I was born in Cambodia and contracted Polio at nine months old. Even at a young age I dreamt of becoming a leader for people with disabilities, traveling to different countries, and living independently.
Halyna Kurylo applied to the U.S. Department of State-sponsored Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (Global UGRAD) program twice. After not getting selected the first time, Halyna, who was severely underweight at 80 pounds, went into treatment realizing that her eating disorder was limiting what she wanted to do.
Because I grew up in a small Greek city where I never socialized with other Deaf people, I never thought there were other people like me. From kindergarten through high school, I attended a mainstream school that didn’t provide support services, nor were teachers aware of Deaf culture and deafness. As a child, I didn’t really realize I was Deaf, despite being born with hearing loss too extensive to use hearing aids. Instead, I considered myself a person with a problem in my ears and difficulty interacting well with hearing people.
Since I was seven years old, I dreamed of studying at a university in America.
I was born in Iwate, Japan, but when my family learned I was Deaf, we moved to Tokyo, which has more resources for Deaf education. At seven years old, my family then moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where I attended a Japanese school for two years.
While living in Atlanta, I was privileged to meet Ms. Heather Whitestone, who was the first Deaf winner of the Miss America Pageant in 1995. She was my first Deaf role model, and she inspired me with her message of “Deaf can do it.”
As Maria sang "Then you’ll spread your wings, And you’ll take the sky," by George Gershwin in Porgy and Bess, I realized that it would be a fitting motto of our Berkeley experience. What made me feel so? I will tell you. First, however, I should describe the inspiring scene of a relatively small group of people enjoying this famous lullaby, ”Summertime,” from George Gershwin’s opera, Porgy and Bess.
Although I was born in a small, rural town in southwestern Japan, growing up I had an interest in foreign affairs. However, my family could not imagine that their son could travel outside of Japan.