The “Hearing” Experience

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This is my rendition of Harlan Lane’s “The Deaf Experience.”

It feels overwhelming trying to attempt to explain my experience living nine months out of the year in the Deaf-World. But so many people ask me, you see, about what it is like going to a school for the Deaf, being in an environment where people sign all the time for everything, if it is quiet since everyone is Deaf, and similar questions. It almost feels like a second nature–a second home–so I do not even know where to begin describing my experience.

Well, I will start with this. I remember before I went to Gallaudet, I went out to lunch with my Deaf friend, Jex, who went to TSD. Knowing that he had already experienced a Deaf school, I asked him question after question during our lunch. I wanted to know what the classes were like, how the teachers taught, and how the students took notes in class. I remember feeling overwhelmed with the idea that I would have to simultaneously look UP and watch my teacher signing their lecture, look OVER at my classmates signing, look DOWN to write my notes, and look FORWARD to the board or overhead. From my personal experiences, I knew it was impossible to look fully in four directions at the same time; but I thought that perhaps, unlike hearing people, Deaf people could do the impossible. Jex calmed these fears and I found out after my first day at Gallaudet that he was right.

Most professors do not ask you to write notes and watch them at the same time. I say “most” because my English teacher (hearing) once asked us to take notes for a captioned movie in class. Thankfully, he had the volume on low still and I could take notes without watching the screen. In the end though, I did not need these notes because I chose other essays to write for class. Instead of requiring students to do this, most professors give handouts, post their notes on the Internet, or allow their students time to copy the notes from the blackboard or whatever before moving on to the next part of the lecture.

For obvious reasons, most of the classrooms are visually conducive. The desks/chairs form a semi-circle (making it easier to see other classmates signing). I think every classroom has either a smartboard or overhead and blackboards/whiteboards. Only one of my teachers never utilized their smartboard/overhead, all of the other professors used power point presentations for almost every class, making class more interesting and fun.

I have found that my previous college academic experience with TJC and my experience with Gallaudet have been different to say the least. At TJC, I recall one English class where I wrote one, and I mean ONE, long paper. That was it. We did other things in the class such as reading literature and studying poetry and theatre, but we only wrote one research paper. Now please understand that this research paper had to be perfect…well, not PERFECT, but as close as possible to perfection. On the other hand, at Gallaudet last semester in my Introduction to Literature class, I wrote nearly 50 papers. Fifty! I can tell you right now that in the three years I was at TJC, I never wrote anywhere NEAR 50 papers! But, in the course of ONE SEMESTER at Gallaudet, I wrote 50 papers for ONE CLASS. That does not include all the other papers I wrote for my other courses. However, most of these papers were not my best work, and I still got “A’s” in my classes. I will say this, before going to Gallaudet, I needed approximately 5-7 days to write a paper, and now I have learned to write one in 45 minutes.

Not all of my college experiences have centered around academia, but I have also experienced the Deaf-World through dorm life and other campus activities. The cafeteria is probably one of the most important places on campus for socializing–at least it is for me! This is where everyone sees everyone, and the temptation to stay and chat for hours on end can become too much even for the strong-willed. The first semester I was at Gally, I did not spend much time in the cafeteria. In fact, I practically starved myself all semester (not really, I am exaggerating a little). I only ate 1-2 meals a day in the cafeteria and never stayed long. However, I think during the spring semester, I spent more time in the cafeteria than in class.

Everything (almost) centers around the visual or tactile senses. My first experiences with the we-are-closing-the-library/cafeteria/building “warning” signals freaked me out. I was sitting in the cafeteria, minding my own business, enjoying good conversation with friends, when the Blue Light Special at Kmart went off. This blue, emergency-looking light blinked blaringly at us for 15 minutes. It scared me at first. I did not know if it meant that there was a fire, an emergency, or what. Everyone stayed put, so I stayed glued to my seat, staring at the blinking light until it finally clicked. It was 8:00pm and the cafeteria was closing.

A similar experience happened in the library. It was late and I was looking through the endless shelves of Deaf Stacks (Deaf culture, ASL, Deaf education, Interpreting, etc. books). Suddenly, some of the lights started blinking. It freaked me out (yet again) but then I realized that someone was going around, flashing the lights in every section of the library, telling us it was closing time.

I also remember the first time I was sitting in my dorm room and the lights started flickering. Well, they were not “flickering” and the electricity was not going out either as I thought it was. No, someone was “knocking” on my door to give my roommate and I some information about living in the dorms or something. Oh for the love of Deaf culture! I eventually got used to the flashing-light “doorbell.” Nope, no more jumping three feet in the air for me!

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