Kate Dunkelberger is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in Bioengineering with a minor in Chemistry. Below, Kate shares how fitting Haitian Creole classes into her busy schedule has made a difference in her life!
Why did you choose Pitt?
Pitt was my Goldilocks school - not too big, but not too small; not too close to home, but not too far; located in a city, but not downtown; strong STEM programs, but outside of the classroom activities are encouraged too. I was excited about the engineering school and about the proximity to world-class health care.
Are you a member of any organizations on campus?
I'm president of the Catholic Newman Club, I've been volunteering with Connections4Health for a year and a half, I attend a couple of weekly Bible studies, and I participate in activities with the biomedical engineering society.
Did you have any previous second-language exposure before coming to Pitt?
I took French courses during my first two years of high school.
How did you become interested in studying Haitian Creole?
I visited Haiti on two mission trips during high school and fell in love with the place, with the culture, and with the people. I had hoped to study a language during college, but I had given up on that dream because all of the intro language courses were too many credits to fit into my schedule. When I found out that Pitt was offering a Haitian Creole language course and that it was 4 credits, I was ecstatic and changed my entire schedule to fit it.
How does studying this language fit into your future plans?
I plan to spend time immediately after graduation doing volunteer work. Following that, I'm interested in the health sciences, especially the practice of medicine. Without knowing what the future holds for me, I'm not sure exactly how I'll use the language skills I acquired through these classes. It's possible that I'll return to Haiti in the future, maybe in a health care context, and I could use my language skills then. I could also see myself living in Haiti for a while. Or maybe I'll end up working in a part of the US where Haitian Creole is commonly spoken. The past year of studies has taught me much more than vocabulary and grammar though. The struggle of learning a language and the adventure of learning about another culture humbled me and taught me respect for diverse perspectives. I'll take those lessons with me no matter where I go or what I do.
What has been your best experience using this language?
I was in a local Pittsburgh neighborhood where people were picking up produce. I heard some familiar words, and I used what I've learned to ask the group next to me if they were speaking Haitian Creole. They were, and we had a great conversation. The group thanked me as we parted ways. The unexpected connection reminded me that language brings people together.
What is the greatest challenge with learning this language?
Having patience with myself was the greatest challenge. I couldn't snap my fingers and know all the vocabulary, speak with a perfect accent, or translate every grammatical construction. Over the course of the past year, I learned to be patient with my inadequacies and to enjoy the process.
What has knowing/ studying this language allowed you to do that you would not have been able to do otherwise?
One of my friends spoke Haitian Creole growing up, and when we used that language to converse, she said it reminded her of home. I wouldn't know her as well or have been able to share those conversations with her if it hadn't been for this class.