Critical Language Scholarship Program | Dervla McDonnell

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.

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Dervla McDonnell
Dervla McDonnell

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Posted Date

April 27, 2015