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May 6, 2004

Deaf students return home from an enlightening trip to Russia

From: Alameda Times-Star, CA - May 6, 2004

Journey includes sightseeing, making

By Jennifer Kho, STAFF WRITER

FREMONT -- California School for the Deaf student Justin Jackerson said his first impression of Russia was that it was dark.

"There was a darkness about it," he said. "It was cloudy, too, but there was just a dark feeling. People's expressions were very blank, and it was almost like communism again."

That impression changed as Jackerson and 15 of his high school classmates spent spring break visiting Moscow and St. Petersburg, with a quick stop in Stockholm, Sweden. The international studies students visited historic and cultural sights, such as Red Square, the KGB Museum, St. Basil's Cathedral, the Kremlin and the State Hermitage Museum.

They also toured the Moscow School for the Deaf, where they met Russian deaf students, and visited the Cosmonaut Space Museum and the memorial to deaf rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.

"We visited Red Square and saw how colorful and beautiful it was," said Jackerson, who had never been out of the United States before. "And St. Petersburg was a lot more European than Moscow, with a lot more variety about it. Wow, it was a really good experience!"

Erica Wilkins, who had already participated in two other international school trips, said she still experienced culture shock when she went to Russia.

"It was a wonderful experience," she said. "I learned so much about their way of life, and it was so different. I saw for real all the things I had learned here."

She particularly appreciated the country's rich history and the clothing styles, she said.

"They dress really nice," she said. "They wear high heels often, and you only see a few pairs of jeans, and a lot of black clothes and black jackets. They are very stylish."

She was surprised by how many people smoked, she said, adding that she returned with greater appreciation for the clean air in the United States.

Also, the Moscow deaf school has far fewer resources than the school in Fremont, students said.

Several students said that one of the most interesting parts of the trip was meeting deaf students at the Moscow School for the Deaf, and added that they plan to keep in touch.

"At first everyone was kind of shy, but then we broke the ice and started talking with each other," Wilkins said. "I remember I was just very shocked by their interesting way of life. And they kept asking us, 'What's different? What's it like? What's America like?'"

But the students also found some similarities.

"I know the deaf kids do have a lot of get-togethers and social activities, so that is the same," she said. "And because the deaf tend to gestures and can read facial expressions, we had an easier time communicating. Hearing people are not used to that and don't understand each other as easily."

The students studied basic Russian Sign Language before the trip, as well as written Cyrillic, Russian history, culture, literature, architecture, science and religion.

Teacher David Call said the students had mixed opinions about the food and felt rushed by the trip's tight schedule. Jackerson found the food bland, while Wilkins liked it, for instance. Some other students went to McDonald's, Call said with a laugh.

But overall, the trip was a terrific success, he said.

"The trip opened their eyes to the world, and now they're more interested and they want to travel and learn more," he said. "They were so curious because it was such a different world for them -- the way they dressed, their homes, how they drove, everything. The students have become culturally and artistically sophisticated now."

©2004 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers