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Deaf Chileans Are Hungry For Better Lives

David Wiesblatt, a senior majoring in deaf studies, interned this summer at the Apostol School for the Deaf in Santiago, Chile, where approximately 150 students, kindergarten to grade 8, are enrolled.

The students learn through a combination of Chilean Sign Language and Spanish. Wiesblatt quickly learned Chilean sign and used it to teach math, geography, English, Canadian and U.S. history, and deaf studies and culture. He also observed several classes and gave feedback to teachers.

Deaf Chileans “are beautiful and loving people, but they are hungry for better lives,” said Wiesblatt. He gave numerous community presentations about deaf history and culture at the University of Chile and elementary schools for deaf students, which proved to be a particularly enriching component of his summer internship, he said. “Many members of the audience were very interested in my presentations and asked me challenging questions, such as: ‘How can I explain to my mom that I do not want to have a cochlear implant? My parents won’t let me have a deaf boyfriend, how can I make them understand?’ I was so proud to be able to answer them-thanks to having received the best education-from Gallaudet!”

Wiesblatt also teamed up with Fernando Ayala, a 2008 graduate of Gallaudet who resides in Santiago, to make what is believed to be the first documentary film about deaf Chileans. “It was a great pleasure to make this possible in addition to my internship experience,” said Wiesblatt.

When the school observed holidays, Wiesblatt took the opportunity to explore northern Chile’s history and culture. After a two-day journey by bus, he arrived in a desert region that is one of the driest places on earth. “I learned so much from the natives living there and how they adapt to such an extreme climate,” he said. Wiesblatt also enjoyed meeting people in Buenos Aires and walking in the historic Tango Dance District. Just before going back to Santiago for his presentation at the university, he went to Montevideo, Uruguay, to teach high school students about deaf culture and history, leadership, and self-esteem issues, and to meet staff and students in Montevideo’s interpreter program. “I shared some of my ideas and work such as deaf poetry with the professors for four days,” he said.

“I have never had learned so much in just a few months as I did in Chile,” said Wiesblatt. “I learned Chilean Sign Language, Spanish, and the culture and customs of the people. I would like to thank Gallaudet for making this internship possible. I hope the University will continue to do so to educate and encourage deaf Chileans and to promote the dynamics of Gallaudet University’s uniqueness.”

Wiesblatt also expressed his appreciation to the University’s Career Center and to International Deaf Partnerships for sponsoring him on the internship, to Ayala and his family for hosting him during his time in Chile, and to Gallaudet faculty members Dr. Cristina Berdichevsky, Dr. Arlene B. Kelly, and Dr. Carolyn McCaskill for staying in touch with him during the internship to support him in meeting his goals. Finally, he said he owes a debt of gratitude to his wife, Jeanine, and his daughter, Kayla, “for their personal sacrifices throughout the summer without me.”

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