Critical Language Scholarship Program | Conor McMahon
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This photo was taken at a small Buddhist temple just outside of Tainan, which I visitied with my host mom and host brother.

Conor McMahon

Conor McMa­hon is an alum­nus of the 2019 CLS Chi­nese pro­gram in Tainan, Tai­wan. He’s a cur­rent PhD stu­dent at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Okla­homa, study­ing East­ern and West­ern Com­par­a­tive Phi­los­o­phy. He uses his lan­guage skills fre­quent­ly in his stud­ies and hopes to con­tin­ue to do so as he enters a career in acad­e­mia. In his rare free time, he enjoys explor­ing Oklahoma’s out­door activities.

A Lan­guage Study Journey

Although I am cur­rent­ly liv­ing and study­ing in Okla­homa, I grew up in Buf­fa­lo, NY, where I also com­plet­ed my under­grad­u­ate work at Can­i­sius Col­lege. When I fin­ished my time in Buf­fa­lo, I decid­ed to move in order to work with a depart­ment that best matched my interest.

My inter­est in Man­darin devel­oped along­side my inter­est in Chi­nese Phi­los­o­phy. It all began while I was an under­grad­u­ate at Can­i­sius Col­lege. Before I knew any­thing at all about Chi­na or its his­to­ry and phi­los­o­phy, I came across an oppor­tu­ni­ty to study abroad for a sum­mer at Xia­men Uni­ver­si­ty in Fujian Province. After spend­ing time in Fujian I fell in love with the cul­ture, his­to­ry, lan­guage and peo­ple of Chi­na. Since then, I have not stopped work­ing toward mas­ter­ing the lan­guage. My study of Man­darin con­tin­ues to play a large role in my aca­d­e­m­ic pur­suits, where I use it reg­u­lar­ly for research. I find that in study­ing com­par­a­tive phi­los­o­phy, it is indis­pens­able to engage with the tar­get language.

Mem­o­rable CLS Moments

My host broth­er taught me to play Chi­nese Chess, which we played frequently.

I will always remem­ber the first night that I was intro­duced to my host fam­i­ly, which took place at a big cer­e­mo­ny in a restau­rant close to cam­pus. The host fam­i­lies had arrived ahead of time and were wait­ing to meet their stu­dents. I was quite anx­ious, as our lan­guage pledges had gone into effect and I now had to face meet­ing and get­ting to know new peo­ple entire­ly in a sec­ond lan­guage. As I was intro­duced to my host fam­i­ly, I was quick­ly struck by how wel­com­ing and patient they were. From this start­ing point and through the sub­se­quent rela­tion­ship I devel­oped with my host fam­i­ly, I real­ized some­thing impor­tant: many of life’s most sig­nif­i­cant and impact­ful inter­ac­tions start from being coura­geous­ly open to unfa­mil­iar expe­ri­ences. Fur­ther­more, if you are will­ing to jump in, what seems so intim­i­dat­ing at first blush turns out to be quite manageable.

Tran­si­tion­ing After CLS

I was accept­ed into the CLS Pro­gram at the same time I was accept­ed to grad­u­ate school, which neces­si­tat­ed my mov­ing straight from Tai­wan to Okla­homa, I state I had nev­er even been to. This meant I was still pro­cess­ing all of my CLS expe­ri­ences while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly enter­ing into a new com­mu­ni­ty. How­ev­er, as I began to become estab­lished at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Okla­homa, I joined lan­guage clubs and activ­i­ties, meet­ing many oth­er stu­dents who have ambi­tions to study abroad. I have found that shar­ing my CLS expe­ri­ences is a great way to relate to and encour­age peo­ple in these communities.

Why Chi­nese?

If you are at all inter­est­ed in study­ing Man­darin I per­son­al­ly would encour­age doing so. The his­to­ry of China’s cul­ture is star­tling­ly long and as I get more pro­fi­cient in the lan­guage, I open up greater abil­i­ties to engage with this his­to­ry. Fur­ther­more, there are a lot of func­tion­al aspects of the lan­guage which I real­ly appre­ci­ate. For instance, there is no con­ju­ga­tion of verbs and tense is all han­dled by con­text or through the use of par­ti­cles. It is a relief not to have to wade through seem­ing­ly end­less irreg­u­lar verbs!

Advice for CLS Applicants

I want to encour­age any­one who is at all inclined toward study abroad to give this pro­gram a shot. I firm­ly believe that cer­tain types of knowl­edge can only be gained from in-per­son expe­ri­ence. Not only is CLS ful­ly com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing this kind of expe­ri­ence as organ­i­cal­ly as pos­si­ble, the pro­gram is also aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly rig­or­ous. By par­tic­i­pat­ing in CLS you absolute­ly will under­go a for­ma­tive expe­ri­ence by engag­ing with your host country’s cul­ture. How­ev­er, you will also find your­self faced with a seri­ous intel­lec­tu­al chal­lenge. The pro­gram requires both an open accept­ing atti­tude and a deter­mined aca­d­e­m­ic will.


Alumni Profiles

Conor McMahon
Conor McMahon
Chinese 2019
Tainan, Taiwan

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Posted Date

April 29, 2020