Meeting Deaf People in Other Countries – 2014


Before Lilo and I began our backpacking journey in 2014, we were discussing about our different personal wishes. We came up with ideas:

we had to meet different Deaf people around the world.

We’ll hunt for them if we had to,” we jokingly said.

If you didn’t know, my fellow readers, other countries do NOT sign the same as American Sign Language (ASL). They have their own sign language, and it is often vastly different. How do we communicate? It’s quite hard to explain for those who don’t know much about Deaf culture, but I’ll simply describe this way for now:

First, Just like English (a global language), ASL is also like a global sign language.

It’s one of the most common ways to communicate between different Deaf communities because English is most a global language. Therefore, every Deaf person I’ve met said they took ASL courses in school and/or developed further skills for their own personal interests. Some new Deaf friends I’ve met knew a little or some ASL.

Secondly, sign language is a visual language.

There are some similarities or some signs that just make sense to us when communicating, especially their expression. One example is when you commonly gesture “eat,” they would sign similarly or differently.

Lastly, now there is International Sign (IS)

that comprised of international gestures where they hope to the gap between different sign languages to communicate and understand each other – most particularly at events, such as World Federation for the Deaf (WFD); IS isn’t really used worldwide yet, but the people I’ve talked with so far is hoping that will change in the future.

Anyways! Here is our adventure in 2014:

South Korea

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Lilo and I were roaming around in Seoul. We coincidentally walked past other Deafs. In my peripheral vision, I saw hand gestures as we walked past in opposite way. I turned around and wondered if I was right. They also happened to turn around and spotted me staring at them like a shocked deer, haha. I asked in ASL, “are you guys Deaf?” They responded, “yes, we are deaf.” They signed “Deaf” very similar in Korean Sign Language (KSL). Lilo and I got so excited, and we all just greeted right away and successfully communicated. We were in awe how different their sign language were and learned some. They were also in awe with ASL as well and wanted to learn ASL.

I really love how we just get each other, and I’m telling you – deaf culture. deaf community. It was an extraordinary feeling.

We decided to exchange contact information to hang out:

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We met up at the local cafe. Unfortunately, the girl (from the first photo) was unable to hang out, and Jaewoo kindly introduced us to his friend, Juyeon. We chatted for hours and taught each other our sign languages. If you are reading this, I’m happy that we met! (:

 

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A week later, we traveled to southern city, Busan. One day, we were in line waiting for the subway. While waiting, one of these guys came up and asked if we are Deaf. We excitedly said, “yes, we’re Deaf.” Then he asked where we came from, “America,” we responded. I giggled when I understood when one told his friend, “See! I told you they are from America!” even it is in KSL. Although we only hung out shortly in the subway, we exchanged Facebook information to keep in touch.

Japan

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Thanks to our friend, we were introduced to a Japanese friend, Go. He knows ASL and Japanese Sign Language (JSL), and we find it fascinating. I wish I know Mexican Sign Language (LSM) and other sign languages. We hung around twice in Tokyo, and he showed us around. We also came across two sweeeeet old Deaf ladies at Starbucks. I wish we took a photo with them, but we just forgot since we were too excited to chat with them. They told us that they have been friends for decades! Decades!  Go kindly introduced us to his Hearing friend who know JSL and ASL. Thank you for showing us around, Go!!

Taiwan

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Unfortunately, we did not meet up any Deafs in Taiwan. We went to Taipei School for The Hearing Impaired DEAF. The reason why I scratched that is because the word, “hearing impaired,” is offensive, if you didn’t know. We went there on our very last few hours in Taiwan before flying to Singapore (for about 18 hours layover). I wish we did hunted Taiwanese Deaf people  earlier but visiting the school was good enough. Till next time!

Singapore

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Due to only spending couple hours outside in the city, we did not made new Deaf Singaporean friends nor visited the Deaf school. However, we spotted one Deaf guy who was sitting behind me while we wait for the subway to head back to the airport. If you know me well, I’m actually generally shy when meeting new people. Traveling helped me a lot to get out of my comfort zone though! I asked if he was Deaf, and he said yes. Before I get ask more about himself, he got up and left. I was a little disappointed but oh well, he probably was in a hurry, who knows?

