like to give all of you a verbatim account of everything that happened.

[Please be aware that this is not a criticism of the departments as a whole. I have found great help from both the Disabilities Office and the Housing Office and the many people in both places. However, I believe that honesty is important in this situation; if I were student and something like this happened to one of my fellows, I would want to know. This honesty also includes the emotions that I was feeling at the time — I’m not going to lie. I called people morons and sent some angry-sounding messages.]

I will not disclose the names of the people at Calvin that I worked with through this; instead, I will substitute their office for their names. You’ll see.

I would also like to make another note, before I begin, that I hold nothing against the housing department at Calvin. Housing was working under the direction of the disabilities office and had no control of its own but to do what it was told. Despite the circumstances, the housing director that I worked with strove to find me the best placement possible, so I cannot say anything bad about that person.

The following is the verbatim series of emails that were exchanged throughout this whole process, in addition to some phone conversations and in-person interviews that happened. I will not quote from phone conversations or interviews unless I am 100% positive that those exact words were said, verbatim. This will be a long entry into this blog.

*****

February 2012:

This was the first time I had ever met Coordinator. In order to sort out my housing options for the next semester (before knowing that I had been accepted to the Hungary program), I met with her in her office in Hiemenga Hall.

At first, we discussed the implications of my hearing issue and whether I would be able to have a single room, since I had seen from experience how difficult it had been to live with a roommate — two hours or less of sleep per night, all of that stuff. Nothing really came of that discussion except a misunderstanding:

“I was told by Dorm Resident Director that I cannot wear earplugs.”
“That’s right,” Coordinator said. “Well, we can put you in a room where the fire alarm goes off in your room so that you’ll be able to hear it.”

And thus began the month-long span when Coordinator starting believing that my medical issue was deafness, not abnormally acute hearing. We continued to talk about whether or not I’d be able to have a single, and she said, “We’ll see how much of this is actually a hearing issue and how much of it is a roommate issue.”

This disappointed me greatly, and it signaled the point at which I began to distrust Coordinator. I did not have a roommate at the time of this conversation, my former roommate having been moved out (partially for the issues she was causing me and partially for other issues not appropriate to discuss now). I was seeking her help after I already had a single, and she still insisted that it was a roommate problem. I felt as if she wasn’t listening to a word I said.

April 2012:

With no progress made at the disabilities office, I participated in the room draw with my best friend so that, since I’d have to have a roommate, at least I could have the best one I could hope for.

June 6, 2012:

My email to Coordinator 2, a secondary coordinator that I emailed in order to try to avoid speaking with Coordinator, whom I did not trust:

“Hello! My name is Carrie Ott, and I just had a quick question about whether or not Calvin might be able to provide me with some accommodations for living in Kalsbeek next year. I have a rare hearing condition called Cochlear Hyperacusis, which greatly amplifies everyday sounds like pencil scratching, doors closing, and ESPECIALLY music beats like what you might find in hip-hop music.I have already talked extensively with Coordinator about actual dorm accommodations for this, but I was talking to my suitemate, who has dyslexia, and she said that Calvin was willing to pay for her treatment. Unfortunately, hyperacusis cannot be treated, but I was wondering if Calvin might be able to accommodate me by purchasing a pair of noise-cancelling headphones for me, to erase the potentially life-threatening sounds I am around in the dorm.
I had numerous problems with the people around me last year, culminating in my need for a single room to myself, but noise-cancelling headphones specifically created to aid tinnitus/hyperacusis sufferers could really prevent a lot of problems. I just thought I would give you an email explaining this, in the off chance that Calvin might actually be able to help. I am very nervous about living in the dorms again next year.”

The response from Coordinator 2:

“Are you in Grand Rapids over the summer? I’m happy to meet with you to talk through how our office might be able to help you or advise on how best to proceed. If you are not in GR lets do what we can over email. Do you have documentation from your audiologist with recommendations? If a student were to request accommodations through our office we would need to have a report outlining your specific needs from either your physician or audiologist. Do you have anything from them that would help guide us?

How are you managing in your classes? Is it mostly a concern in your dorm room? Is this something that insurance might be able to help cover the cost? We can certainly start the discussion and see what we can do.”

The rest of my conversation with her is not really crucial to understanding the situation — basically, she said that she may be able to get me headphones (with a doctor’s note), but they would be the property of Student Academic Services and I’d have to return them. I spent a large portion of my summer seeing audiologists and finally having my main one, Dr. White, write a doctor’s note. However, he had also referred me to speaking with another audiologist in Pittsburgh via email, and I reported this to Coordinator 2 on July 18:

“She recommended over email that we try some new things, and so I will use this upcoming semester in Hungary to test them for her.” In early August, I had all of my wisdom teeth removed. However, while waiting to be accepted into the doctor’s office for the procedure, my mom and I were able to run down to the audiologist’s office (which happens to be in the same building) and pick up the doctor’s note from him, which I promptly faxed to Calvin.

