The Catholic University of America

Suzanne Kwoka

Sign Language Opens Doors for Student

Senior English major Suzanne Kwoka was inspired by her American Sign Language course at Catholic University. Now she is taking a more advanced sign language course at Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf and hearing impaired in Washington, D.C.

Kwoka, who notes that she has never been good at retaining foreign languages, says the sign language course in CUA’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures made her realize how naturally signing comes to her.

Her interest in signing started her junior year when Kwoka enrolled in department lecturer Mario Hernandez’s Introduction to Sign Language course. The class was unique because there were no formal tests.

“Professor Hernandez wanted to have one-on-one conversations with each one of us to see what we had learned. He tested us on our individual strengths,” Kwoka says.

Hernandez is deaf, Kwoka explains, but the language barrier only brought the students in his course closer together and made for an engaging learning environment.

Kwoka has already benefited from knowing sign language. She babysat for a family with a 4-year-old boy whose hearing is impaired. The boy’s hearing aids malfunctioned on Kwoka’s first day as his babysitter. As the boy finished his dinner, he looked at Kwoka and did the sign for “more.”

“I looked at his older sister and asked if her brother knew sign language. She said yes. I was able to communicate with him and that felt great,” says Kwoka.

Kwoka is from a small town in Connecticut, far from any major city. She loves Catholic University because the urban setting challenges what she is used to, but the tree-lined campus feels secluded and homey. It was the perfect balance, she explains.

The small-town girl has come a long way since her freshman year when living in a city was a little intimidating. Now she is taking five classes on campus and earning credit from CUA to take sign language at Gallaudet.

“I’m pushing myself to take the sixth course and utilize every bit of my time left here at CUA and in D.C. I’m pushing myself to learn purely because I want to,” Kwoka explains.

Kwoka says she has never regretted her choice to come to CUA. She is happy that her childhood friend suggested they visit while on a road trip exploring East Coast colleges their senior year of high school. Kwoka fell in love with the University immediately. Her friend from high school goes here too.

“I applied only to CUA because I knew it was the one for me,” recalls Kwoka.

Kwoka has grown accustomed to Catholic University’s campus, but she admits that she was nervous to start the course at Gallaudet.

“Going on the campus the first day I was worried because it’s the little things that you don’t realize. When someone holds the door for you, you have to say thank you in sign language. I try to be sensitive to that culture,” Kwoka says.

Kwoka plans to take another sign language course at Gallaudet University in the spring. After she graduates in May, she intends to go back to Connecticut to get her teaching certificate in special education.

“Having the ability to sign broadens the number of people I am able to reach as a teacher,” she says.

Although she realizes that she would have to practice a lot more as a hearing person, Kwoka has not ruled out the possibility of teaching sign language one day.

Kwoka doesn’t even mind waking up at 7:30 a.m. to make it to her class a few miles away at Gallaudet as long as she has plenty of caffeine.

“I really like the sign for coffee because coffee is the key to life for me since I’m taking six classes,” Kwoka says.

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Suzanne Kwoka

Hometown: Glastonbury, Conn.

Favorite book: Richard III

Favorite professor: Daniel Gibbons, Assistant English Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies

Favorite movie: Finding Nemo

Favorite building on campus: “The library because it’s so peaceful.”