…by Jenny / from Thailand / studying Medicine / 1st Year (UG)
Clench one hand into a tight fist. Thrust your middle finger into the fist. Pull it out and slap the fist with your palm. Now that is how you order lemonade in British Sign Language.
Within my first month of arriving in Edinburgh, I experienced more new things than ever before in my school career. A professor blasting music on a record player in the middle of a medical ethics lecture, a discussion with my Polish neighbour about the existence of God, an encounter with alpacas right here in university halls. The University of Edinburgh, I’ve come to realise, has so much to offer that it’d be unjust to try to cover it all in one simple blog post! But, I will attempt to capture the essence of it, by telling you about one of my favourite experiences from last semester: a British Sign Language (BSL) Workshop hosted by the Tandem Society.
One Thursday night, my friends and I arrived at Teviot Row House, excited to be spending the evening immersing ourselves in BSL. Our teachers were two animated students themselves. They stood on chairs before an audience of 80, avidly signing the words on the projector screen behind them. We laughed and bantered, learned a lot and had a great time. We covered everything from introductions and numbers, to family and countries (“Sign like this for Italy, not this which means prostitute!”). Throughout the lesson, we played games like variations of “I went to the supermarket and bought…” and Chinese Whispers, which really helped drill the signs we had just learned into my mind.
At the end of the session, I quickly gave my email to one of the hosts, eager to be added onto the mailing list for future events. My friends and I then rushed home in the cold Scottish rain, finger-spelling our fathers’ names, mothers’ names and middle names all the way back.
Moving out on my own, to a new country, where very few people speak my native language, is hard. But that one night, at Teviot, doing BSL, I forgot how homesick I was. To me, university is all about trying new things, meeting new people, learning new lessons; and that night, I did it all. At the session, I met many new people, including an Astrophysics student from the U.S. and an Art student from Denmark. We shared similar interests and marveled at our differences while sipping on wine or cranberry juice during a break in the lesson. I truly felt like I had discovered something I’d be interested in pursuing further.
Not only do I think knowing BSL will be useful in my future career in Medicine, but five years from now, I may be passing on my knowledge of sign language to the next group of interested students. The feeling of being part of a community that shares, cares, and dares to try something new without fear of appearing like complete nerds was refreshing. It was that feeling that turned a simple sign language class into one that will stand out amongst my favorite memories.