On August 2, I received this message:
“I hope your summer is going well.  We received a fax of your documentation from Dr. Peter White about a single room in the Disability Services Office.  Coordinator 2 will be back in the office early next week and will follow up then.”

I responded: “Thanks! I appreciate that. Housing said that he would be talking to Coordinator about my single housing for this semester and then placing me in Timmer from Junior year on (because of the quiet environment), so should I be talking to Coordinator, Coordinator 2, or both?”

Disabilities: “Coordinator is on vacation for the next two weeks so Coordinator 2 will be your best option.  All of us work together and with Housing pretty closely so we know your situation. Glad to hear that Housing has thought through some options with you as well.”

Around the same time during the summer (shortly before I got the doctor’s note), I had also been talking to Coordinator. I had sent a followup email reminding her that I had spoken to her during the year, and I said, “For now, I would just like to discuss options for housing and I will leave the class issue until I come back to Calvin and see for myself.” The class issue being whether my hearing would make attending class difficult; I did not want to burden her with worrying about class accommodations and thereby confuse her, so I wanted to focus only on housing because I didn’t believe that classes would be a problem.

Her response: “As I mentioned in the past, you would need to get documentation for academic accommodations. You have asked housing to place you close to the end of a hallway and I believe they have that request from you. There is no documentation for a single room. Hope that helps. Enjoy your semester abroad!”

Me: “Wait, I’m sorry, now I’m confused. I understand that I need documentation, and I’m working on getting that but I have surgery tomorrow which is why you guys don’t already have it. I will get you documentation. My question is this — you mentioned that I have asked housing to place me in a room close to the end of the hallway. I never asked for that, that was the room that my roommate and I chose during a room draw. I suppose in the end, the question is when (not if, because I can and will get it) documentation comes in that I need a single room, will that apply to Timmer? Because I can’t live in the dorms forever, so Timmer is the next option at the behest of the housing department, who told me not to go into KE.”

Coordinator: “What surgery are you having?” I explained that it was facial surgery to remove my wisdom teeth and probably pieces of tooth (and perhaps some pieces of jaw as well, depending on how deep the teeth went) from the back of my mouth. “That’s why I can’t have any audiologists messing with my ears right now, because it’s only inches from where the surgery will be. Make sense?”

Coordinator: “I hope surgery goes well for you.  I hope recovery goes well for you too. You have had a roommate and you planned to room with someone for the semester after you come back from Hungary. There is no documentation to support this request at this time.”

Me: “Okay, so here’s in the deal. I’m holding an envelope in my hand, on Dr. White’s (the specialized audiologist) letterhead, signed by Dr. White, explicitly stating that my medical condition requires a room with single occupancy at Calvin College. I am happy to give this note over to you. I can either drop it off when I arrive at Calvin (August 16 and 17), or, if you have a fax number, I can do that. What would you like me to do?”

From that point on, I received no further responses from Coordinator.

*****

Since Coordinator was no longer responding to me, I turned to Housing to ask them where I’d be  living in a single. On August 5, only a few days after the note had been received, I gave some preferable conditions, such as “if possible, a third floor would be great.” Housing replied, “Thanks for your note.  I will talk with Academic Services and also look at our floor charts to determine a good location for you when you return to campus.”

I was so happy — the doctor’s note was fine and a single room and peace of mind was coming my way. I went to Hungary excited to find out my single room placement, which would be reported to me closer to Thanksgiving, when other housing forms came in and they had a better idea of which rooms would be open.

*****

I arrived in Hungary and feasted my eyes (reluctantly) upon the dorm, where I’d been told I’d be living with three roommates in my room and the other 15 students in the other, contiguous rooms. However, it only took a few weeks for me to realize that the noise level from living with all of these people would far exceed anything I had ever imagined.

I’m not going to go into detail — you can find some of the specific incidents in my previous blog posts, such as the one on the way to Romania or the one about the hallucinations. I began with trying to speak to the people who were causing problems, meeting with them and also sending an email to everyone in the group explaining exactly what hyperacusis is and what it can do to me if people will not respect the need for quiet. We established quiet hours and a closed-door policy, but we had no idea just how bad things could get.

