Sandefur, Davis

Name: Davis Sandefur
Location of Study: Carroe, Ireland 
Program of Study: NUI Galway, International Summer School, Irish Language
Sponsors: William Kennedy & Matthew Storin

A brief personal bio:

Hello. I’m Davis. I grew up in small town Kentucky (Beaver Dam’s the name) where everybody knew everybody, and almost everyone was related in some way. At Notre Dame,   I am studying physics, as well as minoring in Irish Language and Literature. I enjoy physics because it explains the universe in a way few other things can, though astrophysics is my main focus, as the stars have always captured my imagination.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

The SLA is important to me because it will allow me to help preserve an endangered language. I have an interest in endangered languages, and it feels good to actually take part in preserving one, by learning it. It will impact my future plans because I want to keep close ties with Ireland, and, while the Irish Language is a minority language in the country, it will give me a link to the traditional Irish culture, where the language is still spoken to some degree.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

At the end of the summer, I wish to be more in touch with the Irish culture, outside the city of Dublin, which I will be exposed to this fall. I also wish to understand traditional Irish culture more, and the challenges it faces from technology, and the dominance of English as the most spoken language. I want to use this experience to help become more worldly, which is always a good skill in today’s global economy.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

  1.  At the end of the summer, I will be able to communicate in Irish with native speakers on a variety of topics ranging from sports, to politics.
  2. At the end of the summer, I will understand in depth more of the challenges facing the Irish Language and possible plans that the government could use to help promote use of the language.
  3. At the end of the summer, I hope to be able to read the Irish Folklore Archives, which it seems were mostly written in Irish, and just experience the folk stories that were collected in the 1930’s.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

I plan on maximizing my experience by fully immersing myself into the local culture. Where I will be, they speak mainly Irish, and I won’t have much of an opportunity to use English. I will get involved in local things through my host family, and practice the language with my roommate, who might not speak English. I will go to the local events, like the boat festival which is held while I am there, and just force myself to speak nothing but Irish, even to my host family.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: Pre-Departure Thoughts/ Thoughts on the Plane

At first I must say I was quite nervous. I had been out of the country before, but never off the continent, and always while travelling with my parents, so going to not only a new country, but a new continent on the other side of the world, was quite nerve-wracking. But, at the same time, it was also quite exhilarating, having this chance. On the plane, I also started to get worried about how much actual Irish I possessed. With two semesters, I knew I was able to have simple conversations, at slow speed, but there was no possible way I could have a full blown conversation with a native speaker without resorting to using a little bit of English. We shall see how it goes, when the program finally starts.

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

While the food was very generic across the board (burgers, chicken, fish and chips, kebabs, pizza, etc.), the one meal that always stood out was breakfast. The Irish breakfast consists of Irish bacon (it looks more like ham than our bacon, and is really hard to explain), eggs, toast, black and white pudding. It was always great to wake up on a weekend and eat a nice, big breakfast like this (especially when it doubled as lunch, which it usually did). Perhaps my favorite part of the breakfast was the black pudding, which might surprise those of you who know what is in it (I won’t give the details, because I think everyone should try it and not judge based on the ingredients). It seems to be a staple dish for almost every Irish breakfast, though nobody seemed to know why. Upon research, it seems that it and white pudding are fairly well spread across all of the British Isles, so it might stem from something the English ate and brought over with them when they controlled Ireland, though it seems to be linked mostly with Ireland, since Irish immigrants brought it with them to places from Canada to Australia.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

Oddly enough, everyone where I was at could be considered a minority in the country. Why is this, when they are all native Irishmen and speak English? It’s because they speak the native language of their island: Irish. According to the last census, only 3% of the nation actually speak Irish on a daily basis, and that is highly concentrated in the Gaeltacht (an Irish-speaking area). The people I talked to about it are proud to be Irish speaking, and some even wish they never had to use English (my Bean an Ti, or land-lady, for example, only speaks Irish to family and grand kids; she used some English with us, thankfully). Both of them, her, and a roughly 30 year old male named Liam, are proud of their ability to speak their native language, and use it on a daily basis. They consider themselves a proud minority, and wish the government would do more to promote the language, and help it survive, because they fear it will die out (they teach it in schools, and state jobs require it, but both systems are highly flawed, leaving kids rarely remembering it).

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

Oddly enough, within our first week in Carraroe, we had already experienced a local “holiday” of sorts. It was a commemoration of the Battle of Carraroe. Their little drama society acted out several sketches, all in Irish, making it hard to understand exactly what was happening. Over all, though, there seems to be no significance to this “holiday”. A local historian, Maebh, thought the program was absolutely awful, and didn’t hesitate to tell us how bad it was. Over all, it seems there are no hugely local holidays in Carraroe (though Galway City has some; however, I wasn’t able to obtain any information, as we only went to Galway once, for a couple hours), and the ones that are there don’t really appeal to people, though a surprising number of people gathered for the sketch.

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

Because Irish is limited to such a small area, it doesn’t develop in exactly the same way as English. The three different dialects develop, as they are fairly isolated from each other, but it is different for slang to really develop, as there are a limited number of speakers. One word, however, is unique to the Connemara dialect, which is what I learned in Carraroe. This word is craiceáilte, which means crazy. I was using this word in conversation, and one man told me, “Oh [expletive] you’re speaking like us!” He was older, probably in his 60s, and he just seemed to find it odd that I was using Connemara “slang”, though he didn’t disapprove and was even glad that I was. It still just surprised him that I wasn’t using “Standard Irish”. Whereas, when I said it to younger people, roughly in their 20s, they found nothing odd about the fact that I was speaking in their dialect, as opposed to the “Standard Irish”.

Reflective Journal Entry 6:

Looking back at my four weeks in Carraroe, I realize how much I have learned. I am now able to have a full conversation with native speakers, though still at a slower rate. I don’t require as much thought when translating, and have sort of learned to “go with the flow” when it comes to speaking Irish. I am going to try to come back to Carraroe next year and continue to improve my Irish, as I don’t want this unique language to die.

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

Looking back on learning the language over the summer, I learned that the best way to learn a language is to be forced to speak it. You could go in at a beginner level, as some in Carraroe did, and come out being able to have a full conversation, though somewhat limited, in just a month. If you are forced to stop relying on English, and stop worrying about making mistakes, you will greatly improve in a surprisingly little amount of time. Because of this, I was able to meet most of the goals I had stated at the beginning of the program. There are still some catches, but I am a lot more confident in my abilities than I was two months ago.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

Studying abroad, even in a place such as Ireland, can really impact your world view. I found that it happens even more so when you study a minority language, such as Irish. These people are fiercely proud of their language, and of being able to speak Irish, and, coming from a country where English is very much needed and hailed as the first language, it was a little bit shocking to see this. With the dominance of English all over the globe, the fact that these people are still proud to hold on to their language, when they are in an English speaking country is different. While I had some sense of this coming to the Gaeltacht, and in fact was even wanting to promote linguistic diversity, nothing really could have prepared me for how these people felt.Though I guess it’s all in the Gaeilge (Irish) saying: “Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam” (Country without a language, country without a soul)

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

Since I am studying abroad in Dublin for the fall semester, I hope to be able to keep my level of Irish roughly where it is. While not many speak it, there are clubs on the University campus, as well as students from the Gaeltacht that I can practice with. After I graduate, I hope to  get funding to study, and get a Masters degree in the Irish Language. If this comes to fruition, the SLA grant will have taught me how best to acquire the language in a short period of time, and the best way not to lose it.