How traveling has made me more open and confident with hearing loss
Growing up, I hid behind my hearing loss because I used to have people get frustrated with me when I would say “what?” repeatedly.
If I mentioned that I had a hearing loss, I would have people slow down the rate at which they spoke to me and enunciate words extra carefully as if I was not competent enough to understand what they were saying. Regardless, I decided that in my year of traveling, I would tackle my hearing loss head-on. I mean, really, what did I have to lose?
I’d already experienced some pretty heart-wrenching moments in exposing my truth. Here, in traveling with a group, there is no hiding, just being vulnerable, open and honest with yourself and others. It’s a weird and comforting feeling. I had to basically expose myself two days into traveling when I was asked to present my passion project. My project is to learn about deaf and hard of hearing cultures in different parts of the world. Talk about terrifying. But nobody even flinched. People were embracive and welcoming. As I’ve started to wear my hair up more, nobody looks at me in a funny way or talks to me as if I’m unintelligent. It’s a new feeling, a newfound confidence, one that I’m incredibly grateful for.
“I’ve started wearing my hair up more, nobody looks at me funny, or talks to me as if I’m unintelligent. It’s a new feeling, a newfound confidence, one that I’m incredibly grateful for. “
Hearing loss not defining me
In a world where we’re criticized for our looks, intelligence, socioeconomic status, and more, it’s easy to lose yourself and sight of who you are. I have to tell you, it is the most refreshing feeling to not feel like I’m having to prove myself in one way or another. Here, we’re not identified by our careers, looks, intelligence level, or income. Initially, as I am one of the younger ones in the group, I was super intimidated by the others in the group. They’re all super accomplished people, in more ways than one.
We’re all figuring something out. And most incredibly, we have something to learn from each other and something to offer each other. Having something to offer to others was not something I ever really viewed myself as having. I’m still not entirely sure what I have to offer. But I do know these people tolerate me and are genuine towards me, so there must be something, right?
How being open about my hearing loss has helped me
In being more open about my hearing loss with those around me, I’ve become more aware of my strengths that are a result of it. My ability to read visual cues and my ability to communicate when the spoken language between parties is different, have put me at an advantage over my hearing peers while traveling in foreign countries. At moments, I almost feel more comfortable connecting with foreigners than I do with those who speak English. This is because we’re on the same playing field of not being able to understand each other perfectly.
Additionally, as I know the struggle of not understanding someone, I think I have a higher tolerance for mishaps that may happen due to a language barrier. I’m more patient than some around me when it comes to general cultural differences. I’ve always felt like an outcast, but when you’re traveling and are immersed in someone else’s world, those who are not always the outcast, now become the outcast. I’m able to empathize with these people and hopefully guide them through the discomfort or unknown.
“I’m more patient than some around me when it comes to general cultural differences. I’ve always felt like an outcast, but when you’re traveling and are immersed in someone else’s world, those who are not always the outcast, now become the outcast.”
In challenging myself to learn about the deaf and hard of hearing cultures in different parts of the world, I’m opening myself up to learning about countries from an angle many may never experience. It gives a more personal and intimate touch to the travel experience.
Traveling challenges all of our five senses, but I think most prominent is our sense of sight. I think it’s important to reiterate that this is something all of us, hearing, deaf, or hard of hearing needs to accept and realize as something we have in common, and in that is something we need to share with each other!
Daily, I’m immersed in some new setting where I have to be visually aware of my surroundings. Surroundings being the people, the interactions, the street signs, etc., all of which can challenge your way of thinking, learning, and communicating.
Traveling has the ability to teach you about yourself. You become more visually aware of your habits by immersing yourself in another culture and by living with different people. You learn about the things that you could change about yourself. Also, how you have the ability to challenge and be challenged by those around you.
“Traveling has the ability to teach you about yourself.”
The short summary of all of this is that I’m realizing it’s okay to be vulnerable, to be an open book. It’s okay to be scared, and you’ll realize that in being unplugged, the ones who are truly there for you will come to the surface. Those that do not, are not worth it. Kind of an unfortunate feeling to come to terms with that but also the best feeling if that’s even possible. Freeing is the word I should use.
The experiences I’ve encountered in traveling have shown me how much I stayed in my shell back home. I’m becoming way more prideful of my hearing loss and my unique gifts.
My hope is that maybe this will inspire you to be more vocal and truthful to yourself and to those around you!
Do you feel that traveling can make you more open and confident about your hearing loss? Let us know in the comments.
She plays soccer for the USA Women's National Deaf Team. She's currently traveling the world in pursuit of adventure and perspective while also learning about the deaf and hard of hearing communities in various countries. Her travels can be followed on instagram @ashley5chanel or on her blog deaftattooedandemployed.com.
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