The anticipation leading up to my departure for the Dominican Republic as a Fulbright U.S. Student Study/Research award recipient is something I remember vividly. While I dreamt of the ways that my research would have an impact on my host community, I had no idea that it would also end up having an impact on me. Some may call it serendipity, others may call it a blessing, but I now realize how the Fulbright “piece” was the perfect fit to the “puzzle” of my soon-to-be professional life.
I began constructing my puzzle in high school by taking sign language classes and added another piece during college through an intensive Spanish immersion program in Costa Rica. Due to these experiences, I chose to double major in American Sign Language/English interpretation and international studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Yet, as I progressed in my undergraduate career, I struggled to see how these pieces fit together. How was it possible to apply a language that is uniquely American to the international community? When my professor approached me about an opportunity to apply for a Fulbright award, I knew this was my chance.
Shortly after I heard about Fulbright, I worked as an intern in the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Education. Over the summer of 2014, I had the opportunity to meet members of the Dominican Deaf community. To my surprise, I discovered that American Sign Language and Dominican Sign Language were not that different after all. Suddenly, something that I had previously thought restricted me professionally to the United States, gave me an international connection to the Dominican Deaf community and a foundation for a Fulbright proposal.
When I returned to the Dominican Republic as a Fulbrighter, I contributed to the ongoing endeavor of establishing an interpreter training program in collaboration with the National Interpreting Association and the National Association for the Deaf. I investigated and assessed the current sign language interpreting services available to the Deaf community. Through interviews with Dominican Deaf community members and interpreters, field work, and observations, I was able to identify interpreting service deficiencies while also providing the Interpreting Association with recommendations that would enable interpreters to better serve and empower the local Deaf community.
Outside of my research, I connected with my host community by attending local Deaf events and by volunteering my interpreting services. Community engagement was one of the most rewarding parts of my Fulbright experience. Not only did it provide me with an opportunity to conduct valuable field research, but it also allowed me to connect with colleagues and new friends in a way that was natural and spontaneous.
By the conclusion of my Fulbright, I had acquired skills and strengthened the skills of others. I was able to create connections, improve my research methods, efficiently manage my time, and combine my interests. Most importantly, I was given an opportunity to make a lasting impact in my host community and gain a better understanding of the complexities Deaf communities face in developing countries.
As my Fulbright came to a close, I desired to continue working with the Deaf community internationally but was unsure of how to do so. I soon found out that Fulbright would, yet again, add another piece to my puzzle.
In another bout of serendipity, a position became available with Discovering Deaf Worlds (DDW), a non-profit organization that focuses on advancing the self determination of signing Deaf communities by strengthening local capacity in developing countries. I had been a longtime supporter of the organization and joining their team was a dream of mine. They would soon be starting a program promoting the social inclusion of the Deaf in the Dominican Republic and were in search of a Program Director. While slightly intimidated by the position, my experience working with the Dominican Deaf Community through my Fulbright award gave me the confidence to apply.
I’m glad to say that by leveraging my Fulbright experience I am now the newest member of the DDW team. We are currently working with the Dominican Deaf Community to provide organizational development, process consultation, and human rights training to improve the sustainability of the Dominican Republic’s National Deaf Association and its Deaf leadership. I am humbled by this opportunity to continue to support Deaf communities internationally in their efforts for access and equality.
My Fulbright experience opened my eyes to future possibilities and gave me the confidence to know that I can, and will continue to, find ways to intertwine my passions.
Fulbright helped me complete my professional “puzzle.” How will it complete yours?
Have questions for History about her Fulbright experiences in the Dominican Republic and as a Fulbright Alumni Ambassador? You can reach her at H.Estill-Varner.firstname.lastname@example.org.