As the last traces of Valentine’s Day linger in the air, I seize this moment to reflect on one of my own relationships – one that has become very important to me over the past six months. What began as a mere fling has blossomed into a lasting and unbreakable bond. It’s thrilling. It’s passionate. It’s real. Now, you might be thinking this is not the most appropriate outlet for an expression of the sort, but this kind of affair is not one to be silenced. I write to you today, fellow and future terriers, because I’ve fallen madly, truly and deeply in love with American Sign Language.
Rewind to freshman year. After actively avoiding a certain part of the COM curriculum for over a year, I began receiving concerned emails about my unfulfilled language requirement. Unwilling to spend two semesters learning a language, I looked high and low for possible loopholes. Option 1: test out of Latin, a language I hadn’t studied in four years. Option 2: take an eight-week intensive course in Russian. Option 3: pray for COM to drop the language requirement. When none of these choices proved feasible, I broke down and began looking at fall language courses. On a whim, I registered for ASL 1.
The summer came and went without a second thought about the dreaded language requirement. On the fist day of classes, my apathy became panic. To my (shamefully oblivious) surprise, a Deaf man – Professor Jason Norman, showed up to teach the on the first day of class. How does a Deaf professor teach a class full of hearing students with no experience in ASL? It would be futile for me to try to articulate exactly how he teaches the class because it’s a mystery even to me. All I can say is that last semester, Professor Norman played matchmaker – he introduced me to the rich and expressive language I would come to love.
I learned more in one semester of ASL than I ever thought possible. For three hours a week, I found myself engaged, focused and dedicated to mastering this new language. While I sometimes shied away from participating in other classes, I found myself eager to ask questions, give examples and sign in front of the class. By the end of the semester, I was confident and competent enough to hold conversations in ASL, even with native signers.
Now, don’t be fooled. ASL and I are a match made in heaven, but like any relationship, there have been a few bumps in the road. Learning ASL is fun, but not easy. The switch from aural to visual communication is a dramatic one that requires a certain level of commitment and training. Also, to master fingerspelling at normal pace takes years of practice. The language gap between Professor Norman and I was the biggest hardship last semester. There were times that I held back questions and comments simply because I didn’t know how to sign them. These issues work themselves out with both patience and practice.
I now take ASL 2, but sadly, ASL and I might have to take a break after this semester. The year I once thought I would waste learning a language is coming to an end – but I’m not ready to call it quits. However, with hopes of internships and studying abroad, ASL classes might not fit into my schedule. But, fear not – I’m confident this love story will have a happy ending. The things I’ve learned and the people I’ve met through ASL and Deaf culture studies will surely transcend into other aspects of my life. Maybe I’ll even make a film about it some day.
College is such a short part of life, yet so packed full of opportunities. When else will you have the chance to study Buddhism in America? Or zooarchaeology? So, I dare you – I triple dog dare you – to take a class that you know will challenge you. A class you know nothing about. A class you might not be eager to take. You never know when you might uncover a hidden passion; you never know when you might fall in love.