Sponsored by UCLan’s Student International Travel Bursary
Dr Junhui Yang, senior lecturer in the division of BSL and Deaf Studies at UCLan, recently organised an international trip for 20 students with colleagues Dr Luigi Lerose and Frank Harrington to two Erasmus partner HE institutions, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan (AMU) and the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (KUL) in Poland in March 2016.
The successful trip included multi-language workshops attended by deaf and hard of hearing students from Poland who are learning English, their English teachers, and our students from UCLan, and was made possible thanks to the International Travel Bursary. The large group also made visits to schools for deaf children, Special School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Lublin and the Institute for the Deaf in Warsaw, and to several museums in Poland, travelling around together as a collective group. A Facebook group for the British and Polish students was set up by Dr Junhui Yang, before the trip so that they could begin to get to know each other and chat about the pending trip. This made the meeting up even more exciting, as the students finally got to meet the people that they had been communicating with.
During the formal workshops and meetings, communication was facilitated by a string of interpreters and this was a very interesting experience for all the students. We took two BSL/English interpreters (Sarah Garden and Lucy Slater) along with us, and Ewa Domagała-Zyśk (English Teacher of deaf and hard of hearing students at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin) acted as workshop facilitator and Polish/English interpreter. Two Polish Sign Language interpreters and a Polish palantypist were also present. During the first workshop, it was particularly interesting to see that deaf and hard of hearing students from the two universities in Poland were using speech, while the hearing students from UCLan took to using sign language! On a more individual level, time spent in smaller groups led to students supporting each other to overcome personal language barriers, as students communicated across spoken and signed languages where necessary.
It was evident during the trip that Polish deaf and hard of hearing students have very different educational experiences compared to British deaf and hard of hearing students. The support services available are vastly different and the Polish students had to work extremely hard to function at this high level. Most Polish students from this group are spoken language users (oral), and very few deaf people who are sign language users study at HE level.
It was great to see some of the oral deaf students becoming increasingly interested in watching the sign language, and even begin using it themselves after only a few days. These Polish oral students, who have not yet acquired Polish Sign Language, were fascinated to see Polish Sign Language (PJM) and British Sign Language (BSL) being used side-by-side, and commented that they found the BSL easier to pick up and follow due to its high level of visuality. At times, when PJM interpreters were not available, the Polish students enjoyed watching the BSL interpreters. They were able to understand them more day by day which meant that that they did not have to rely entirely on their residual hearing to listen to the speakers.
Some students preferred to communicate on a one-to-one basis so that the communication could be tailored to their own personal lip-reading and sign language skill level; other students, particularly those who were fluent in PJM, were confident to communicate in larger groups and to try using some of the BSL that they picked up each day.
One of the highlights of the trip was the opportunity to visit schools for deaf children in Lublin and Warsaw. In the UK, students have very few opportunities to visit such schools, as most of the schools for deaf children have closed down, so it was great that they had a chance to see the large specialist schools and how deaf children are educated in them. The school in Lublin was very interesting, as it is based outside in a rural setting and very near to the State Museum of Majdanek, which commemorates victims of WW2. The school principal informed us of the history of the school and then showed us around and invited a class of children with their teacher to demonstrate how they are taught spoken Polish with sign language support. Two very talented children from the class showed us a traditional Polish dance performance that they had won competitions for. We were then guided around the schools to meet children from all levels, from primary through to high school age. We were very moved to see the children so happy at school and very much enjoyed this visit.
The Warsaw school visit was a very different experience, as it is a very large school due to being the first school established, in October 1817, almost 200 years ago. The school is based in the city centre in Warsaw. Some of the children who are learning English helped by guiding us around the school. We met some of the high school pupils who had created YouTube videos for learning PJM with Polish and English subtitles and who have also been learning some BSL. We were very fortunate and grateful to have the help of their English teacher, Ewa Czerkawska, who organised the visit for us and also guided groups around the school and Warsaw City Centre.
All of the British and Polish lecturers involved in the multiple-city multilingual-trip were very pleased to see friendships amongst the deaf, hard of hearing and hearing students from UCLan, AMU and KUL develop quickly during the week. We sincerely hope that the students maintain the friendships that they have formed through continued email contact and through social media sites, such as Facebook.
Feedback was very positive from all involved. Emma Hargreaves commented on the trip: “I thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Poland and feel that I have made some lifelong friends. The Polish students and staff were so friendly and welcoming. I also found them to be very knowledgeable, especially when discussing historical events and the cultural differences in Poland.”
Alison Wallace added: “The Poland trip this year has been fantastic. All of the students we met through Junhui were welcoming and very accommodating. I have gained and improved upon my communication skills. I hope the trip (or a similar one) will happen for the next several years. This was a fantastic experience that I will remember for a long time. I went on the Italy deaf studies trip last year and also really enjoyed my time. Deaf studies team plan amazing trips!”