At just 18 months old, Andrey Tikhonov was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, a rare type of eye cancer. Living in a small town in Russia, doctors paid little attention to the problem. His parents brought him to one of the most advanced eye hospitals in the country, but his symptoms progressed too far. He became fully blind soon after. Despite doctors and teachers saying he would have a limited future, Andrey had a different plan.
Andrey earned an impressive resume throughout his life. He received his undergraduate degree from Pomor State University in Arkhangelsk, Russia. He later earned his Masters degree in Linguistics and Teaching Foreign Languages. In 2008, he won the prestigious and competitive Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) Scholarship, which allows students to study and teach at an institution in the United States. In 2015, he was awarded the Kirkland Scholarship through the Polish American Freedom Foundation. Despite limitations, Andrey deeply refined his auditory abilities through learning four different languages and multiple musical instruments. He has brought these talents to the classroom, teaching various language, instrument, and Music Braille classes.
[Left] Andrey Tikhonov plays the violin as a volunteer. [Right] Andrey Tikhonov navigating around Wroclaw, Poland.
His story with MSU and RCPD started in the August of 2008 after receiving the Fulbright FLTA scholarship. When Andrey stepped off of his plane from Russia at Capital Area Regional Airport, he was surrounded by people from the RCPD and MSU willing to help him. He was able to independently walk to his cafeteria, dorm building, and the library after just a few weeks. Being part of the Teaching Assistant Program, Andrey was a Russian Language Teaching Assistant and an advisor of the Russian Club. He had meetings with his students where he helped them grow their understanding in the Russian Language.
Andrey credits his RCPD specialist, Tom Hwang, for being an instrumental guide on how to use a white cane to find his independence. “Tom showed me how to navigate through physical space, and that strengthened me enough to eliminate some psychological barriers. I became another person,” Andrey said. He noted that Tom was his first mobility and orientation instructor, as there are only two rehab centers that assist the visually impaired in Russia.
When asked about Andrey, Tom said, “He soaked up whatever I presented and explained to him… It certainly was a blessing to get to know him, even if it was just a short period of time!” Tom Hwang has since retired from the RCPD in 2014.
With his notable experiences, Andrey took the opportunity to share his thoughts on success: “It’s like walking in a fruit garden; the opportunities are the fruit hanging from the trees. Our world is full of awesome opportunities… the main thing is to just reach out your hand and pick one up. The modern world gives a person with disabilities a lot of opportunities. We can study, we can work, we can have our own families, we can be active citizens and decision makers, and we can be happy.”
Andrey is now a Disability Rights Activist, and is currently studying at the University of Wroclaw in Poland for his PhD in Political Science through the help of the Kirkland Scholarship. His focus is researching the role of non-profit organizations in lobbying interests of persons with disabilities. He is an active participant in trainings, forums, and conferences focused on persons with disabilities.
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