Signing Her Way Through France: Keuka College Senior's Unforgettable ASL Experience

The birthplace of Sign Language inspires future interpreter Abby Walent.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Keuka College senior Abby Walent has studied American Sign Language diligently. Still, she said, touring the birthplace of sign language in Paris and Lyon, France, during her junior Field Period® experience deepened her understanding and appreciation of the field she hopes to make a career.

“Nothing can compare to seeing the places that I’ve read about,” said the ASL-English Interpreting major. “I know the history of ASL like the back of my hand, but traveling to the places where these events took place was a truly immersive experience.”
That experience – which included touring Deaf museums, the International Visual Theater, and the childhood home of Laurent Clerc, known as the Father of American Sign Language – was made possible by a Judith Oliver Brown Scholarship, one of the many ways Keuka College makes international Field Period opportunities available to students.
“I was so grateful that this assistance was available to me,” said Abby. “Without it, I would have missed out on so much of what I got to do.”

Aside from immersing herself in the origins of sign language, Abby steeped herself in the practice. Her travel group included four Deaf instructors and students communicated with them solely through signing during the nine-day itinerary. At the end of each day, Abby would also sign about her experiences in a video, which was then critiqued for both content and signing accuracy.
The experience provided personal as well as professional growth – not to mention a special distinction bestowed by program leader Brian Leffler.
“I was very nervous about visiting a foreign country with people I had never met,” Abby said. “But by the end of the first day, I knew I had nothing to be afraid of. I overcame my anxiety and made some lifelong friends. Brian even gave me a sign name. Only a Deaf person can give someone a sign name. It was an honor.”

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