When you read about hyperacusis, you don’t read about confusion or hallucinations. It was totally unexpected. I met with our professor-leader in person to discuss what we might be able to do, and she suggested that I contact the disabilities office and the head of the off-campus programs office. On September 29, roughly a month and a half after arriving in Hungary, I sent this email to Coordinator:

“Hello! I am not sure if you remember me, but I am the student with the hearing issue that requires a single room when I’m in the dorms. Here in Hungary, my professor and I have been trying to work out a new housing arrangement, as living in the dorms here with 18 people sharing rooms has become unbearable for me and is threatening my health. I was wondering if Calvin may be able to use some of its fund for assisting the disabled to offset the cost for me of a hotel room in a very cheap hotel to give me some place to sleep? My professor may also be contacting you about this shortly, but she is very busy.”

Coordinator’s response came on October 2.

“I am sorry you are experiencing some struggles in Hungary.  In May and throughout this summer you, Coordinator 2, and I had email conversations about the living situation that you would be experiencing in Hungary and you said it would not be a problem.  The current program in Hungary requires and supports the living in  dorms as an integral part of this program. I am assuming from your email that you are really not living with 18 people in one room. Right? My hope is that you have already have made suggestions and had conversations with the girls  about the noise levels. If this is true, then you may want to have a conversation with your professor regarding the need for quiet time so all students can sleep at night. This will help you and other students.  This might also be something your professor and/or the housing representatives could facilitate at your request.  It could be something the group could work towards as it will help you and other students.

In addition, if there is another available room with less people in it, maybe your professor and the housing department  may be able to facilitate a switch in rooms.  If a room is not available, then it cannot be done due to availability. Carrie, living in the dorms is part of the living community and program experience.  Calvin does not pay for a student to live in an alternative off site location.

I hope you are able to resolve some of the current noise issues with your dorm leadership and professor. Keep me posted.”

I was a little baffled, as it was as if (to me) she had not even read my first email thoroughly. To be honest, I was also very frustrated that she had ‘put words in my mouth’ by saying that I had told Coordinator 2 that it would not be an issue. At this point, please read over all the previous emails again. When did I say that?

I responded:

“I had told Coordinator 2 that my audiologist and I had ideas to experiment with in Hungary — the issue is that they have all been drastically unsuccessful. We are a group of 18 other people aside from me living in a contiguous set of rooms — for example, there is no “door” between a room with four girls and a room with a few more, just a…er, I don’t know what you’d call it, kind of large doorway with no door. You know how some houses do that? And so all of our rooms are connected in such a way that the living habits of one affect all. I have already had numerous conversations with the group as a whole and with only the problem people about the noise level, but the issue is that they are reacting aggressively toward me. When I ask them to be quiet, they get significantly louder, and so I can no longer talk to them about noise because it makes it drastically worse each time. I sought Professor Feenstra’s help and we exchanged numerous emails and met in person, but the only alternative we came up with (which was to switch rooms, as you suggested) turned out to be a far worse alternative to where I am now due to additional noise from a lobby, a television, and the guys’ side of the dorm. Students do not respect quiet times, and they do not listen when people tell them to. Quiet time in this dorm starts at 10, and 9:30 is about the time that the students get really loud. That noise (blasting music, screaming until their voices crack, etc) lasts until about 2:30 or 3 in the morning. Since the students are blatantly  ignoring all pleas for quiet hours to be enforced and even reacting more negatively when the issue is brought up, I don’t know what to do.

I really do enjoy living in the dorms during the day, being around my fellow Calvin students, and have a more apartment-like set up with kitchen, etc. I don’t want to leave it, and that is why I thought that maybe something like a hotel room only for sleeping purposes, where I would return to and live in the dorms during the day, would be a viable option. So that’s the situation right now — I’m being ignored, even when I confront the other students and tell them that I can’t breathe or whatever the side affect of the loud noise to my hyperacusis is at the moment. Sometimes, my roommate Kelly has to go out and talk to them because I am in too much pain to walk, and even then they get louder. So I’m at a roadblock with no idea what to do.”

Coordinator: “I am sorry you are experiencing this. Have you and your professor had a conversation regarding the housing expectations and reality of what is occurring with those who are in charge of the housing in Hungary? If not, that is what I would suggest as next steps.

Keep us posted.”

Me: “Professor Feenstra did take the liberty of contacting both Agnes and Kata about what to do next. At the moment, we are out of options, as the only option that they were able to suggest was the switching rooms, which made the problem worse. Kata tried to see if there was a room on a different floor of the same dorm, but there was not. So even our Hungarian housing helpers are out of ideas at this time. Thanks for the help. I just don’t know where to take it from here.”

At that point, Coordinator stopped responding.

*****

At this point, this is where things started to get ugly. The shining star that had kept me hopeful through the semester — that I would be returning to the quietness of a single room — still glimmered, albeit faintly, in my mind. I had no idea, however, that that little light was about to be brutally extinguished.

