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April 26, 2003

Teen bridges deaf, hearing cultures

From: Knoxville News Sentinel, TN - Apr 26, 2003

Student anticipates Australian adventure

April 26, 2003

Jesse Fuller this summer will visit the outback, do some bush walking, meet dignitaries and possibly climb the Sidney Harbor Bridge in Australia along with 14 other students from the Knoxville area.

Climbing the bridge, though, might be a challenge. He'll have to read the lips of the instructor giving them directions and he might not catch it all.

The challenge though, is one he is ready to face, he said.

"I feel that I can show that deaf people can join the hearing group and go on this adventure," he signed.

A 10th-grader from the Tennessee School for the Deaf, Jesse has been chosen for People to People, a student ambassador program designed to take junior high and high school students around the world to experience other cultures and also earn school credit.

Jesse is the only deaf student traveling from Tennessee, and he'll be going without an interpreter.

"I want to show that I can write and communicate with people and I don't need assistance," he said.

He is aware, he said, that there might be some people on the trip who will think he's not normal.

"They'll stare and even turn up their noses," he said. He's up for it, he added.

"I'm excited because I can go out of the country," he said. "I'm curious to be in a culture different from America. I want to see what's out there."

President Dwight Eisenhower started the program in 1956. He believed that if people could visit each other's homes, schools and places of worship, then misunderstandings, misperceptions and resulting suspicion would disappear.

Twenty thousand students will be traveling with the program this summer to various parts of the world, 8,000 of whom are going to Australia.

There are 53 students from Knoxville and 67 from Chattanooga going to Australia, said Kim Gruman, associate program manager.

Jesse hopes to also educate the hearing about the deaf community and change their misconceptions about the deaf.

"They will say, 'Wow.' They'll be shocked that the deaf are the same as the hearing," he said.

Along with representing the United States and the deaf community, he also wants to connect with deaf Australian people.

"Hopefully I'll be able to do a home stay," he said. "I'm hoping we can have an opportunity but I'm afraid it won't be as much as I want."

He'll be traveling with a hearing buddy from Gatlinburg who will help write down the information Jesse might miss. His delegation will be there from June 5 to 24.

Jesse has raised approximately half of the $4,500 budget, $800 by donations and $2,000 out of pocket. He has a May 13 deadline to raise the rest.

He looks forward to celebrating his 16th birthday by swimming near the Great Barrier Reef, he said. But until then, he has one more roadblock to overcome before the trip: getting permission to climb the bridge.

But his mother, Jayne Fuller, believes he can do that, also.

"He struggled against the interpreter problem and that's solved."

Now they're working on the bridge-climbing activity, she said.

"I'm not going to give up," Jesse said.

Lola Alapo may be reached at 865-342-6376.

Copyright 2003, Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.