Hardship to Healing

photo by Matt Cornelius
photo by Matt Cornelius

Maria Sanson’s Journey from Romania to Texarkana

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” —Mark Twain

Maria Sanson’s journey exemplifies this truth, proving that with kindness, determination, and an open heart, we can overcome any obstacle. Born to deaf parents during the waning years of communism in Romania, her childhood was a blend of hardship and adversity mixed with innocence and joy. “The first six years of my life were lived during the communism era,” she recalls. “Despite the fact that all life at the time was rationed, from food, heating, and clothing, as children, we did not feel the impact much because we did not know any better.”

In her neighborhood, children played outside from dawn till dusk, stopped only by their parents’ calls for dinner. Sanson’s memories are vivid, painted with the smell of fresh bread from the local bakery and the long lines that stretched for blocks. “We would go with a cloth bag and our cards for the rationed food to get bread for dinner,” she says. “I can still see the sea of people waiting in line and hoping to make it to the counter before the bread was out.”

Her father, a skilled carpenter, and her mother, a talented seamstress, provided Sanson with a sense of normalcy and pride. “My dolls always had nice clothing that my mom made, and my dad crafted a beautiful toy bed and table.” Despite economic and political hardships, books were a sanctuary for her, opening up worlds and ideas beyond her immediate reality. “We read some of the most interesting novels which impacted my thinking and mindset, like Dostoyevsky and Victor Hugo.”

December 1989 brought seismic changes to Romania. The fall of communism and the subsequent execution of the dictator were events that Sanson experienced firsthand. She recounts a harrowing memory from the revolution. “I was traveling back with my parents from my grandparent’s house. We were at the train station in Bucharest, and there was active shooting. As a six-year-old, I remember telling my parents that I heard noises that sounded like shooting. We found a safer place to wait for our train.”

Growing up with deaf parents meant no communication between home and school for Sanson and her brother, Gabi, who is three years younger. Her parents would encounter situations in which communication was a major barrier, and they needed complex concepts translated into simple ideas on the spot. She quickly became their advocate and their voice in a world that often failed to understand them. “Most people in town could understand my mom when she went shopping, but during challenging times, I was the voice for the rest of the family,” she explains.

This responsibility thrust upon her at such a young age shaped her into the empathetic and solution-focused person she is today. “I remember going to pre-surgery doctor’s appointments for my mother and being her voice or buying tickets at the train station counter as young as four or five.” Sanson has seen her parents be incredibly grateful every time someone was patient and willing to spend the extra two minutes to make eye contact while communicating and slowing down their lips. It greatly impacted her empathy and ability to be patient and understand differences.

Her parents’ resilience and intelligence deeply influenced Sanson. Her father, who lost his hearing at five because of meningitis, and her mother, who became deaf after a fall at two, faced daily obstacles. “My father was a highly intelligent man who wanted to be a dentist, but because of the lack of access to higher education for special needs children, he wasn’t able to. He became a skilled carpenter, committed to creating beautiful, high-quality pieces of furniture,” Sanson says with pride. Despite being deaf, he believed in the importance of education. She recalls fondly, “One night he spent an entire afternoon after he got off work until it was time to go to sleep helping me understand math concepts. He was patient and committed despite the fact that the next day he had to go in and work long hours.” Her mother instilled in her a strong work ethic and the ability to prioritize.

In 2010, Sanson’s life took a new direction. While working as a journalist in Romania, she was offered a scholarship to study in the United States. Initially hesitant, she eventually accepted and began her studies in public relations and communication at Texas A&M University-Texarkana. “I landed in the United States on June 10, 2010, and three weeks later, I started my first summer graduate course in statistics,” she recalls. She planned to get her education and return to Bucharest, Romania. In the fall, she had her first two psychology classes, where she encountered Dr. Peter Racheotes, whose classes sparked her interest in human behavior and led her to pursue a master’s in counseling. “Dr. Racheotes played an instrumental role in my life as he was one of the few people who saw value in me, which in turn made me believe in myself.”

Becoming an American citizen was a profound moment for Sanson, bringing a sense of liberation and stability. She quickly adapted to the cultural differences in the US. “The biggest cultural difference was transportation. In Romania, you would walk miles to destinations or use public transportation. Here, everyone drives,” she said. “Only immigrants can understand the stress and sleepless nights before traveling internationally and the knots in the stomach on the way to the airport. Now, I can finally enjoy the land of the free.” This country gave Sanson all that she is grateful for: “an amazing husband, two wonderful children, career opportunities, the chance to live my own individual American dream, financial stability, and the opportunity to visit places that I only dreamed about as a child. I feel privileged to live my life as a citizen of this country, which has given me so much.”

Today, Sanson and her husband, William, are both licensed professional counselors in private practice in Texarkana. They specialize in helping adults and couples overcome barriers to personal growth, focusing on anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and grief. “I became a therapist because I understood early on the importance of a growth mindset. Life happens to all of us, but the way we allow it to impact us can create long-term changes in our trajectories,” she explains.

Sanson’s practice, Growth Counseling Services, embodies her belief in the power of healing and personal development. “We can grow from the things we go through or let them stunt our development. There is a saying, ‘We get better, or we get bitter.’ I will always choose to grow, be honored, and be grateful for every person and couple that allows me to join them on their journey. When we permit a therapist to join in, it can be a corrective experience that grants us permission to process and let go. I believe we all need to do our healing in order to grow to be the best version of ourselves.”

One of Sanson’s current goals is to focus on increasing awareness of therapy and mental health locally. “Research indicates that we wait too long to get help,” she says. Among her current projects are Boys Talk and Girls Talk, which are ongoing skills-based groups for boys and girls. These groups provide a place for them to safely express their thoughts and feelings and learn about healthy coping skills and a growth mindset.

Sanson’s life is also deeply enriched by her family. She and William are devoted parents to two sons, Luca, 12, and David, 9.
They cherish outdoor activities and travel, fostering a spirit of adventure and curiosity in their children. They spend lots of time outside with each other, hiking, kayaking, and playing golf. “We are committed to changing the landscape for our family in every area: emotionally, physically, socially, spiritually, and financially. We work hard to engage our children to make good decisions and get to know how their mind and body works so they can be the very best versions of themselves. We travel and expose them to different experiences,” she said.

Connecting with her Romanian heritage is important to Sanson. She does this in the kitchen, where she introduces and cooks foods that are unique to her culture and shares them with her family. In Romania, each person’s name is celebrated. Name birthdays are unique to the Romanian culture, so Sanson celebrates her kids’ names on their days to make it special for them. “We also stay connected with family members from Romania and the United Kingdom, talking with them frequently,” she said. Sadly, Sanson lost her father to cancer in 2020. Her mom still lives in Romania, where she has many friends and enjoys traveling throughout Europe. She has visited the US and Sanson hopes to one day travel to Romania with her children to visit extended family.

As she reflects on her journey, Sanson remains profoundly grateful for the opportunities and experiences that have shaped her life. From the resilient child navigating the complexities of life in Romania to the compassionate therapist guiding others in Texarkana, her story is a testament to the human spirit’s capacity for growth and transformation.

Sanson believes being a therapist is a calling. “I’ve seen so much in my earlier years that unprocessed trauma can distort our view of ourselves, turn into addiction, physical illness, and we will bleed on the people we love unless we take the time to do our healing.”

As she continues to make a difference in the lives of those she touches, Sanson’s story reminds us all that no matter where we start, we have the power to shape our destiny and create a life filled with purpose, love, and fulfillment.


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