Thailand

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In Bangkok, we coincidentally passed by a Deaf couple! They approached us excitedly, “are you Deaf?” We were in awe how lucky we were to coincidentally meet each other, and we got along fast. Their sign language is vastly different, and we learned so much from them. They took us to school for the Deaf, and the environment was much more different comparing to other deaf schools I went. I saw Deaf students playing around with soccer barefeet! I actually really like it, the children were happily playing. Thank you for showing us around!

My Deaf friends, don’t be shy to meet others when traveling! It’s worth the experience (: Overall, I’m happy to meet you all!

Question for the Deaf community:

Is it also one of your goals to meet other Deafs

Question for Hearing community:

Would you be open-minded to meet Deaf people if you saw them?


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31 thoughts on “Meeting Deaf People in Other Countries – 2014

  • The Educational Tourist

    What an interesting read! How lovely to meet up with others who have similar interests and languages. Thanks for sharing some cool info like different sign languages and that deaf is preferred to hearing impaired. Love to learn something new every day!!

    Natalie, The Educational Tourist

  • Aileen

    You guys are amazing! Indeed, it’s always great to meet other people when you’re traveling to a new place. Also, it’s great to know more about you guys. 😀

  • Wandering Carol

    I love what you did – it seems we always want to connect with people we have things in common with when we travel. As for the question ‘would I be open to meeting deaf people when I travel?’ – um, it’s a bit of an odd question. I want to meet interesting people when I meet, who hopefully are kind and good hearted. Whether they’re deaf or not is irrelevant. So I guess the answer is YES.

  • Jennifer @ Made all the Difference Travel Blog

    I have so much respect for the deaf community and culture.

    My favorite experience was getting to SCUBA dive with a deaf group in the Caribbean. For me and my dive partner is basic. We have like 10 signs and can only point at things we want to show each other. We got to watch the deaf group have full conversations. Instead of me pointing at the little fish, they would describe which fish they were looking at. I want to learn ASL for that reason.

  • Kate

    This is fascinating as someone who doesn’t use sign language. Different types and almost dialect around the world but able to come together and communicate. It sounds like you had great experiences of meeting people and hanging out, even teaching each other different sign languages. It seems like a very inclusive community which is great. I’d love to learn some day. Maybe you could do a video of greetings?

  • Francesca @onegrloneworld

    I looovvee your blog! Travel is all about learning and broadening our horizons, and I learn so much from you two! I didn’t know that “hearing impaired” was offensive. I’ll make sure I don’t use it to refer to deaf people! I’m going to share your blog with my friends 🙂 I took an ASL course in college and I’m sure they’d love to read your stories!

  • Jessica

    I would definitely be interested in meeting those are deaf, but would feel a bit shy because I would not know the correct way to interact with them. I took a few ASL classes a while back, but unfortunately have forgotten almost all of it! 🙁

  • Valerie

    Ohh, I loved this post! When I was about 10 years I got an ASL sign language book for Christmas after I had begged my parents for it. I don’t remember much except some food words, alphabets and how to introduce myself. I think ASL is beautiful and I hadn’t even considered all the different dialects around the world. I loved reading your stories about meeting people around the world and I think it’s such a special and beautiful thing to be able to have such an instant connection to strangers.

  • Autumn

    This is amazing!! I took two semesters of ASL in school and I loved getting to know more about Deaf culture and the community. I think ASL is a very beautiful language even if I was very poor at it. I would love to have Deaf friends though if I had the option. We might have a very lovely texting conversation :).

  • Brooke

    What a great adventure (bunch of adventures)! I did not know the term ‘hearing impaired’ was offensive, thanks for telling me! My sister-in-law has traveled around a lot of the world. She got her degree in Spanish education, so has mostly traveled in Spanish-speaking countries. It’s so cool when you can connect with someone from another culture through language.

  • Els

    Really interesting article, great to read that you meet up with other deaf people around the world. It must have been great to exchange experiences. I am hearing, but would definitely be open to meet up with people from the deaf community, why not? Apart from the hearing, I assume you are no different than people who can hear? And I might be able to learn some interesting things!