Out of the blue on October 3, Coordinator sent me an email:

“I have attached a copy of the release of information form that I need for you to sign and return back to me. Please email it back. It has a release to speak with your professors, off campus programs and your physician.  This is because, as I mentioned before we have no documentation and need it.  Please fill in the highlighted information and return to me. Prof. Feenstra can sign as the Calvin Witness in Hungary.”

Confused, I emailed Housing, saying: “Hello! Sorry to bother you about this housing issue for me again. The reason I bring this up is because, here in Hungary, the housing issue has become and extreme problem and is really threatening my health (my ability to walk, breathe, etc). That’s nothing to do with you, and I’m working with disabilities coordinators to fix all this. But this issue has brought up other important ones for once I get back on campus.

A few of the students here have been RAs, and so I take their advice quite readily. One of them mentioned that, if I am in need of a quiet dorm NOT to go to Kalsbeek. I know that I had originally told you that the dorm didn’t matter, but if you could possibly find someplace besides Kals, that’d be great.

We are also discovering that people above me is worse than people below me. In addition, I had mentioned to you before that a room by a stairwell (preferably the back stairwell, not the main one where most people come by) would be ideal. So in the end, it comes down to this — if you could get me a single room by a back stairwell on the third floor of any dorm but Kalsbeek, you would be amazing. 🙂 I know that it is probably not possible to fulfill all of these, but I wanted to let you know just in case something pops up. For example, I was in Veenstra 373 last year and that was a good location.

I wanted to let you know of all the variables, but as I said, I don’t really expect all of them to be attainable. I appreciate that you are helping me out.”

The response that I received from Housing made me feel like I’d been split in half. “Thanks for your note.  If you are able to obtain a single room accommodation from the Academic Services department, that would secure the single room.  If you are not able to obtain the accommodation, then we will look for the best roommate match.  I am confident that we will have multiple options that do not include Kalsbeek, if that indeed is a hall that you are not interested in. I will keep you posted as we get near November.  And once you hear back from Academic Services regarding your single room request, please let me know.”

I wasn’t quite panicking, but I was very unsettled to say the least. In the meantime, I quickly replied:

“Okay, can you please explain the situation to me? I am trying to be as kind as I can to Coordinator in academic service, but I am very, very confused and frustrated. I have a doctor’s note that says that I must have single room accommodation, but she’s ignoring it/doesn’t think it’s true/something. I don’t know. She had me sign a consent form to get more information from my doctor about what to do while I’m here in Hungary, but why does my doctor’s note not have any effect any more? It causes me way too much physical pain and stress to not have a single room. So do you have any idea why my doctor’s note isn’t in effect any more?

Originally, I had asked Coordinator what she wanted my doctor to say on the note, but she never told me. Now, apparently, the note’s not good enough. Had I known what she needed, I might have been able to talk to the doctor about it. Please help me to understand. I am very frustrated and confused. Had I known that all this would come of me trying to get help over here in Hungary, I never would have asked because it’s put the rest of my Calvin career in jeopardy.

P.S. I’m sorry if that came across as angry. That was completely not what I intended. I would just really like some answers at this point.”

After sending that email, I sent a duplicate to a different coordinator in Disabilities Services, with these added words:

“Hello! At the suggestion of my professor, I would like to copy this email to you that I sent to her (Professor Feenstra). I don’t at all intend for this to sound rude, but please don’t copy Coordinator on this. I would like an answer from someone besides her, as I have been in very frequent communication with her. Thank you. I don’t understand. I have a doctor’s note saying that I need it, and that was fine. They said so. I did what they told me to — have my doctor write a note to Calvin on his office’s letterhead and sign it himself. That was okay, until today. Why did they “revoke” my doctor’s note? I just don’t understand. I’m so confused. If I’d known that asking for help here in Hungary would have started all this, I never would have asked. Do you have any idea what’s going on? I’m afraid that, if academic services and not my doctor is the one who gets to decide whether or not I get a single room, I’m never going to get it. The condition is so rare, I’m afraid I’m going to fall through the cracks….”

I replied to Coordinator, saying, “You have a doctor’s note from me. I emailed the disabilities office immediately after I faxed it and they said that they received it. Please let me know if you need my mom to fax it in again.”

On the same day, Coordinator replied again with “The doctor’s note gives a one sentence statement. This is not enough documentation as we have stated many times. I need to figure out what this means and why. This is the documentation required.  We need to contact them for more specifics. Coordinator 2 and I have shared this with you, so if you can sign the release of information we can try to track it down.  I cannot contact them without your consent.”

At this point, I was supremely frustrated. Once again, please take the liberty of looking back through these conversations. She had never told me that it was not sufficient, although she claimed that she had told me multiple times. If the note was not sufficient, why was Housing able to go through securing a single for me? Remember all that? Why had she not said anything before now? Irritated, I sent her the consent form without another word.

