Where are they now?

Samantha Cohen understands the challenges of learning to hear and speak with the aid of cochlear implants. She spent much of her childhood here at the Center for Hearing and Communication participating in intensive auditory-oral therapy.

Now she’s a junior at Cornell studying in Spain for the semester. She reached out to CHC to share her experiences abroad, particularly her role as an English tutor for a six-year old boy with cochlear implants. It’s been a unique opportunity to experience speech therapy from the other side. Thanks, Samantha, for reaching out!

Guest Blogger: Samantha Cohen

My name is Samantha. I am 21 years old and I am one of the thousands of American students studying in Spain for the semester. I am living with a Sevillano family and taking my classes at the University of Sevilla. Oh, and I am also deaf.

Learning a new language is difficult. And for deaf people, it is very difficult. The mouth forms different shapes and the sounds it emits are stranger. For hearing people, learning a new language can be like learning the lyrics to a new song that you hear on the radio. For deaf people, we have to pause the music and practice the words one by one. We are always struggling to capture the words while they run away from us. It requires a lot of time and energy. To say the least, it is a complex process, and on occasions, frustrating.

I have been studying Spanish for 8 years. I have participated in an exchange program in Argentina, I have declared it as a minor, have written 10 page essays for classes, and yet, in spite of it all, I am still nervous to have conversations with my professors, classmates, waiters, and new friends. Everyone had told me that my arrival in Sevilla would signify a turning point, that the immersion that our study abroad program offers would help me. But in reality, the first few weeks were very difficult.

This changed when I began my voluntary work at T-Oigo and met Diego. Diego is 6 years old and like me, has cochlear implants. My role in the program is to be an English tutor for one day each week and assist him with his studies. However, our relationship is not one-sided. The experience has evolved into a type of exchange. With Diego, I am also learning, especially with how to accept my frustration. We play games and practice basic English vocabulary. When I teach him to say “high five!” he teaches me to say “¡Choca esos cinco!”

Through my relationship with Diego, I am gaining a new understanding of my own childhood. With each word repetition with Diego, I remember practicing speech exercises with my mom and speech therapist. We never finished on the first try; we practiced it ten times if necessary and again the following week. With Diego, I can see the dedication and patience that my parents and teachers had with me. Elena, Diego’s mom, frequently asks me questions such as, “Did you ever have problems in class? Were you ever teased? What did you do?” Her questions transport me to earlier years and encourage me to reflect on my own experiences.

When my mom and twin brother (who is also deaf) came to Sevilla to visit me in March, Elena and I organized a meeting for our families to meet. We had the opportunity to share our experiences and talk about the complex world of hearing loss. That day meeting was one of the most memorable of the experiences I have had during my time in Sevilla.

Yes, it is very frustrating to have to work harder than most to reach the same goal. Repeating the same thing once and again is a tedious process that requires a lot of time and patience. However, the reward is significant.

My experience with Diego has taught me to accept my frustration with learning Spanish. Despite the fact that I am aware that the frustration won’t go away any time soon, I’m not ready to give up. Just as I learned to speak English, I will someday master the Spanish language. Here I am studying in Sevilla, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to, participating in the T-Oigo program and spending time with Diego.

I like to think that perhaps one day Diego will study in the United States.

Hear from another CHC alum

Victoria Worcester, deaf since the age of 3 and a half, is a senior in high school with a bright future and a generous heart. She received services at CHC as a child and recently interned with us so she could give back to CHC families. She shares her story in this life-affirming video.

Learn about CHC’s programs for children w/hearing loss »