Chelsea Corriveau, a student at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida has greatly enjoyed her experience virtually exchanging with peers in Qalqilya, in the Palestinian Territories. “Learning about another country through virtual exchange is much more exciting than reading about it in a book. I like the feeling of being present and the hands-on experience of virtual exchange.”
Through a grant administered by the Stevens Initiative, Sister Cities of Gainesville is connecting American Sign Language students at Santa Fe College with students of the Al-Amal Association for the Deaf School in Qalqilya. Level 3 American Sign Language students and higher with an interest in learning about Deaf culture in the Palestinian Territories were able to learn about the experiences of their peers in Qalqilya.
Under the facilitation of Professor Michelle Freas, students in the U.S. and in the Palestinian Territories are teaching each other American Sign Language and Palestinian Sign Language while collaborating on the creation of a Palestinian Sign Language video dictionary.
“What I love about this virtual exchange program is watching the light bulbs go off in my students’ heads as they interact with their counterparts abroad,” said Michelle. “They are starting to build an intrinsic sense for Palestinian Sign Language, and their increasing motivation to learn more about Deaf culture and their peers in the Palestinian Territories is really impactful to me as their facilitator.”
Chelsea was so inspired by her engagement with the students in Qalqilya, and in particular her interactions with one particular student Anwar, a 24-year old young Deaf woman like herself, that she created a piece of metal art done with laser cutting depicting her new friend in hijab making the Palestinian Sign for “woman.”
So far, the Palestinian Sign Language dictionary covers topics like numbers, basic vocabulary, and family. Small groups of students connect once a week through Skype and exchange signs as well as compare and contrast differences in Deaf culture and educational opportunities available for young people in the United States and the Palestinian Territories. As part of the exchange, a group of Palestinian students will meet with their United State counterparts at the Sister Cities International 2018 Annual Conference in Aurora, Colorado to participate in a panel on virtual exchange.