Six days later, on October 10, I received a reply from Housing:

“Thanks for your note.  Any documentation that has or has not been received you must take up with the SAS office.  We (housing) will make room assignments after we have heard from SAS.  If we do not hear from SAS that a single room is warranted, then we will work to pair you up with someone.  The good news is that we still have some time.  I would suggest that you continue your dialogue with SAS and keep me posted.  Like I said in a previous email, I think we will have some good options for you (single room or no single room).  Places that I believe will be near the end of a hall and will be fairly quiet.    Keep me posted on what you hear and blessings on your semester abroad.”

You have no idea how much I appreciated his hopeful attitude, but I can’t deny that I was still quite frustrated. This was by far the lowest point in my semester; the fear of returning to a new roommate and starting from square one (since the roommate that I had originally chosen, my best friend, had since been reassigned to a freshman roommate since I would have a single) was a heavy burden. On the same day, I received a response from the Disabilities Office, whom I had told not to copy Coordinator on the email:

“Coordinator, I, and the whole SSWD team work together closely, and I am aware of your situation. The issue in your case appears to be that the letter from your doctor stated you needed a single room but did not provide any evidence to support the request. Follow up with your doctor has not yet provide enough basis for you to have a single room. It is the roll of a Disability Services office to make these type of decisions based off the various forms documentation (i.e. letter, conversation with doctor, and your experience) provided.I believe this is the same answer that you received from Coordinator previously.  Are you looking for clarification or another opinion? You have not fallen through the cracks but rather we have not received enough documentation/evidence to provide the accommodations you are requesting. I encourage you to keep working with Coordinator until that documentation is received. Let me know if you have any questions.”I quickly responded:

“The issue with this disease is its rarity. Most doctors have not heard of it, and there is no way to ‘test’ for it aside from doing a normal hearing test and seeing that my comfort levels are below normal (that hearing test was done and Dr. White should have those papers).”

I did not receive a response after that indicating how I may be able to provide more proof, and I certainly could not visit Dr. White from Hungary, so I was left in a bind. As my mother and I tried to coordinate with Dr. White to send another note (the “appropriate” contents of which I had not been enlightened about), it seemed the Dr. White moved on his own. Frustrated with Coordinator for needing another note? Perhaps.

Shortly after that, I sent this very long email to Housing, hoping for some answers of any kind at this point:

“So now that I have wireless again (I didn’t in Romania over the weekend), mom and I were able to talk at length about the doctor’s note issue and finally get some things resolved, and I wanted to give you an update. I am going to be honest, I am very, very displeased at what is going on. Coordinator talked to my mom over the phone. Coordinator said that it doesn’t matter what any doctor’s note that I ever give her says; regardless of anything my doctor has to say, she will not give me a single room. She says that it has not been done in Calvin’s history, and therefore my having a single room is absolutely not an option. There are a couple of problems that I have with this.

1. My doctor knows better than she does what is best for me, and we have two notes from him now stating that a single room is to my advantage.

2. I had a single room last semester

3. I know people (Erin, for example) who have single rooms in the upcoming semester, so for her to tell me that it has never been done in Calvin’s history is an issue with me

4. You, who (according to Coordinator) works very closely with academic services and has been with me through all of this, never had an issue with putting me in single because you were actively looking for rooms with no issue about whether Calvin would allow it.

I don’t know, something about this still isn’t adding up. But what irks me more than the whole “can’t have a single room even though your doctor says so” (which, by the way, why didn’t she say that from the beginning? She’s been leading me on like “well, if you get this note, you can have one”) is that she put words in my mouth unlike ever before. I am still absolutely stunned by this. She told my mom that I told her (Coordinator) that I had multiple surgeries over the summer, including one to put permanent surgical implants in my ears. Where on the face of this planet did she get that information!? I was SO frustrated to hear that, because what she said that I said was a blatant lie.

So, that is the update. I am really trying to keep a good attitude about this, but she just blew me out of the water when mom told me what she said.

Thanks for reading that long rant. 🙂 I don’t understand how she can override my doctor, but I just don’t know any more. This whole situation has already stressed me out far too much.”

My issue with the whole situation was simply that, as a doctor, he has more knowledge than Coordinator. What place is it of hers to say that he doesn’t know what I need?

And by the way, I did send this message shortly after that previous one: “I apologize if I sounded exceedingly rude in the previous email, but I am still very confused. That’s why. Anyway, like I said, I appreciate you working so hard on my account.”

