Radio Inspire

How To Learn Sign Language

Cristophorus Budidharma: A Deaf Pioneer From Indonesia (ASL with captions available)


Hi! My name is Cristo! I am currently in Rochester,
New York in the United States.
It’s cold here right now, whew! Anyway, my name is
Cristophorus Budidharma,
and I am from Indonesia. I’m Deaf and I use sign language. The reason why I moved to the U.S.
to study is because… well, let me go back
to the beginning of the story and explain how
I got to where I am today. I am a part of the Deaf
Community in Indonesia. I grew up using oral communication
and did not use sign language because I was a Deaf
child of hearing parents. In fact, I am the only Deaf
person in my entire family. As I got older, around 4th
grade, I started thinking
about what interested me, and realized I really
enjoyed science. I especially enjoyed
learning about the medical
field and anatomy. I went to my parents and
asked them if a Deaf person
could become a doctor, and their answer was
that it was impossible, and that I had no
chance of becoming a
doctor due to my deafness. Everyone I asked had the same
response, “It is impossible
for you to become a doctor.” I began to believe this because
I had never seen a Deaf
physician in Indonesia before. So, this was the assumption that
I had throughout my life: Deaf
people can’t become doctors. Once I got to high school,
I decided to participate in an exchange program
called IULX (Indonesia-US
Leadership Exchange) in 2012. So, I flew to the United States
for a one-month exchange. I was the only deaf
person involved in this
exchange program. During this exchange I
learned a great deal about
the environment, leadership, and how to develop a project. We
also camped while we were there. I had NO interpreter while
participating in this program. I had to rely upon lipreading
the hearing, Indonesian staff
throughout this experience. In order to communicate with
other hearing people involved in the program and U.S.
English speakers who couldn’t
speak my Indonesian language, I relied upon the use of an
iPad, which is also what I
had been using to communicate with the Indonesian staff
during the month-long exchange. During this program, I became very
involved in learning about art and thought that maybe art
was what I was meant to do. While I was in the U.S., someone
unexpectedly reached out to me
and offered me a scholarship to complete a bachelor’s
degree at Gallaudet University. I was surprised that they wanted
me to attend their university. Anyway, I returned to Indonesia
from the U.S. after a month and began to work on my
project related to the arts. The exchange program had
provided me with seed money of
$75.00 to start this project, and then I worked from
June to November to grow
that $75.00 into $1000.00 by seeking out sponsors
and support for my project. Once that was completed and I was
set to graduate from high school, I wanted to pursue
the scholarship offer that had been offered to
me by Gallaudet University
with a major in art. I went through the application
process, which included taking
the required SAT exam. Unfortunately, I failed the
SAT exam, so I wasn’t granted
acceptance to Gallaudet. After two years of waiting
to take advantage of the
scholarship offer, it turned out it
wasn’t meant to be. It was at that point that I
decided to enter a two-year
university in Indonesia. I started by taking English
language and education courses. I figured that at the very least
these courses would help improve
my English literacy skills. My difficulties with the English
language were what had caused my
SAT scores to be so low. My thought was that taking these
courses might improve my chances at a better score on the
English portion of the SATs. So, I was accepted into the
university’s education program which taught me English
and how to teach. However, at some point
during the second semester,
and I am not sure why, I had this feeling that maybe I
should do a Google search asking, “Are there any Deaf
physicians in the world?” I was shocked to find out
that there were several Deaf
physicians in the United States! I couldn’t believe it! After all these years
believing that deaf people
couldn’t become doctors, and to realize that
all along everything I had been told about this
was untrue, was quite a blow! Clearly, Deaf people were
able to learn and succeed
in science-related fields. So, I approached my parents, aunt
and uncle, and even my friends
and they were all skeptical. This really upset me! I wished that I had been
raised being told by my family that I could be whatever I wanted
to be, but that hadn’t happened. So, I decided to fight for
what I really wanted and
contacted my university. I asked that I be allowed
to change my major from
Education to Science. This was a fight that I
had decided to take on. This would be difficult because it
was the policy of the university not to allow changes of major
from Education to Science… …due to my lack of background in
science and the English language
while I was in high school. I had previously had NO exposure
to physics, chemistry, biology or any other types of science
as a high school student. That being said,
I BELIEVED I could do it! Despite my desire to
change majors, everyone
told me I couldn’t do it. My parents, aunt, uncle,
and many others discouraged
me from making this change. I was nearly ready to
give up when I decided to compose an email describing
my experiences growing up… …and expressing my desires
and rationale for why I
wanted to pursue the sciences. I figured this was
my last chance. I sent the email to the chair
of the science department. The chair of the science
department decided we should have a meeting to
discuss what I should do. This meeting included me,
my parents, the chair of
the education department and the chair of the
science department. During the meeting, the chair
of the science department said they would be willing to give
me a semester to see how I
did while studying biology. Then, if I was successful, I
