Featured Person: Perseus McDaniel
Meet Perseus, a community college student from the US who, having studied Italian and Italian sign language in Florence, became inspired to encourage other Deaf students to participate in overseas study.
Name: Perseus McDaniel
Age During Exchange: 26
Hometown: Seattle, Washington, USA
Host Country: Florence, Italy
Program Length: 2.5 months
Exchange Type: Study Abroad
About Me: I am presently attending Edmonds Community College (EDCC). I am also a Deaf African American and Caucasian man who was raised in Seattle, Washington, where I currently live.
I became interested in studying in Italy after learning how to read and write in Italian. Through my education in Italy I hope to work as an Italian-English sign language interpreter in the future. I also became passionate about helping others learn American Sign Language (ASL) after volunteering as an ASL teacher’s assistant and tutor for a year and half.
My passion is to raise awareness that eligible Deaf students can access study abroad too. I want to see this idea grow in each person I share it with, just like the plant from “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
Describe your international exchange program.
I studied in Florence, Italy through the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) program. The courses I took were Geography of Weather, Climate, Vegetation, and Soils, Geography of World Affairs, and Italian Language and Culture. The last course was tough for almost all of us students, but I believe I learned a lot more in the course due to learning LIS (Lingua Italiana dei Segni, Italian Sign Language) and merging into the culture well.
What was the application process like?
This is not the first time I applied to study abroad. A year prior, I was accepted into a program in Florence, Italy to study Italian literature of the Renaissance and modern Italian literature, as well as creative writing. I was so looking forward to taking the flight and studying abroad for ten weeks during my spring quarter. I had all the money I needed from financial aid and scholarships to cover my expenses in Italy. Edmonds Community College even found the money to pay for two ASL interpreters to go with me.
Unfortunately I soon learned that the State of Washington does not allow using its funds to pay for any out of state or out of country travel for staff. The situation was due to economic budget cuts. The news was a big disappointment, shock, and stress for me and to all those individuals who try to make this happen. Since there was only two and half weeks remaining before I was to leave, it was not enough time to find the needed donations to cover the cost of the interpreter’s tickets. Unfortunately I was not able to have ASL interpreters to come with me, which caused me lose my $1,100 for my non-refunded flight ticket.
How did you fund your exchange?
I was able to fund my trip through scholarships provided by Edmonds Community College and funding from Washington State. The Student Government, ASEDCC,
agreed to use their funds to pay two interpreters' expenses to go with me
to Italy. I received help from my advisor and interpreter coordinator as well as the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE) in regards to finding scholarships to cover my expenses.
What were your concerns as you prepared to travel?
I was concerned about learning LIS and how I could replace the speech portion in my Italian language lessons since I’m Deaf. Also, I wondered about finding the funds to pay two ASL interpreters to come with me to Italy. I worked with the interpreter coordinator at Edmonds Community College to find funding to pay the interpreters’ transportation expenses. I worked to find contacts in the Deaf community in Florence through asking my friends who went to Italy before. I also contacted NCDE and they provided me with six contacts to find ASL interpreters in Italy, and a variety of information on foreign language learning resources, speech to text providers and the Sienna School.
What was your experience living in the host country?
Italian culture was very awesome to experience because I was only familiar with American culture. The two cultures are totally different. I had a cultural shock when I touched Italy for the first time. It was my first time going to another country. The culture is one of the main lessons of my education in Italy. It made me understand what America’s culture looks like from the outside. This was new to me because I have only lived in America for my entire life.
I was very assertive when I was in Italy due knowing very well that this may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. I made an aggressive effort to immerse myself into Italian culture and tried to merge myself in the local crowds. Many of my classmates, teachers, and staff in Italy were very impressed with my eagerness and initiative. My motto in Italy was: “Live dangerously, or you will miss out, period!”
I was greatly motivated to learn LIS for my own personal reasons. I’ve been in love with sign language since I was born. The Deaf organization called ENS (Ente Nazionale Sordi) is placed 20 minutes away from the AIFS school in Florence. I spent every moment of my free time at ENS because I was very hungry to learn LIS and gained the capabilities to learn LIS. Since I spent so much time there, I also hung out with friends there and learned over 120 LIS signs in a month!
What was one of your favorite memories?
In the last two weeks before leaving to go back to America, I discovered that I could communicate with Deaf Italians smoothly, and even engage in long conversation. Being able to share tons of stories about our cultures, experiences, politics and fairy tales is my most savored experience from Italy.
Did you use assistive devices, adaptive equipment or disability-related accommodations during your exchange program? Were they helpful to you in your new environment?
I was able to learn to read and write in Italian as part of the Language and Cultural course, but I couldn't participate in the speaking portion. The staff at Edmonds Community College and I requested an approval to replace the speaking portion of the course with learning to sign in LIS, which wasn’t approved due to complex and separate grading system. However, I continued to write and read and increased my vocabulary to replace the speech portion.
Thinking back, what do you wish you had known before you began your journey?
I don’t have any regrets from my study abroad experience in Italy. I’m satisfied with what I did and met every goal I had hoped for. The only thing I wish I could have done differently is to stay there longer.
What were the benefits of the experience, and how has your international experience informed your future plans?
The experiences I had in Florence, Italy, as a study abroad student were the richest experiences I ever had in my lifetime. The experiences taught me a ton of things that I hadn’t considered or seen before. The time I spent in Italy opened my eyes to a bigger reality within the life around us. I became more open-minded and learned a vast amount about the Italian culture.
Now that I'm back, I want to present about my experiences studying abroad in Italy and help study programs to recognize that Deaf students can participate in any exchange programs that are provided for hearing students.
Do you have an exchange or disability-related question for Perseus? Emailto contact him.