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ASL 102 – Cultural Contact Experience Paper

Michael Wakefield 6/30/08
November 16th, 2007 – 7:00pm to 7:45pm Coffee Night at Starbucks
I went to Coffee Night at Starbucks in Bellevue. It was a Friday night at 7pm. I was uncomfortable as I entered. I noticed there was a table of folks that were signing in rapid conversation. I could not understand 99% of what was being said. I sat down noting already how quieter it was than normal in Starbucks. I tried to remember what I had learned about Deaf etiquette - don’t stare unless you intend to introduce yourself! I felt very self-conscious - did I have a huge sign on my forehead that said “Hearing Person”? Surely everyone there could tell and resented my being here. I thought to myself that this must be what all these Deaf people felt like when interacting with the Hearing world. What an eye-opener! I was excited but afraid of doing something that would offend someone. I worked up the courage to go towards that table and introduce myself. I met a gentleman named “Paul’. I introduced myself using my full name. Paul wanted to know where I lived and I told him I live in Snoqualmie Ridge. He said that was far. I agreed. He was signing very fast so I had to tell him to sign slower please. I also explained that I was an ASL student at BCC and that I was sorry. Why? I would have to ask him to sign things again and again. He smiled and thanked me for coming. I appreciate a lot of aspects of my ASL class, but to be here, immersed, was a totally different experience. Paul asked me why I was learning ASL. I stated that I was going to school to become a nurse and that I didn’t see many nurses that could converse in ASL, so I decided to learn ASL as a language requirement for school. We exchanged information about our families, work etc. I felt myself relax more as ASL conversation started to come back to me. Paul understood that I was a beginning ASL student and he had the patience to sign slower and repeat things for me so that I understood them. I also had to ask him to fingerspell things occasionally when I didn’t understand a particular sign. I didn’t want to disrespect him and have to write on something in order to communicate. I sensed that he understood my reluctance to do this and didn’t ask me to write things down. This made me feel more comfortable as well. I discovered that, as I became less self-conscious, I started noticing aspects of deaf culture that we had learned about in class. I was able to communicate somewhat - much better than any time previously - and seeing this culture up close gave me a new appreciation for what the deaf go through in

our world, and only increased my desire to continue making ASL and the deaf community a part of my professional life as a nurse. I tried to put this ASL cultural experience into perspective. I imagined myself in a sports car on a multi-lane highway. It is a 75 mph zone but in every lane, driving side by side, there are slow-pokes doing 30 miles per hour. How would you feel after just a few moments of having to drive behind these people? Now imagine having to commute to work everyday there and back behind these slow pokes? Now imagine they are doing 15 mph instead of 30. Now imagine they frequently break down and ask you to tow them to their destination. All you want to do is get to work and get home and you'd like to do it at full highway speeds. Can you imagine the frustration? Now, imagine one of the lanes frees up and starts moving at 75 miles per hour. Would you hang around behind the slowpoke, or would you hastily move away from the slowpoke and get into the fast lane? It isn't that you have anything against the slowpoke. You don't really know him. You just want to get to where you are going and getting in the fast lane is the least frustrating, most enjoyable way of getting to your destination. Deaf people are surrounded by Hearing people and their slow-poke signing. Deaf people may tend to avoid us, but in the same way we avoid getting out from behind the slowpoke on the highway. It is nothing personal. Thankfully, Deaf people enjoy socializing and have events that welcome those that want to learn sign language and experience Deaf culture. We get to learn to drive at full speed on the highway  Ultimately, I really enjoyed myself at the Coffee Night at Starbucks, and hope I can get a chance to return sometime soon.

VA Volunteering – Patient Interaction November 5th, 2007 – 10:00am
I volunteer at the VA Hospital in Seattle on Mondays and Tuesdays every week for 4 hours each day. I work in the Outpatient Surgery Clinic (aka Same Day Unit). Same day outpatient surgeries, procedures, diagnostics are performed here. This particular day I noticed a gentleman at the front desk speaking rather loud and in a voice that sounded like Marly Matlin. I realized that this person was either a hard-of-hearing or deaf person attempting to communicate with the folks working at the front desk. I approached the front desk and asked in ASL….”How are you?”. The gentleman whose name will not be listed for privacy reasons recognized that I understood ASL and began to rapidly sign to me. I had to sign, “Slow please”. I explained that I was taking an ASL class and that I am ASL student at BCC. I also asked that he sign slower so that I could understand better what he needed help with. He was there for a procedure (cochlear implant). He was excited about the procedure because he hadn’t been able to hear since a munitions accident in Vietnam.

We got him signed in and I also made sure that they came and got me when it was time for his procedure so that I could help him communicate. I was glad that I was able to assist him it felt good. It was nice to know that I was already putting my secondary language skills to good use.

Game Night – ASL Club November 8th(?), 2007 – 8:30pm – 9pm
I attended ASL Club Game Night at the Student Union building. I was late getting there at 8:30pm as they started at 7pm. They were in the middle of a game where the host would look at a card and explain what was on the card. We had to guess what the sign was for what he was describing. The next game was in groups. We took turns guessing what one of the members of the group was signing about. All the groups stared at once. Whoever guessed correctly would “win”. It was basically a race against time as the turns were taken in the group to guess what we being described and then you had to get the attention of the game host to announce your “guess” first. There were Deaf members, ASL students and club members playing which made it quite fun. The game host was a pretty funny as well. He was Deaf. He made the game night a fun experience.