Study Abroad in Jamaica Opens New World to Deaf Student

Kalika Lacy became the first student with disabilities to participate in an Engineering Study Abroad trip when she joined eight other students on a journey to Jamaica over Winter Break.

This milestone carried two-way benefits: Lacy, a deaf First-Year Engineering student, learned about deaf culture and Jamaican culture. She also contributed valuable insight to a project to bridge communication between deaf and non-signing people.

The Global Engineering Programs and Partnerships staff arranged the Short Term Engineering Program (STEP) Abroad trip to introduce the students to Jamaican culture. A focal point was enabling an EPICS team to implement an app it had developed for Deaf Can! Coffee — a social enterprise in Jamaica, operated by deaf baristas — to help non-signing customers place orders and learn sign language in the process.

For Lacy, the experience was eye-opening and mouth-watering. She found out firsthand what it’s like to be deaf in Jamaica, made new friends, sampled local cuisine, and saw the sights. And she came away inspired.

Making it all possible was GEP2 Program Assistant Rhonda Haan. Her responsibilities included coordinating with a Deaf Can! Coffee representative and the EPICS team leader, helping students complete forms, ensuring they had passports and met visa requirements, ordering insurance for participants, scheduling transportation, preparing a budget and tracking expenses, and holding a pre-departure class for the students. She also arranged with Purdue’s Disability Resource Center for an interpreter to accompany Lacy.

“I love gathering and organizing information and then meeting with the faculty and students and making contacts in other countries,” Haan says. “I am blown away by all the opportunities available to the engineering students. Hands-on experience like this is invaluable.”

Deaf Jamaicans at the Deaf Can Coffee House
The Deaf Can! coffee house in Jamaica.

Proving the last point, Lacy shares impressions of her first trip outside the U.S.

Did your Study Abroad experience meet or exceed your expectations?

It definitely exceeded my expectations! Honestly, I was nervous and didn’t know exactly what to expect. But once I landed, Jamaica instantly blew me away.

What was your favorite part of the trip?

Hmm, tough question. Probably drinking their delicious coffee! Eating a fish eye also was one of my memorable moments. Food in Jamaica was different from here in America, so I really enjoyed trying new food. My favorite Jamaican food is definitely festival (Jamaican bread).

On a more serious note, meeting people from Jamaica was my favorite part of the trip. I really enjoyed having conversations with them and listening to their life stories.

What did you learn about the people of Jamaica?

I learned that living in Jamaica as a deaf person is completely different from living in the United States as a deaf person. For example, deaf Americans have the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) to protect their rights to have access to communication. The ADA enabled me to have an interpreter for my trip to Jamaica, whereas Jamaica often doesn’t require organizations to provide an interpreter, so many deaf Jamaicans go to college in America.

One thing I found interesting is that Jamaica has a small area called Jamaican Deaf Village, whose purpose is to help deaf Jamaicans learn and grow. Usually, after graduating from high school, deaf Jamaicans move to the Deaf Village for a couple of years to learn essential skills and prepare for the future.

Did you feel there was a good mixture of cultural and educational opportunities on the trip?

Yes. Nearly all of the activities were both cultural and educational. Deaf Can! Coffee’s motto is “Deaf people can do anything,” and every action Jamaican people took reflected this quote. I love it when people learn about the deaf culture/community and change their perspective on the word “deafness” from a type of disability to an identity. The deaf culture is like a backdoor: Nobody knows it’s there, but once you open the door, it will lead you into a different world with a remarkable culture.

What else did you gain from your Study Abroad experience?

Taking part in this trip inspired me to join EPICS. I’m currently working with a team to develop an app to enhance communication between Indiana School for the Deaf (ISD) teachers and the parents of their students.

Are you looking forward to visiting Jamaica again?

Yes! I plan to return with friends. I look forward to visiting with the amazing deaf baristas and other people I met. Until then, we are staying in touch through social media.

Will you go on another Study Abroad trip?

Oh yeah! I just applied for the GEARE (Global Engineering Alliance for Research and Education) program because the trip to Jamaica gave me the confidence to enjoy studying abroad. Thankfully, I’m only a freshman, so I can plan some Study Abroad trips ahead of time. I’m thinking of visiting the United Kingdom, China and South Korea. Many choices! I’m so excited.

A closing note: Nusaybah Abu-Mulaweh, who led the Study Abroad group in Jamaica and advises the EPICS team Lacy joined, says: “It was a pleasure to have her on the trip. Her perspective as a deaf engineering student is very valuable.”

EPICS team
EPICS team that implemented an app it had developed for Deaf Can! Coffee