Anyway, here’s where things blew me out of the water, if it were possible to get any more dramatic. Apparently, my mom and Coordinator, err, “coordinated” over the phone (no pun intended). I was not aware of this until after the fact, when my mom reported to me what Coordinator had said. My mind exploded.

Hang on. Let me go fetch these messages from my mom. Be right back. [NOTE: Please understand that, because I am using only the actual quotes from this conversation, there will be a lot of rage responses on my part. Also, any original typos or lack of punctuation is included and will not be edited.] This conversation also occurred on October 10, a little before I had spoken with Housing.

Mom: “Don’t be stressed. I get it. Most disabilities have tests to show it. This one does not. They need to hear from the doctor that there are no tests to diagnose this. I will talk to them about it.”

Me: “Thanks. I appreciate you talking to them about how there are no tests — that is what concerns me the most. It is simply a relationship between a doctor and the patient to determine that this is what it is based upon evidence of pain, discomfort, etc. I am going to ask Feenstra today if the community cell phone here can be used for free internationally, so that if I have to call the doctor or Coordinator myself, I can.”

Mom: “Do you have time to talk?”

Me: “Yes. We just got back.”

Mom: “great. can you tell me why you lied to Coordinator?”

Me: “What did I say? Or rather, what did she say that I said?”

Mom: “she said you told her that you were having surgery to put implants in your ear and that you had facial surgery to have a pice of your jaw removed.”

Me: “WHAT!!!??? THAT IS AN ABSOLUTE LIE”

Mom: “she read that to me directly from the email you sent her”

Me: “She must have taken our investigating the in-ear plugs.”

Mom: “and i did notice in the one email she sent you she said something along the lines of i hope your SURGERIES go well.”

Me: “I never said that I was putting implants in my ear. I DID tell her that I may have my WISDOM TEETH and perhaps pieces of my jaw removed because you know how sometimes they have to take out jaw pieces to get the teeth out and the one tooth had roots. I also noticed that she said surgeries, which I did not understand. Mom I swear on my LIFE I NEVER said that I was having surgery to put implants in my ear.”

Mom: “i take your word for it that there may have been a misunderstanding about the earplugs.”

[Let me interject for a moment to explain. Part of my discussion via email with the specialist in Pittsburgh was the possibility of foregoing active noise cancellation headphones in favor of earplugs specifically fitted to my ears with a wax mold, much in the same way that retainers are fitted onto teeth.]

Me: “I am SO angry right now.”

I continued to grumble in frustration for a while before mom asked, “what do you do when it gets noisy to try to make it better”

Me: “If it’s people, I ask them to be quiet or go to a different room and close doors behind me. If it’s other noise, I leave the area. If I can’t escape, I put my headphones on without turning them on. If that doesn’t work, I turn them on. If that doesn’t work, I can’t escape the situation, and my headphones aren’t cancelling it, there’s nothing I can do.” I pause. “I can’t BELIEVE Coordinator said that. Sorry, I can’t stop thinking about that.”

I was so stunned. A pit had welled up in my stomach — what place did Coordinator have to plant this seed of distrust between my mother and me! Ooooo the frustration! I didn’t even know how to process the information. After a few more minutes, I said, “So real quick can I finish explaining my thoughts on the email thing?”

Mom: “sure”

Me: “I’m going to get frustrated if I can’t talk this out. kay, so I sent her an email saying that I wasn’t going to go back to Dr. White for an appointment because, by the time I was talking to Coordinator, I was about to have my wisdom teeth out and, as I told her, I didn’t want him fiddling around with my ears when they are so close to where the surgery would be.”

Mom: “okay”

Me: “I was unsure if he would have to remove pieces of jawbone on that one tooth close to the ear because it was the only one fully grown, so I made note of that to her.”

Mom: “let me know when your done”

Me: “Okay 🙂

So, that’s all I have to say about the jawbone thing. I was also baffled by why she said surgeries (plural), and I looked back in the email to see if I had mistyped something, but I figured that maybe she just mistyped it herself or something.

And as I said about the in-ear thing, I think that was a misunderstanding (or rather an ASSUMPTION) on her part that she shouldn’t have been making.

Not to mention that those emails were sent to Coordinator 2 and not to her. I only discussed the headphones/earplugs with Coordinator 2.

So for her to say that I said I was having SURGERY on my ears? As I recall, when I met with her in person I told her that that is not an option for anyone with ear problems because it makes them go deaf because the ear bones are too small and delicate to mess with. Moron.

So anyway

I am VERY upset with her right now, because this has put a fracture in trust between us.

And there SHOULDN’T be one.

So did she send you the email in which I said that I was having this ear surgery?

Give me just a second to look back through my emails, because I think I can find the part that she probably misunderstood.

