Bergin, Keely

Bergin, Keely

Name: Keely Bergin
Language: Irish
Location of Study: Glen Fhinne/ Glen Colm Cille, Ireland
Program of Study: Oideas Gael
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies

A brief personal bio:

I am a rising junior, and I am an Irish Language and Literature and English double major. I am currently a writer for the campus publication The Observer and I also work at LaFortune Student Center. Before heading off to Ireland, I will be interning with a local newspaper, coincidentally called The Waterbury Observer. By the time I make it the Gaeltacht, I will have completed up through Intermediate II level Irish classes.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

Academically, the SLA grant will help me to increase fluency in Irish, which is vital to my Irish Language and Literature major. I hope to spread my knowledge that I attain this summer by becoming a peer tutor. Ideally, this will help to build a community among Irish language learners within Notre Dame. Learning the language has completely reshaped how I think about language. Language is fluid, vibrant, and the key to unlocking a multitude of different cultures. Language in Ireland is that much more complex because of its history. I hope that going to the Gaeltacht, that I will be able to better understand the tension surrounding the language. Thinking about language is incredibly important to my future career in publishing. Language works in such unusual ways in Irish that it forces one to really think about the syntax and grammar being used. Through this grant, I will be able to interact with the language as I never have before.

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

Primarily, my goal is to become much more conversationally fluent in Irish. I have had the unusual experience of having been taught by professors that specialize in each dialect. By attending Oideas Gael, I hope to get in tune with the Donegal dialect and be able to hone in on the appropriate sounds are for the dialect. I also want to be able to ‘think’ in Irish, rather than think of an English sentence, and then translate it into Irish. I also look forward to integrating into the community and interacting with the locals.

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

  1. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to communicate with native speakers about life experiences and issues relevant to the Gaeltacht.
  2. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will have a greatly expanded vocabulary
  3. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to confidently interact with professors and classmates as Gaeilge.
  4. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to read Irish language literature for learners.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

I plan to speak in solely in Irish throughout my stay in Donegal, whether I am in class or with other classmates. I will also interact regularly with native speakers in order to enhance my understanding of the Donegal dialect as well as my overall vocabulary and grammatical comprehension. Further, I have prepared for my trip by becoming familiar with the geography of Donegal by looking at maps of Gleann Fhinne and Gleann Cholm Cille. I look forward to expanding my language knowledge by taking an interest in local events and interaction with locals.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

Nearing the end of July, my excitement for this opportunity could not be contained. However, my travel to Ireland was more of a marathon than a sprint. My mother and I drove from Connecticut ecticut to Newark, New Jersey. I then flew directly into Dublin airport, where I had arrived just after the bus left for Donegal. I then waited for about two hours and then was on a bus for five hours. I then had to wait at a predetermined location for the school to pick me up. As trying as all this may seem, all this travel really gave me a good cultural context of the Gaeltacht.

The town that I arrived in was less of a town and more of a hamlet, consisting entirely of the school, and the local pub. As a city girl, it was absolutely breathtaking to be greeted by the rolling hills of Ireland every morning on the walk to class, rain or shine. In our classes, there is certainly an eclectic mix of people. In addition to learning Irish, I have taken a crash course in hurling with a member of Wexford’s senior hurling team, sung various traditional Irish songs with a professional Irish singer, learned more seanfhocail than I ever thought possible, and heard a student-made rap designed to teach the módh coinníleach.

As my first week draws to a close, I am determined to speak even more Irish casually. I will move up at least one level next week now that I am more comfortable with my language capabilities.

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

During my second week here in the Gaeltacht, we really have a full house. The daughter of the family came back home from spending part of her summer Connecticut! I definitely felt that I used more Irish this week than before. While some students are new in class this week, some remained the same. This week I went to the folk museum that is just down the road from the school. While I was there, I was able to see how the Gaeltacht would have been in the 17-1800s. Plus, there was a restaurant attached called An Clochan where we were able to get some delicious soup and brown bread.

