For hearing or deaf, signing has big impact on study abroad experience

a group of students stand in front of the Arc de Triophe on a sunny day

July 18, 2023 — DENTON — Students from Texas Woman’s University climbed 284 steps on a sunny day in Paris to reach the top of the Arc de Triophe. From the top of the imposing monument, they were able to see the iconic Eiffel Tower in the distance. The historic sites were just two of many that the faculty-led program saw in their whirlwind study abroad trip to France and Belgium in June.

For senior Mikenna Rainwater and alumna Shafeeka Sumar, touring the iconic landmarks in person and learning about their history was an amazing experience. But it was the local guides telling those stories in sign language that proved to be a uniquely amazing experience. 

The perspectives for Rainwater and Sumar were different, but just as impactful. Sumar is deaf.

“I was so grateful that the tours were in sign,” Rainwater said. “It made me appreciate the historical places more.”

One of the reasons Rainwater wanted to go on the TWU Global Perspectives in Deafness in Europe trip was to increase her signing proficiency. Rainwater, who is majoring in education with an emphasis in Deaf and hard of hearing, said the goal of the tour was to always sign first. 

“There was definitely eye fatigue,” Rainwater said. “There was a lot happening all the time. If you looked away for five seconds, you could miss something important. It was good to have that so you could understand that perspective of someone who is deaf and always having to keep their eyes on whoever is speaking.”

a group of students from study abroad trip stand in front of the Eiffel Tower

Sumar wanted to see what it was like to travel with a tour that utilized sign language. She had been on several trips before and felt that she missed out on lots of information.

“I was glad the tour guides were signing, and I was fascinated by it,” Sumar said. “I was not disappointed because for the first time, I felt more inclusion and enjoyed the trip. As a deaf individual, I do feel left out when I am with hearing people or family that don't sign.”

Sumar was also curious about the Deaf culture in other countries. 

“I met four different tour guides from different countries, and I was amazed how we grew up to have the same experiences,” Sumar said. “It was amazing to hear their experiences, and I also loved learning new sign language from them. Due to my surprise, I picked it up quicker than I expected.”

In addition to touring the well-known sites around Paris and visiting the cities of Brussels and Bruge, students, faculty and alumni also visited the Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris, the world’s first free school for the Deaf, and the Kasterlinden School for the Deaf in Brussels. 

Visiting the Deaf schools was the cherry on top for the two travelers.

“I was enamored with the France School for the Deaf because that one had history that I knew,” Rainwater said. “I was able to walk the history in France where American Sign Language first started. Being able to see and learn about that was amazing and beautiful.”

Sumar, who is a fifth-grade teacher at the Texas School for the Deaf in Austin, was intrigued by the differences between the two schools and the American schools for the deaf. 

“Those schools are quite different  from what I experience here in the U.S.,” Sumar said. 

Now that Rainwater has seen two European schools for the deaf, she would like to go back to visit more. 

“The entire trip was exactly what I wanted it to be,” Rainwater said.

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Page last updated 4:19 PM, July 19, 2023