would be allowed to change my
major from education to biology, but if not, I would not be
allowed to change my major. However, the chair of
the education department said that they were unwilling
to sign off on this change and were skeptical of my ability
to succeed in the sciences. My parents seemed to agree
with the education department. The chair of the science
department looked at me and said, “You should tell your parents
and the education department
to give you a chance!” These words inspired me
and made me feel supported. I must give the chair of
the science department
credit for believing in me. So, ultimately, I was given
the go-ahead to change my major for one semester from
Education to Science. My parents, aunt and uncle were
VERY concerned that I would fail. But despite their concerns,
I decided I was going to
give this my best shot. Science courses were
especially challenging because not only did I have to
understand the content in English, I also had to understand the
science-specific terminology which was yet another
level of complexity. So, this process was
doubly challenging for
me, but I did my best! And after one semester
in the sciences, I
passed biology with a B! So that was incredible! All along I knew I could’ve
been successful in the
sciences and here we were! So, I showed these results
to my parents, the chair
of the science department and the chair of the
education department, and they realized that they’d
been completely wrong about
my ability to succeed. The chairperson of the science
department was so proud of me that I was given a chance
to take a chemistry class
the following semester. I did well in chemistry
class, earning an A! Ultimately, I ended up graduating
with an AAS degree in Biology. Next, I started searching
for scholarships, which was
a really difficult process. I didn’t know where
I wanted to go next. Just when I was about to give
up, I was contacted by a person I’d met during the
exchange program in high school. This person recommended
that I try RIT (Rochester
Institute of Technology). I had never heard of RIT before. A quick internet search showed
me that RIT had a deaf program, which sounded like it was a
similar concept to Gallaudet. I applied to RIT, which also
offered a full scholarship
to international students, and part of that process
was to take the ACT exam. I took the exam and passed it.
Then I waited to hear if my
application had been accepted. I was hoping that it would be! My parents, aunt and uncle
were still skeptical, saying they doubted I
would be accepted into
RIT, because they felt that it would be much too
rigorous and difficult for me compared to the science
courses I had previously taken. After sending in the
application and going
through the waiting process, my mom woke me up one morning
telling me I had an unread email on my iPhone from the
RIT admissions office. Both of us were very
nervous to open the email
and see what it said. As I looked over the
email, the words, “Congratulations! You have been
accepted into RIT!!” jumped out
at me. I was SO excited! My family was dumbfounded!
They couldn’t believe I
had been accepted! Despite all my successes, my
aunt was STILL skeptical of
my ability to succeed at RIT saying that the coursework would
be much harder and more demanding than I had previously
experienced. Arriving at RIT in the
United States was a
study in culture shock. Everything was very
different from Indonesia. In addition to all the other
things I was learning, I was
also learning ASL. Now, my fluency in ASL is
pretty good, but when I first
arrived it was awkward at best. Add to that the fact that
I had NEVER signed before
due to my oral upbringing and it was a time of much
growth for me linguistically. I was learning English, ASL
and science terminology all
at the same time! So, I had the extra workload of
learning two languages while
also studying my coursework – quite a challenge! I earned a 4.0 GPA during
my first semester at RIT. I KNEW I could do it!
Here was proof! I sent my course grades to my
family, and my parents and
aunt were SO proud of me! At that point my aunt
had to eat her words. I continued my studies and
graduated after three years with a BS in biomedical
sciences, magna cum laude. I couldn’t be more
proud of myself. After all that, I decided I
needed more; that a bachelor’s
degree wasn’t enough. Currently, I am looking for
scholarships for a master’s
or Ph.D. degree program in anatomy which is my passion. This search is ongoing
though I have been accepted to one program in Buffalo,
New York at D’Youville College. I am not certain if this is
the right program for me, so I am still looking for
other options while also
looking for scholarships. I hope I will be able to
keep going with my studies. The reason why I want to
pursue a Ph.D. is to show
the Indonesian people and the Indonesian
government that they need to
change their perspectives about the potential and
capabilities of Deaf people. We need to de-stigmatize
deafness and show others that the prevailing view
of Deaf people is wrong. The current belief is that Deaf
or hard-of-hearing individuals have no capability to achieve
in STEM courses or the sciences
which is clearly untrue. I want to prove them wrong. Getting my Ph.D.
would be further proof showing that Deaf people can achieve
at high levels in the sciences. My goal is to have the
Indonesian government establish a program for Deaf
and hard-of-hearing people who wish to enter STEM and
science-focused programs in ANY
university throughout Indonesia. Then, once they graduate
with bachelor’s degrees, they would be eligible to
apply to a master’s degree
program anywhere they like – even in another country! Then
they could become scientists,
engineers, mathematicians, engineers, chemists,
biologists or even doctors. My goal is that obtaining
my Ph.D. will be a means to
this end. Here’s hoping! Thanks for letting me
share my story. Goodbye!

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