While in class in Glen Finn, I worked with other students in the program on our weekly skit. Ours was about Lá Lúnasa, or the feast of August. We learned how it was derived from the pagan god Lúgh, and how it was associated with poetry, games, races, and even fertility magics. Then, for our skit, we told an interpretation of the story to the class. The feast day was interesting to learn about because it seemed that even the teacher wasn’t entirely sure of its origins. Instead, we found information from a book in the classroom and interwove our interpretation with seanfhocail (Irish proverbs).

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

This week, I moved from Glen Finn to Glencolumbcille. Now, I’m staying in a house very close to the school with three other people. There were definitely many more people in Glencolumbcille than in Glen Finn, but I’m excited to get to know them. Plus, the weather finally seems to be on the upswing, with blue skies forecasted for the next few days.

Right now we’re working on the Modh Coiníleadh, which has many people nervous. I don’t think I’ll struggle much with it, since we did this grammatical construction in class last year. While my classes have been somewhat repetitive in terms of grammar, I definitely feel that the language fluency level is challenging for me. It has become clearer as I interact with more people that I have built up a great deal of vocabulary since arriving in Ireland.

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

Last weekend I was able to really experience the great value that Ireland places on art forms, such as singing, playing an instrument, and traditional dancing. I attended Fleadh Cheoil with other students from the program, which is a city-wide festival meant to celebrate Irish language culture. During class, we had debated the merits of the TG4 bilingual broadcast of the festival, since TG4 is meant to be the Irish language television channel. While we weren’t able to come to consensus about that issue, everyone that went to the Fleadh all agreed on how incredible it was. I was able to attend lilting and whistling competitions, which were completely new forms of music to me. While on the streets of Sligo, I did overhear some people speaking in Irish, which was a pleasant surprise for me.

The rest of the week was wonderful. We explored some areas of Glencolumbcille that I hadn’t been to before, like Trá Bán, which was an incredible beach a few miles from the school. It was going to places like that with other students where my language skills were really put to the test. We would make casual conversation on the beach, on walks, and at the céilí. It proved that I had come a long way since week one.

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

Reflective Journal Entry 6:

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

By attending classes in Donegal at Oideas Gael, I definitely improved my language comprehension and speech. Having classes run entirely through the Irish language forced me to get into the “Meon Gaeilge” –the Irish language mindset. The learners were from every age bracket and background. There were young teachers, an older French couple, even a high schooler from California. The variety of learners made classes less intimidating, and provided many different types of people to talk with. The most difficult part of the program was keeping up the use of Irish while at ‘home’, with housemates. Some had much better Irish, and others were pure beginners. For the most part, everyone knew English, so it was tempting to switch languages to make sure everyone was taking part in conversations. While I did not necessarily meet every expectation that I set for myself, I certainly achieved a much higher degree of fluency than I had before. I truly believe that this experience has made a huge impact on my language development. I look forward to further developing my fluency this year in Advanced Irish I.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

The experience that I was able to have this summer taught me a good deal about Gaeltacht culture. Having lived in areas like Glenn Finn and Glencolumbcille, even for a short time, I am certain that I will have a better cultural understanding of what life in a Gaeltacht is like in comparison to my previous conception. The program gave me a better understanding of what rural Ireland is actually like, rather than the idealized image that is often popularized by media and myth. To those considering applying for the SLA or prepping for their own summer language study, I would certainly encourage you to do so. This is the kind of experience that can really enable you to attain a level of fluency that is simply impossible in solely a classroom setting. It is a more than a worthwhile experience.

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

Academically, I will continue on to take Advanced Irish I and II, as well as a course taught through Irish. Additionally, I will attend peer tutor meetings, and ideally begin Irish language dinners at North dining hall with other Irish language learners here at Notre Dame. Beyond the bubble that is Notre Dame, I plan to enter the publishing industry. Having this language background will certainly help in terms of translations of texts, or even in editing texts should I enter an Irish language publishing house.