[pause]

I can’t get into the email right now because it’s slow, but I did get into these ones with Coordinator 2, which I hadn’t sent you because Coordinator 2 wasn’t the problem. I said “However, I am having all of my wisdom teeth extracted this month, so I will not be able to finish doing all these tests before I have to come back to Calvin.” To which Coordinator 2 replied, “You’ve had quite the summer with all of these appointments and surgery ect. I am glad to hear that you are finally getting further with answers from your doctors and that they are giving you some things to try over your semester in Hungary. [the headphones at the suggestion of that doc in pittsburgh as an alternative to the earplugs, remember?] That semester program is amazing, I hope that you have a wonderful time. Once you get back, yes, please let me know if I can be of any help.”

Mom: “done?”

Me: “But when I first read that sentence “You’ve had quite a summer with all these appointments and surgery, etc” I did think that she said “appointments and surgeries” because there’s an “e” in “etc” and it tricked my eye. Maybe this is what Coordinator saw. I am at a loss, though, for why she thought it was more than one. In a previous email, she had sent an email asking only “What surgery are you having” and I replied that it was the wisdom tooth one.”

Mom: “k”

Me: “Sorry, now I’m done.  Does everything make a bit more sense now? I really dislike that there’s suspicion now when there shouldn’t be any.”

Mom: “makes sense.

something else you should know is that you should not be e-mailing anyone else in the office. Coordinator is the only one to handle it. can i go on?”

so anyway this is what it comes down to. no one at calvin gets their own apartment. it has never happened in calvin history. so with this letter she will put you in the quietest room possible like you guys have talked about at the end of the hall. she was asking me about the rooming with ashley thing. i didn’t know where that stood. that will have to be a conversation that you have with her. you having a single room is not an option.

you have to remember when you come back to the living situation will be different. you won’t have all 15 people communing together.”

Me: “Sorry facebook quit. This was the message I was trying to send “I’m sorry if you thought that I lied to you, though. I promise that I did not lie to Coordinator and tell her that I was having more than one surgery, nor did I say anything about a surgery in my ears.” So is she saying that I can’t have a single Timmer studio?”

Mom: “i didn’t think you lied to me. thats right no single timmer studio.”

Me: “Or that I can’t have a single dorm room?”

Mom: “both. a single dorm room is a no as well.”

Me: “I know that I won’t have 15 people. But I don’t understand why, if this single room thing is not possible, she didn’t tell me that from the beginning and that Housing also had no problem with it and even had rooms picked out for me.

I’m only concerned because simple sounds like typing, breathing, etc. are getting to be too much, and I will be around those all day with a roommate, even the quietest one.

Housing specifically told me that having a single Timmer studio was possible.

I’m so confused.

Regardless of Timmer (because I’m assuming that’s what you meant by apartment), can I have a single dorm room? Because I KNOW that’s possible. It happens every single semester in multiple rooms of every dorm.”

Mom: “i don’t know why Housing would tell you that. but remember everything goes thru Coordinator so no one else should have been arranging anything. i understand that its getting worse however you have to think about this Carrie. you have to live in this world and there is going to be noise. just like you read the only way they treat this is to have you get used to the noise. i know thats not the answer you want to hear but only so much can be done with the rest of the world.”

Me: “But it seems to me that there is such an easy solution that she is just not willing to give. These dorm rooms will set EMPTY, for heaven’s sake!

You know? It’s just frustrating

But honestly, why would she have me go through the hassle of getting a new doctor’s note when it won’t matter and I’ll be put in the quietest (but not single) room anyway?

So can you see things from my perspective, at least?”

Mom: “i can but can you accept that the quietest room is what you are going to get?”

Me: “Yeah, I mean I don’t really have a choice do I? I’m just frustrated that I’ve been led on with this promise of a single room and suddenly she takes it away.”

*****

On October 15, my mom and I talked for a short time about this issue again, and I said, “By the way I sent emails to professor Feenstra, Don DeGraaf, and Housing detailing everything you told me, including what Coordinator told you that I said.

When I talk to Coordinator, I will ask her to forward me the emails in which I said the things that she says I did. Something tells me that will be one of the emails she never responds to.”

Thankfully (and much to my immense relief) it became clearer as the days went on that my mother was also finding peculiarities in the way that Coordinator was acting, and the gap in trust between us was bridged again. You have no idea how much of a relief that was. It was so stressful to be constantly thinking about a rift between mom and me that had been created from false information. How can you fix something that came from information that never existed in the first place? I was so out of hope.

