Learning from Teaching Deaf Students Abroad

Mallory stands with two of the Deaf Mexican students she worked with.
When she began pursuing her Master’s degree in Deaf Education at the University of Arizona, Mallory Watts sought an opportunity to expand her professional knowledge by teaching abroad.

MIUSA: Tell us more about the teaching program you participated in.

Mallory: I worked with Deaf children in Mexico on the Verano en Mexico program, which is offered through the University of Arizona.

What was the application process like?

The application process was intense. I had to make sure everything was turned in to the right person. I had a great experience with the exchange organization at University of Arizona. I was always safe.

How did you fund your exchange?

I used Vocational Rehabilitation funding to pay for my trip to Mexico.

What were your concerns as you prepared to travel?

My primary language is American Sign Language, so I was concerned that I wouldn’t get the information I needed. Using the Internet, I taught myself some basic Spanish, and basic Mexican Sign Language. Later on in the trip, I was able to buy a book on Mexican Sign Language.

What was your experience living in Mexico?

My experience in Mexico was amazing. We lived in a good area, and I was impressed with our housing. The activities were intensive in the beginning of the trip, but with time, I became used to the intensity. I was surprised how people in Mexico warmed up to me immediately, and were accepting of my being Deaf. The people I met in Mexico were used to using extreme facial expression and body language, which aided me greatly with communication. 

“I think we all learn the best when we become involved within a different culture from our own comfort zone.”

What is your favorite memory of Mexico?

My favorite memory was climbing the Teotihuacan pyramid in Mexico City. I have horrible balance, but was able to overcome my fear of climbing something with no support. My second favorite memory is working with my two Deaf students in Guanajuato, Mexico. It was a challenge communicating with the two Deaf students, but it was a life changing experience for me.

Did you use assistive devices during your exchange program? Were they helpful to you in your new environment?

I had two sign language interpreters, who were somewhat helpful on my trip. I had a cochlear implant, but sadly it failed during the trip.

What do you wish you had known before you began your journey?

I wished that I knew the activities in the beginning of the trip would be very intense, because I would have prepared myself little better. I also wish I brought more materials for my two Deaf students in Guanajuato, Mexico.

What were the benefits of the experience, and how has your international experience informed your future plans?

I personally think I grew from this experience because I am able to be a better teacher for Deaf children. Since this was the first time traveling to another country without family or friends, this experience was a big step for me, and it built my self-esteem in traveling alone. I plan on traveling to other countries in the near future.