Becky Fenton-Ree: Leaving British Deaf culture behind, and looking for it in America!

Posted on May 17, 2013



I’m staring at six suitcases in our huge hire car.

My just-turned two year old toddler is fidgeting with her dolly in her car seat whilst my husband is repeatedly checking passports and the mammoth pile of paperwork in the driving seat.

Meanwhile, I’m sat looking at our military home with nostalgia; it was the house our daughter was born and raised in.

I’ve already done an emotional farewell to family and friends who travelled to our farewell party and so it’s off down the M1 to Heathrow Airport with me bawling most of the way down the M1.

You see, I’m leaving the UK for the next 3-5 years to “live the dream” in America as my military husband, out of hundreds of others, was offered his dream job working in the states along with eleven other British families.

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As a military wife, you are expected to move regularly and within a 3month notice; I’ve already moved house 3 times since 2010 so I’m quite accustomed to relocating and searching out the local Deaf Community.

However, this time I was leaving behind the British Deaf community, that has been a part of mine and my family’s life since 1990.

I am hearing, and so are my family, but my mum was a Deaf Club committee member, and growing up, she always instilled in me the importance of volunteer work and giving back to the Deaf community – as without them accepting our family into their world, we would have never have had the opportunity to be a part of their community or develop our signing skills.

So I have always been a part of the Deaf Club, serving on the committee and often acting as secretary by speed typing the AGM notes whilst watching the signing, or doing the phone calls to arrange events and socials. I have been part of a Deaf club or a committee since I was 12.

Since I was 18, I spent every holiday or opportunity being actively involved in the Deaf Community (UK Volunteer work with FYD (Friends of the Young Deaf) or in the States with Deaf Children, learning and appreciating International Sign Language on a trip to Europe, attending and practicing more ISL at the WFD conference in Australia, meeting local Deaf people in New Zealand or attending many UK Deaf events.

My motive for attending events or volunteering was never as a way to improve my BSL but as an opportunity to socialise and see friends, as I had done since I was 12.

I soon started to ‘see’ my thoughts visually and realised how much BSL had tapped into a strength that hadn’t really been developed before especially at school (Maths, English and the rest of the curriculum subjects which were often not conveyed visually so I had struggled at Secondary School at GCSE level but by the time I did my my A-Levels, I created study notes in a visual manner and received much better results).

After A-levels, I trained as an interpreter but soon found myself teaching BSL and surprisingly enjoyed it more than the interpreting. Perhaps it was because I could appreciate their hearing methods of learning and tweak them for a visual language; something I had indadvertedly done whilst studying but it never became obvious until I started teaching and explaining the visual process.

Even within my home life, my family can all sign (a few are not to the same fluency but enough to maintain a conversation) so whenever my extended Deaf family or friends would arrive, the whole dinner table would be signing and talking – despite the majority of the table being hearing!

My hearing husband’s first girlfriend was profoundly deaf, so he could be comfortably left at the Deaf Club bar holding a ‘visual’ discussion using his rudimentary signs whilst enjoying his pint! When we found out that my new brother’s girlfriend had gained Level 2 we knew she would fit into the family immediately.

So as you can tell, I was leaving so much behind.

All our family and friends told me moving to America was an amazing opportunity for my toddler to grow up in the outdoors, how it would do wonders for my husband’s career and how it would give me chance to raise our child and have an adventure.

But unlike any other UK military posting, I was leaving behind a ready-made community; a social life; a job that I loved!

We had to first fly to the capital and sort out paperwork but after a short weekend and some sight-seeing, we arrived in a very small regional airport and found our hire car and checked into our hotel.

The next 3 weeks saw us travelling 100miles a week looking for houses to live in and a car to buy. It was google-a-thon and made worse with a toddler who resented her car seat and hated the high humidity and the 80F temperatures.

After nearly 4 weeks of looking for a home, a house came up and we went to view it. I was undecided, and we left the property and took a different turn out of the street to see a sign.

‘Caution Deaf Child.’

With that, my husband raised an eyebrow and said to me “that is a sign to take the house!”.

The next day, we went to chat to the estate agent (or Realtor as they are called here) and we got chatting. It turned out the house belongs to her son who was learning ASL at the local college and she said she would pass on my details for him to get in contact. Cue another raised eyebrow from my husband!

We signed the lease and our embassy furniture pack arrived shortly followed by a very small crate of our prized belongings that we had chosen to keep with us for the next 5 years.

Our new life begins here.

This is part one of Becky’s diary of her search for American Deaf culture. Look out for the next instalment soon!

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