By Yara Matar (YES 2018-2019, Gaza, hosted by AFS in Silver Spring, MD)
The day I registered at my host school, my counselor showed me many languages offered as class subjects, including American Sign Language (ASL). Languages have always interested me and I was very curious not only about sign language, but deaf culture overall. I knew little about deaf history before I made it into the YES program. My first orientation with AFS (my placement organization) had ASL interpreters, and that day I discovered my passion.
Living in the US helped me develop a passion for ASL and how it connects to music and art. I remember watching "Wicked" on Broadway and the musical had three ASL interpreters. I watched them the whole time, and observed every sign they made and how it added a unique beauty to the music. What I love the most about sign language is its beauty, when signers add the right body language and facial expressions to the signs.
I am also very thankful for my exchange year because I learned to appreciate good music. This past November, my host mom bought us movie tickets to see, "Bohemian Rhapsody,” and as I watched it four times in theater, I fell in love with Queen, and how Freddie Mercury can still evoke such energy with his music after so many years. Queen lives on because they are different, they are "four misfits who belong to the audience" as Freddie described.
One day, I cut out signs to write a few of the lyrics of "Killer Queen" in ASL, and I had a lot of fun. I felt that Queen and ASL complimented each other well, so I started cutting more signs and pasting them on my water bottle, room, wall, school binder, and the stairs – everywhere! After doing several of these small projects, I decided to make Queen’s entire song, “Cool Cat,” into ASL signs, and it had the same colors of the "Bohemian Rhapsody" movie cover.
When I was in the US, I realized that deaf people can do whatever they want, and be whoever they want. The deaf community in the US has so much support and resources. It made me very sad to think that deaf people in my country have so much potential that they are unable to fulfill do to the lack of opportunities. I noticed that other countries have deaf exchange students, and I want the same for my country.
When recruitment starts this year, I offered to present at deaf schools in Gaza about the YES program. I want them to know that they can apply and live a unique experience in a place where they can go the extra mile to explore their passions. Hopefully, we'll have our first Gazan deaf exchange student soon.