Living Abroad With A Hearing Loss.
Updated: Mar 20
I have had the pleasure of being friends with Jemma for over 15 years. Jemma has a deteriorating hearing loss in one ear. I was both amazed and intrigued with her decision to move to France for a career opportunity and wanted to find out more behind her thought process, as well as ask her questions about how she coped with life in a foreign country, with a hearing loss.
Hi Jemma. Thank you for taking out the time to allow me to ask you a few questions regarding your experiences of living abroad with a hearing loss.
Firstly, how did you learn about your hearing loss? Were you born with it or did it develop overtime?
Although no-one in my family is 100% sure I personally do not remember a time where I had full hearing within my right ear. My family seem to think that this may have developed between when I was born and the time I remember clearly (I was about 5-6 years old) but we will most likely never know for sure. What I do know is that although there was some change when I was younger for the most part, it has appeared to remain stable.
Could you describe your hearing loss and explain how it impacts your social life?
My hearing loss is only in my right ear it isn't complete but it is pretty severe. Over the years I have found that I essentially rely on my left ear for all my hearing and as such going out to social events is very difficult. Anywhere where there is lots of noise makes it very difficult for me to hear and I tire easily and not always being able to understand people has often led to being told "oh it doesn't matter" or "I'll tell you later" as a result I tend to avoid going out and I find it very hard to make new friends.
My worst experience being when I told someone I couldn't hear them (they were sitting on my right hand side) and they proceeded to lean really close to me and shout into the ear I have my hearing loss in which felt not only humiliating, as there were other people around us, but also felt like a massive invasion of personal space.
Why did you choose to move to France? Did your hearing loss affect your decision in anyway?
I chose to move to France for a number of reasons. The main one was the fact that I was offered a job there that allowed me to do what I always dreamed of doing (teaching English) and it allowed me the chance to learn French. My hearing did worry me a little in the beginning as I know that as we get older we begin to lose the ability to hear certain sounds and that added with the fact I also have a hearing loss did make the idea of going to a foreign country daunting.
What difficulties did you face living alone in France with your hearing loss?
I found it very difficult to communicate with people. At the beginning I found it very difficult to comprehend French as it has a much more nasal sound which to me almost sounded similar to someone mumbling. Also being alone meant that I had no choice but to do these things on my own. There wasn't anyone I could turn to for help. Also sadly in France there seems to be a huge lack of information about hearing loss. It is a conversation that has started to be had and positive steps have been made however there is still a large stigma around disabilities and an invisible one like hearing seems to be one of the hardest for people to accept.
Would you consider going down the route of Hearing Aids?
It is something that I have thought about although living for so long without them does also make me somewhat nervous about it. In France there was also a cost implication to it which put me off for a while. We're talking thousands per hearing aid so it definitely makes me feel even more privileged to have something like the NHS in the UK.
Did your hearing loss ever impact your confidence in a negative way and cause home sickness? It definitely has been a major player in making me feel self conscious. It's definitely not a nice feeling having to explain to people over and over about it when I don't hear what has been said and I'm having to ask them to either repeat it or write it down. Add a secondary language and the accent that comes with it (although absolutely nobody's fault) and there's been moments where I have wanted someone familiar near by.
How did you overcome the communication barriers?
I try and use a mixture of things. I have found that I've started using more hand gestures to try and emphasise what I am trying to say and also do my best to try and read other people's gestures and body language to understand what others are saying. If that doesn't work I do sometimes resort to having things written down so they can be understood.
Did you find it difficult to learn the French language with your hearing loss?
Yes definitely! Learning a language is hard anyway but it's even harder when you have a hearing loss and the worst part is that there are many people that I have met who have been very rude to me about my French level not understanding that having a hearing loss only adds to the difficulty. As a result I can read and write almost perfectly, my comprehension has been improving well but due to the lack of socialisation my speaking has been the part that has suffered as a result.
Did you find it difficult building your social life and mixing with the locals?
All the time. I often feel like an alien. This isn't just something I have experienced in France either. Sadly I have also experienced similar things in the UK moving from my hometown to somewhere completely different with my family. You leave the comfort of knowing where you are and at least knowing some people to essentially having to start all over again and that for me is hard. I find it very difficult to keep repeating myself when it comes to my hearing as this makes me feel very conscious of it.
Does your hearing loss impact you mentally and emotionally?
I believe it has had more of an indirect impact in the form of making me feel anxious about going out and essentially being socially isolated. There's been a few moments where I have worried about it or sat and wondered what it would be like to have both ears functioning normally and I definitely worry about potentially loosing hearing in my left ear. This terrifies me.
Finally, I understand that you have moved back home for the time being. Would you ever consider moving back for your career?
For the time being I wish to remain closer to my family. There are many reasons for this and part of it is my hearing. Here I know that I can have it looked at and steps can be taken to at least work out ways to manage it. Perhaps in the future I will make a return or I will venture to new horizons but I am hoping that with my experience I will be able to find something here in the UK that I would like to do at least for the time being.
Thank you for taking the time out to answer these questions for me!
Thank you for having me!