Over the summer, I learned many new things about learning a language. Language learning takes constant practice and dedication to speaking only that language. Most people in the Donegal Gaeltacht had both English and Irish so it was tempting to switch over to English sometimes. However, I realized that I only really improved when I spoke in Irish all day and all the time. For example, it was extremely helpful that our host spoke in Irish to us because it forced us to only speak that language.
The major cultural difference that I noticed between the Gaeltacht and the rest of Ireland was the population. Everything in Gleann Cholm Cille and especially Gleann Fhinne was extremely spread out. In Dublin and other cities, many amenities are squished together. In the Gaeltacht, a grocery store might be a twenty-minute drive or an hour walk. I loved both aspects of Ireland, but the two are definitely different!
At the end of the summer, I felt that I met all the goals that I posted on the blog before I left. Eventually, I was able to communicate in full conversations and I learned plenty of new vocabulary words and phrases. Also, as noted above, I was able to notice differences between Gaeltacht Ireland and the rest of the island. Next, I was very happy that I understood key differences between the Ulster dialect and the other dialects. It was tricky at first, but at the end, I felt I really picked out the major differences.
After this experience, I realized that people live drastically different lives than I do. The locals who I interacted with mostly work on the farm daily. Their entire lives are revolved around the farm and they do not really do much else. I am lucky to have traveled many places and have done many things. It definitely is a different lifestyle than mine and I am grateful to see how other people spend their time.
Also, this SLA experience has really taught me to be independent. With the generosity of this program, I was able to travel and live in Ireland for multiple weeks on my own. I wasn’t with any other Notre Dame people, so I was a bit nervous at first. However, I put aside my nerves and did everything on my own. For example, I had to get to these remote places in Ireland, buy groceries and make food, and push myself through the classes I took daily. Overall, I now think I can travel and do a lot more activities independently.
I would tell someone who was applying for a SLA grant to be prepared to be independent for multiple weeks. There is no guarantee that another person from ND will be with you so he/she should be comfortable with making friends with people of ALL ages. It is definitely worth it though!
During my first semester back at Notre Dame, I am taking Intermediate Irish II with Mary. This class will help me continue learning the Irish language and improving even more. Irish is hard to keep up with because not many people speak the language; with these classes at Notre Dame, I will be able to improve every week.
Also, I have made many friends from my time in County Donegal and we all agreed to keep in touch so that our Irish doesn’t fade. I have many group chats with friends, and we all speak Irish in them. With this constant communication, I will be able to continue to learn Irish. Also, I now follow many social media accounts that emphasize the Irish language and only post in Irish. Reading these posts daily will help me stay on top of the language.
This SLA experience will help me for the rest of my life because I might want to move to Ireland. The Irish language is embedded in the Irish culture and the two cannot be without each other. Knowing the Irish language will help me to have a better understanding of the culture and people. I hope that I get the chance to move there one day and maybe promote the language further.