A Deaf student from Russia, Tatiana experienced the best of both worlds by attending two schools during her Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) year in the United States.
She attended the Delaware School for the Deaf (DSD) for the first five months of her exchange program while taking pre-calculus at Christiana High School, a mainstream public high school. After five months attending DSD, she transitioned to Christiana full time.
“It was very valuable for me to experience both schools. It was great for me first to go to a Deaf school, because I didn't know American Sign Language (ASL).”
She learned ASL quickly by asking friends for help with signs she didn’t know and received additional help from her teachers. Learning ASL laid the foundation for Tatiana to succeed at Christiana.
“Now I use ASL at my mainstream school with sign interpreters and with my Deaf friends who take some mainstream classes." She says that using sign interpreters has been a good experience for her. “Before coming to the U.S., I’d never heard of studying with a sign interpreter in high school. In Russia, it's not common.”
Knowing both English and ASL has given Tatiana the versatility to communicate in many different settings.
While she speaks to her hearing friends, “at school, it's often loud, so I ask my hearing friends to write or text on the phone so I can understand.”
As a student-athlete, Tatiana has also had an opportunity to use her new language skills on the field, the court, and in the swimming pool. At DSD in the fall, she was on the volleyball team. At Christiana, she was on the swim team in the winter and the lacrosse team in the spring.
“I had fun on all teams, but it was different. On the Deaf team, I could easily communicate with anybody since everybody knew ASL, including the coach. As for hearing teams, it was harder, especially on the swim team, since I couldn't use hearing aids during practices and meets.” Her lacrosse teammates were willing to use signs to communicate, and she also had a Deaf teammate, who became her best friend at Christiana.
As a result of her FLEX experience, Tatiana wants to be more involved with the Deaf community in Russia when she goes back.
“I want to be interacting with both Deaf and hearing students when I return to Russia, not just hearing."
She recommends that other Deaf exchange students take advantage of similar opportunities as well. “Try to get know more people [both hearing and Deaf] because you can learn a lot of things from them. And try everything. If there is a possibility of mainstreaming classes, I would suggest taking at least one.” By doing so, students can experience the best of both worlds.