For the two years prior to the trip, the students spend countless hours working on fundraising! Every few months they have a new fundraiser to ask friends, family, staff, and community members to support. They gain skills in communication, advertising, self-advocacy, and budgeting. As we get closer to the trip, the students start weekly meetings with myself to learn about money exchange, cultural differences both in Deaf Culture and Hearing Culture between the countries we are visiting and America, travel protocols, historic events, the history and key facts about locations we will visit, and many others. This is also a time for us to develop open communication, learn about each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and develop teamwork.
Even though the skills that the students gain prior to the trip are extensive, what they learn from the rich experience of international travel is even more impressive. For at least the past four years, RSD has partnered with Hands on Travel. This is a Travel Agency comprised of all Deaf guides that specializes in school/college groups and international travel. All the tours are done in American Sign Language so that the students have complete access to all information. In addition, they know and understand what skills are vital for a young deaf student to gain to be able to travel independently and confidently. Those are skills they work on developing throughout the tour.
It was my honor and blessing to watch our RSD students grow and learn in April. When we first arrived in France, I was very nervous about the students using the Paris Metro System. It is an extremely crowded, complex, and challenging metro system even for someone who has traveled extensively. However, both Terry Giansanti (CEO and Head Guide for HOT) and Himel Chowdhury (Tour Guide for HOT) reassured me that this was an important skill for our students to master and they could do it! I trusted both gentlemen and they were “spot on”. The students developed confidence and skills from their struggles and experiences and in 4 days were pros at one of the most complicated metro systems I have ever experienced in my travels. By the time we moved to London they were “pros”! They quickly learned and maneuvered through London’s metro (The Tube) as if they had been doing it for years.
The discussions and conversations Jeff and I were blessed to be part of during this trip are some of the best conversations I have had with young deaf adults in my over 20 years of deaf education! For example, we were visiting Westminster Abby and on one side of the alter Longfellow, C.S. Lewis, and other famous authors and poets who believed in God and even wrote about their faith are buried. On the other side you have Sir Isaac Newton, Steven Hawkins, and Charles Darwin, all who all did not believe in God, believed in science and evolution, yet are buried in the church of England! It started a great conversation with the students. The students also noticed that England’s Tomb of the Unknown Solider is in the church and not guarded like ours in Washington D.C. That started another conversation about how different countries choose to show respect to their military.
I think one of my favorite conversations was the day that we traveled and visited with the school for the deaf in France. Named Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris, this is where schools for the deaf in the United States have their roots. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time with some of the high school students there. This led to a great conversation later that afternoon and into the evening about “deaf advantage”, “deaf oppression”, “equal access”, “opportunities for deaf youth and deaf adults”, and comparing France/England with the US. WOW! I hope people realize how insightful our students really are! I honestly learned so much from our time and conversations together! They will change the world one day!! I cannot wait to see it happen!
Ten days after our adventure began, we arrived home very early on a Saturday morning! The students had walked over 80 miles in 10 days, had seen and learned about amazing places in history, and even more important, learned about themselves; learned how fortunate they are that they grew up in the United States, that they can travel the world, navigate a new city, meet and learn from people and new cultures, and do anything that they put their mind to! As one student said (and they all echoed and agreed) when we were standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower, looking down on the city of Paris below, “Thank you RSD, Thank you TAP, Thank you JM. Without any of you, I would not be here. Thank you”. The lessons and experience that the Travel Abroad Program has on our students at RSD, are some of the richest that our students will experience outside of the classroom. Thank you all for your support of this program, and of our students!