February 26th, 2015 by Jessica | Tags: Accommodations, College, Life, School, Social Life, Sports | Comments Off
My mom and Sam’s mom met in the CI Circle many years ago and became friends. Sam and I had never met in person until we attended the AG BELL Leadership Opportunities for Teens Program (LOFT) in July 2013. While Sam and I have not seen each other since the Northeast Cochlear Convention, we’ve stayed in touch with each other through Facebook. Sam decided to write about his experiences as a sophomore at Bates College in Maine.
As a sophomore in college, it’s safe to say that I’ve settled into my campus environment both inside and outside of the classroom. One of the tougher parts about the transition to college was starting all over again with introducing my hearing loss to new people and helping them understand the situations and noise environments that sometimes hold me back. The majority of my graduating class was with people I had grown up with and known since the beginning of elementary school. Growing up being one of the only kids in my entire school with hearing loss was not always a walk in the park, but my classmates, teachers, and family were unconditionally patient and supportive. I was really anxious about migrating from my high school where everyone always knew about my hearing loss to college, where I was starting fresh and everyone was new and had all different levels of exposure to hearing loss.
In (what felt like) no time at all after arriving at college, I had found a friend group, got closer to my new golf teammates, and slowly felt the anxiety surrounding the college transition peel away. At first, I didn’t know how to handle telling people about my hearing loss. I wasn’t sure whether to bring it up to them first, or to wait until they asked about it. It wasn’t until about 2 weeks in when we were all hanging out and just chatting that I brought it up and soon realized that most people are curious about the devices that are clearly visible on my head, but they’re really afraid to ask for fear of offending me or making me feel self conscious. Once my friends knew my basic life story with regard to my hearing loss and were comfortable asking me questions, I could finally take a deep breath.
After reaching this checkpoint, my confidence and insecurities soon melted away. Once I stopped worrying about how others perceived my hearing loss, I started figuring out the best ways to deal with my hearing loss in different situations. Socially, I learned valuable lessons, such as how to ask for help from my friends when I’m not hearing everything, that I should be up front with my friends in telling them what they can do to help me hear the conversation, and that sometimes you have to call people out and help them understand that even missing a sentence or two can make me fall way behind in a conversation. The biggest thing I learned about social situations is to not take the small things personally. I realized that most of the people I’m around at college have never had experience with hearing loss, so I shouldn’t put the blame on them, rather, I should see it as an opportunity to educate them and help them see that I need some help in order to succeed and prosper in an environment where everyone else has their hearing.
Adjusting to new professors and classes didn’t take quite as long, since most of the classes I’ve taken so far are the same lecture style kind of classes. It didn’t take long to realize that one the greatest things about going to a small school is the small class sizes. I’ve heard stories from high school friends who have lectures that are several hundred students large, whereas the biggest class at my school – introductory chemistry – had only 60 students. Similar to friends and peers, the only way to get the help I need from my professors is to ask for it. I’ve made it routine to approach my professor after the first class of the semester, introduce myself with a handshake, and tell them exactly what I need from them in order to excel. One thing I can’t stress enough with professors is to be confident and clear, I try to avoid “suggesting” things or asking the professor if they can do these things to help me. It’s not a question, I’m not “suggesting” that I want to succeed in the class, I’m telling the professor exactly what I need so that I have the same opportunity as my fellow classmates to perform academically. I think that giving my professor a name and face from the beginning significantly increases the consistency of the professor in making the small changes to help, rather than relying on the disabilities coordinator to notify the professor after the semester has already started. The best thing I’ve ever done to help with my hearing loss in the classroom setting is learned how to form relationships with professors and get to a point where I’m not just another face in the classroom, my professor knows who I am and knows how to help.
Going to college was the first time that I was living with, going to school with, and socializing with an entirely new group of people who didn’t know my hearing loss. While it’s true that I would be worse off without the help and support of my friends, classmates, and professors, it’s important to give myself some credit and know that above all, none of this would be possible without myself. The help and support I get, whether that be with academics, social life, or athletics, is similar to my cochlear implants in that both are helpful and necessary for the life I’m currently living, but neither is perfect. Perseverance, hard work, and a good attitude have filled in the gaps between what my implants help me hear and what others hear. Sometimes I have to work harder to be on the same level as my classmates and friends, but when I reach my goal I know it will all be worth it.
Bio – Sam M. is a sophomore at Bates College, currently majoring in neuroscience with a minor in philosophy. He plays on the ultimate Frisbee team and the varsity golf team. Sam was diagnosed with profound hearing loss at fifteen months old and wore hearing aids until getting bilateral cochlear implants nine years ago. When he’s not away at school, Sam lives with his family in New Hampshire, including an older brother who is also deaf with bilateral cochlear implants.