An Interview by Ronja Onnen with Model Aaron Jeannot Kollien
First we want to thank you for being part of our project, in which we want to pay attention to the topic of deafness in society. How is your connection to that topic?
I was raised by deaf parents. Since I was a little boy I’ve been solely talking to my mother and father in sign language.
Do you sometimes think that you live in two different worlds, regarding to the different ways of communication you’re using?
I’m not just thinking it, I know that I live in two different worlds. I grew up with two languages, two cultures,
contrasts. And I’m glad, that I did. When I’m with my friends or work colleagues, I’m talking and living in the hearing world. As soon as I get home, I’m switching into the „deaf world“ where I use sign language.
When I was a little boy it was way harder for me because it wasn’t just a changeover of language, but also also of behavior. But I’ve learned to deal with it, I’m totally fine with it. Although sometimes I catch myself doing the gestures while talking to somebody. It might be kinda funny for people who aren’t used to it.
Which language was the first language you learned?
So what would you consider as the major difference between the communication among deaf people and the communication among hearing people?
I still discover new things in the communication between people. The obvious difference is clear. The facial expressions and gesticulation are very important in the communication of deaf people. It’s way stronger.
Can you give me an example?
For example, if you’re making a gesture very quickly, it can show that you’re telling a story where you have been in a stressed situation. If you’re telling a story with calm body language, you have been in a relaxed situation in that story you’re telling. Everything goes through facial expression and gestures.
Did that have a big influence on how you talk to people?
Oh yes, when I’m talking to people, I use a lot of gesticulation. The communication with my parents and deaf
people in general also taught me to have a sensitive feeling of what kind of mimics in which situations are suitable.
Growing up without really speaking words out loud, how important is eye contact to you?
For me it’s very important. The eyes meeting is as a meaningful nonverbal form of communication. Eyes are way more intimate than words could ever be. It’s how deaf emphasize their words.
So would you say that sight is the most important sense to you?
No. My initial answer to what the most important sense to me is, like a reflex, is my sense of taste. I admit to be such an epicure, I truly love food – so I don’t want to miss that sense. But what is very important to me as well is the sense of touch. In my opinion, you can only be alive if you can feel.
Can you tell me a funny story you remember from your childhood?
When I was younger, I often took advantage of the situation. You know, as a kid, you test your limits. This can lead to very funny moments. When I was going to school, my mum took the train with me everyday. One day, there was an older lady sitting in front of me. As I already mentioned – I love food, and sweets as well. So I covered my mouth with my hands so that my mother wasn’t able to read my lips and talked to the lady and asked her for candy. I was pretending as I was just thinking and looking outside, while I tried to slowly move my mouth. It worked, so I did it over and over again.
Did your mum ever find out that her little boy tricked her to beg for candy?
While my mum wondered for a long time why people were so sweet and giving me candy, it was my dad who found out years later. He is still telling this story on every family celebration and then we all laugh about it.
Besides all the good stories and the sensitive feeling for communication, what else would you see as a positive effect from growing up like this?
As a positive effect out of being raised by deaf parents, I would definitely say that my background taught me tolerance and open-mindedness. Born in a world full of prejudices and stereotypical thinking, you learn by time, how to counter the world without these. You also learn, how to form an own, independent opinion about things, people and behaviors.
I totally agree, we should strive for a peaceful and tolerant society. How do people react to your family?
I can only say, that when people are talking to me about my family situation, they always are super interested, curious and attentive and ask a lot of questions. When I have friends over at my parent’s house, I guess at first it’s a little bit suspect or strange for them, because they don’t know how to handle this kind of situation. They don’t know how to communicate with my parents. And when they do talk to each other, I’m the connector of the communication, the translator. So in general, they react mostly with a little bit distance and caution.
How do you feel about their reactions and you being the transmitter between your parents and friends?
I wouldn’t say that I don’t understand this behavior, nor that it’s a problem for me – I’m happy to be the transmitter between my parents and my friends!
What would be the most logical first step to a better integration of deaf people in society?
Well, it’s just that people have to get more confronted with it. In the end, talking to a deaf person is like talking to a person with a foreign language. Tolerance. It’s all about tolerance. You know, people should face the unknown bravely. I don’t think that it’s necessary to treat everything new with caution. Deaf people are people like you and me. They can do anything except hear. Besides the wish of people getting more confronted with that topic, there’s another step the society could take. It would be amazing if it would be possible to have subtitles on every channel on public television.
I guess that’s a good start. Besides working as a model, what are your future plans?
I want to study urban development and planning. No matter what I do, I know that my family and the ones I can call my friends will be there having my back, they are the ones who ground me.
Videography and photography by Ronja Onnen
Art direction, styling and grooming by Insa Meier
Assist by Nele Kapral
Retouching by Mathws Aires
Model: Aaron Jeannot Kollien @ Core Management
Music: New Shoes