Grant lets student study German sign language

by Douglas Rojas

Hobart, a University sign language interpreter, graduated with a degree in German and sign language last March. The grant will allow her to carry on her research in German and sign language and the deaf community in that country.
She became interested in cultural differences in treatment of disabled people after visiting Austria in fall 1995. A year later, after traveling to Germany, she realized combining the two majors was a possibility.
“I wanted to find the way I could combine these two interests,” she said, “so I decided to focus on German sign language and German deaf people.
“There are differences in the deaf communities in America and in Germany due to the mainstream cultural influence,” Hobart said.
These differences are in educational systems and facilities for people with disabilities. And she said there is a generally different attitude toward the deaf community from the mainstream community.
The scholarship will cover Hobart’s expenses in Germany for a year. She will leave her current position as a full-time interpreter with the Disability Services office and start her academic year overseas in September.
The Fulbright Program, established by Congress in 1946, was named after Senator J. William Fulbright. It aims to foster educational and cultural exchanges among countries.
Grants are available to two categories of people: faculty members, and applicants holding a B.A. without a Ph.D. The grants are funded by an annual Congressional appropriation and by contributions from participating countries. They allow Americans to study and conduct research in more than 100 nations.
Available grants and the number of applicants vary for each country. For example, about 175 grants are available for study in Germany, and last year more than 500 people applied.
“It’s a highly competitive award, and very prestigious,” said Alison Skoberg, associate director of the Graduate School’s Fellowship Office.
“For the research proposal, the more specific they are, the more successful they are in obtaining the research award,” Skoberg said.
On average, about 30 University people apply to the participating countries. Those countries hosting the program make the decisions each year. This year, including Hobart, four University graduates received grants.
Karen Lybeck, a University doctoral candidate in linguistics, also received a grant. During her year of research, she will be studying the process of second language acquisition in Norway by American sojourners and expatriates.
“It’s very rewarding to know that the research is considered to be important and useful by the Fulbright Program,” said Lybeck, who also works in the department of Scandinavian studies.
Christina White, a doctoral student and teaching assistant in the Department of German, Scandinavian and Dutch, will be heading to Germany for a year of research. Sarah Curtis, who graduated with a degree in business and German this spring will be a teaching assistant in Germany as well.
In the future, Hobart would like to implement an exchange program between German and American deaf high school students, where each group of students would be learning both culture’s sign languages.
American deaf students focus so hard on learning English that they forget about learning a foreign language, spoken or signed, Hobart said.
“A lot of times deaf students are limited in those opportunities,” Hobart said. “I think it would just be a really fantastic exchange.”