Later during our conversation, I repeated, “Like I said, I’ll ask her to forward me whatever emails she was reading from, and if she actually responds, I’ll forward them to you. I can only think that she must have been reading from Coordinator 2’s emails, because I sent you all of the ones that she and I had traded. Anyway, enough about Coordinator. I’m sick of seeing her name. Have you read my blog yet? I ate way too much pizza this weekend”

On October 21, I received a message from my mom saying that “I called Coordinator on Friday. She has not called me back. Dr. White would not sign the letter [the one that my mom had created for him so that we could save him some time on writing one himself and thereby get it to SAS faster]. He said he has already sent a second letter that pretty much says the same thing. He told them that there are no objective tests that can be done to diagnose this. He did say the quietest living arrangement possible recommended.”

Later in the conversation, mom also said that “The purpose of me initially calling Coordinator was I thought this letter was what we needed. Turns out they basically already had it. I called her on Friday to give her the results of my talking with the drs. Office. What are you sending emails about?”

They basically already had it? You remember that part where Coordinator had said that she had told me multiple times (which I have no record of) that my note wasn’t enough? Suddenly it was fine all along? Can you see how this picture is getting more and more skewed from what should have been happening?

On October 23, when I was in Athens, I received this message from my mom at the same time that I received emails from Coordinator and Housing. It was an inundation of stuff!

Mom: “K. Just talked to Coordinator. She is going to take both letters from the Dr. Including the one that says a single room is preferable, to see about getting you a room. This time she did not completely rule out a single room. She’ll see what the team says. Needless to say she is working to get you the quietest room possible. The only other thing she said was even if you get a single room this year there is no way of getting a single apartment next year. Sounds like the ball is rolling. Coordinator will be in contact with you and you with her.”

Deep in my heart, I totally gloated when mom sent the next message three hours later: “I can see how Coordinator gets things twisted. She said she needed something from the doctor that said single took recommended or preferred. She read me both letters. She failed to read the part of the first one that said single room preferred. But when I mentioned it she said oh yes it does say that.”

At the same time, an email from Coordinator herself came through, saying, “I have received the documentation for your request for a single room. I have also received the support from your doctor and spoken with your mom about it.

I have submitted the request to housing as well.”

On cue, Housing’s email popped up, which also said, “We have received word from the Academic Services Office that you have an accommodation that warrants a single room.  We will work to find you one.”

And that is a huge part of why the trip to Athens was so very enjoyable.

*****

The final series of emails from Housing (since Coordinator hasn’t said a word to me since that October 23 email, about which I can’t complain), began on December 3 when Housing said, “I have a single room on 1st Kalsbeek for interim and then have a great spot on 3rd Noordewier for 2nd semester.  Would you be upset if you had to move from Kals to Noordy over interim break?  I could round up some help to help you move your things.  Not ideal, but this is the only singles I have left.”

Unfortunately, on December 5, I received another email from Housing.

“My apologizes, I double checked the 3rd Noordewier room today and there will be a student living in there for 2nd semester.  I’m glad I checked!! You are still fine to move into the 1st floor Kalsbeek room for interim but I wondered if you wanted to live in any of these rooms instead (that will be empty) for 2nd semester.

Just let me know your thoughts.

304 Eldersveld – empty after Interim

103 Eldersveld – empty after Interim

158 Veenstra – empty after Interim

169 Veenstra – empty after Interim

136 Timmer – empty after Fall”

We discussed at length the pros and cons of many of these places, and first Timmer is a traditional floor and not a studio apartment like the other Timmers that I had been hoping to be allowed into. My placement in Timmer would have put me right next to a coffee kitchen, first Veenstra has a reputation for being loud, I didn’t want dorm worship to happen under me in first Eldersveld (with the study basement where people go after quiet hours also underneath me), and so I chose the 3rd Eldersveld room. It is by the sundeck and the first room in the hall by the main staircase, which slightly concerns me. However, anything has to be better than this dorm here in Hungary, right?

I’m not expecting 24-hour quiet hours. That’s unrealistic and will only lead to disappointment.

*****

So, where do we go from here? I’ll be in contact with the RD of Eldersveld as well as the RA of the third floor to discuss options for how we can all work together as a community to make the living space the best that it can be.

I am very optimistic about returning to the Calvin dorms. Dealing with the ups and downs of this long and complicated process has been trying, most certainly; for those of you who know me very well, you know that I cry probably once every few years. This exhausting situation that lasted the entire duration of my semester abroad, coupled with my fatigue and pain from the noise here and the jeers from my peers about my condition really did make for some tears!

However, one can always choose to view only the negatives or to view the positives instead. Despite the difficulty of the semester, I would still have come abroad had I known previously how it would be.

I had so many friends, parents, and mentors who helped me through the complex and often frustrating process and gave words of encouragement and wisdom — people here, people back home, and even many of my Calvin professors and advisors did exactly that. They advised. Hopefully someday they can know how much I appreciate it.