Critical Language Scholarship Program | Dervla McDonnell
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Dervla McDonnell

Why did you want to study your CLS tar­get language?

  • Ful­fill­ment of require­ments for my sec­ondary major in Japan­ese studies
  • I orig­i­nal­ly became inter­est­ed in Japan­ese because I host­ed Japan­ese exchange stu­dents in mid­dle and high school. This taught me that I was able to make valu­able friend­ships across cul­tur­al and lan­guage bar­ri­ers, and moti­vat­ed me to study Japan­ese so that I could con­tin­ue to com­mu­ni­cate and devel­op those friendships.

What are your edu­ca­tion­al and/​or pro­fes­sion­al goals?

  • Pro­fes­sion­al stu­dio artist
  • Arts edu­ca­tion and insti­tu­tion­al management
  • Lan­guage education

How do you plan to use your tar­get lan­guage in the future?
My lan­guage stud­ies are part of my art prac­tice. The CLS pro­gram real­ly opened up a lot of new doors for my in terms of my devel­op­ment as a pro­fes­sion­al artist

I also hope to explore ways I can study and make art in Japan, along­side teaching

How did par­tic­i­pa­tion in the CLS Pro­gram affect your life?

  • It gave me a mas­sive advan­tage in terms of lan­guage abil­i­ties and cul­tur­al knowl­edge com­pared to my class­mates in Japan­ese lan­guage and cul­ture class­es at Carnegie Mellon.
  • Things that I saw and expe­ri­enced in Japan direct­ly inform my artis­tic practice.
  • It has opened up doors for me and helps insti­tu­tions (includ­ing Carnegie Mel­lon) take me seri­ous­ly for my inter­est in lan­guage study and as an artist.

What was your favorite part about being in your host country?

  • The oppor­tu­ni­ty to com­mu­ni­cate and devel­op friend­ships with native Japan­ese peo­ple around my own age
  • The neces­si­ty of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with local peo­ple caused my lan­guage abil­i­ties to devel­op dras­ti­cal­ly in a short amount of time
  • The abil­i­ty to expe­ri­ence Japan­ese cul­ture and soci­ety first-hand and to dis­cuss my feel­ings with Japan­ese col­lege students

What did you learn about your host coun­try that you did­n’t know before?

  • I learned a lot about how to behave around Japan­ese native peo­ple my own age and about how young peo­ple communicate
  • I learned a lot about hon­orif­ic speech and about how to speak and behave in for­mal settings
  • I learned how to nav­i­gate Japan­ese bus­es and trains!

Please share a short sto­ry about your CLS Pro­gram experience.
All I had dur­ing both of my sum­mers with CLS were won­der­ful, enrich­ing expe­ri­ences, so it is dif­fi­cult to pick just one. 

I would say a par­tic­u­lar­ly eye-open­ing one was when I decid­ed to use my hime­toku points (points we earned for good grades in class and par­tic­i­pa­tion in cul­tur­al activ­i­ties) to go on a shashin-san­po” (“pho­to stroll”) with my teacher, who also had a lot of inter­est in pho­tog­ra­phy. I got to walk around with him, take pho­tos, and talk about art and pho­tog­ra­phy with him. None of my lan­guage bud­dies or oth­er Japan­ese friends had much inter­est in art, so this was some­thing I did­n’t get to dis­cuss much with Japan­ese peo­ple. It also led me to real­ize how lit­tle Japan­ese vocab­u­lary I had to talk about art, caus­ing me to do a lot of reflec­tion, inde­pen­dent research and read­ing after­wards. It was a short, but very mem­o­rable expe­ri­ence, lead­ing to a lot of per­son­al growth for me.

What is your favorite tar­get lan­guage word or phrase, and what does it mean in English?
「分からへん」(“wakarahen”) a fre­quent­ly used word dur­ing the CLS pro­gram, Kan­sai-ben (the dialect of the area of Japan in which we stud­ied) for I don’t understand.”

What is a must see or must try in your host city or country?
You’ve got­ta try eat­ing raw horse meat! Where else can you get it?

Also a rotat­ing sushi bar is a must. Even low-brow places, that cost 100 yen ($1) a plate, will allow you to try the best, fresh­est sushi you’ve prob­a­bly ever had in your life! 

What advice would you give prospec­tive appli­cants, par­tic­i­pants on the pro­gram, and/​or recent CLS alumni?
Don’t try to plan or antic­i­pate how the trip is going to go before you arrive in your host coun­try. This will only lead you to be frus­trat­ed and/​or expe­ri­ence more cul­ture shock. Instead, come to pre-depar­ture ori­en­ta­tion with an open mind, heart, and as lit­tle lug­gage as human­ly pos­si­ble. Focus on growth and on mov­ing for­ward. Dur­ing the pro­gram you might not be able to see how much your lan­guage abil­i­ties are improv­ing, because you’re so focused on keep­ing up with work that it’s hard to find time to reflect. But always keep your head up, and you will amaze your­self with how much you grow.

Per­son­al background

  • I’m a native of Bal­ti­more, Mary­land and go to school in Pitts­burgh, Pennsylvania.
  • I’m a first-gen­er­a­tion Amer­i­can; my moth­er is from Turkey and my father is from Ire­land. They both immi­grat­ed to the Unit­ed States in the 1980s.
  • I start­ed learn­ing Japan­ese in mid­dle school because my school had a part­ner­ship with a school in Japan. This is when I first met and inter­act­ed with Japan­ese peo­ple who weren’t flu­ent in Eng­lish, and had to adapt to that lan­guage bar­ri­er. Ever since then I have been fas­ci­nat­ed by lan­guage, cul­ture and how peo­ple from dif­fer­ent places inter­act with one another.
  • I’m a pro­fes­sion­al artist, I main­ly make oil paint­ings and wood­en or steel sculp­tures. My work has a lot to do with lan­guage and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, too.

Alumni Profiles

Dervla McDonnell
Dervla McDonnell
Japanese 2014
Himeji, Japan

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Posted Date

April 27, 2015