  • karla

    What an awesome read. I once stayed in a hotel who employed the deaf. As a briefing they had a simple sign language board posted all around for you to communicate with the staff. Everyone except the receptionist was deaf/ mute. It was I would say a different experience all together but I appreciated it. I like what you are doing by the way, traveling, learning and all .Keep it up

  • Chris

    Wow, this is the first post I have read from a deaf backpackers perspective!

    Hopefully you guys will continue to prove an inspiration to others that it is no barrier!

    Awesome stuff

  • Natalie Deduck

    Congrats Guys!!
    Loved the way you are venturing yourselves, and the challenges you might face during your travels!!
    You should start a project to connect Deaf people around, maybe posting on your facebook and twitter your travel itinerary and organize meetings around the country and town you visit… I´m sure your message could spread very fast, and many people would love to meet you two.
    Happy travels,

    Nat

  • Claudia

    This is a very interesting post for someone who knows virtually nothing about the deaf community! I did realise there would be various varieties of sign language, but… not to this extent!

    To answer your question: of course I’d be keen to meet deaf people. But why do you say that the expression hearing impaired is offensive? I really have no idea why so I am curious to find out 🙂

  • Kimberly Erin

    wow, how cool and inspiring are you guys! Its great that you guys can meet up with other people all over the world, and you probably get some sweet insight into the real culture of each place. Love the locals.

  • Carolann & Macrae - One Modern Couple

    It is so amazing to find a sense of community when travelling – no matter what that community may be. We would definitely be open-minded about meeting Deaf people – we love meeting new people wherever we go and learning about similarities that bring all of us together and the differences that make us unique!

  • james @theglobewanderers

    How inspiring and what an awesome post.
    I’m a little ashamed to say I didn’t realise sign language was different around the world (hang my head in narrow-minded shame).
    Looks like you had an amazing time and I’d like to think, yes I’d be open minded.
    Travel for me, is all about the people. It’s so often the people that make the place and create the memories that last forever. Language barriers have never proved a problem so communicating with somebody Deaf is no different.
    I will however (since reading this post) go forth and travel with more awareness 🙂
    Looking forward to reading more posts.

  • Milosz Zak

    Oh my god! This blog is amazing! You’re an inspiration to everyone out there. It is too bad there are so many countries out there that are not that well predisposed to people’s with hearing disabilities. I’ve liked you all across social media, keep on traveling!

  • Gemma Two Scots Abroad

    Another magic post guys. Loving the monument celebrating Deaf school in Taiwan. So why is ‘hearing impaired’ un-PC?

    One of my students back home is partially deaf and was telling me that she practices sign language with a friend over Skpe. Pretty neat.

    What’s been the most Deaf friendly country you’ve been to and the least?

  • victoria

    I love this post very interesting it seems we always want to connect with people we have things in common with when we travel. I respecting to those deaf people

  • Carrie

    This is an old post – but I LOVE meeting Deaf when I travel! I am hearing, but know a good bit of ASL. You’re right. Between ASL and just getting gestures, it is easy to connect with Deaf anywhere I go. China was hardest – I think their signs might be based on their written language, so they were harder to guess. But even there, the couple I met were SO happy to chat with me. I’ve met Deaf in Mongolia, Kazakhstan, China, and this week in Portugal. Here, the lady’s daughter kept telling me, “Oh, she didn’t go to school. She can’t really sign.” But I kept chatting with her mom, and her mom was signing pidgin I guess, but we enjoyed chatting with each other, too.

    The Deaf are the easiest people for me to communicate with everywhere I go!

  • Lebene

    Thanks for this blog post, I was really curious about different sign language communication. Is it the same as spoken language when you forget the word in one sign language your brain keeps trying to throw the word at you in the next language stored in your brain? Though you said you only sign ASL and IS I think.

    I’ve wanted to study bsl since i was 11 but only ever did a short poor funded stint in school and a fun evening taster class. I need to save money to learn it in evening school because it’s very expensive, more expensive than spoken language courses.