Laura Finkle is a senior Religious Studies major and Irish minor. In her Student Spotlight, Laura shares with us how she was able to fufill a childhood dream by studying Irish at the University of Pittsburgh.
Why did you choose Pitt?
I got my Associates right out of high school but wasn’t sure about pursuing my Bachelor’s. After moving to Pittsburgh and working for several years, I was considering going back to get it, knowing that if I did, I wanted to pursue something I could be passionate about. I looked into courses at Pitt and after seeing the number of interesting classes, mainly classes in mythology, folklore, and the Irish language, I knew Pitt was where I had to be.
Are you a member of any organizations on campus?
I am the president of a new club here at Pitt, Club Cúla Búla, an Irish culture club. I’ve also been able to TA for the Irish language classes this past year. Both have been incredible experiences of expanding my knowledge of Irish language and culture while also getting to share that with other students.
What is your plan for after graduation?
My current plan is to work for a year while I pursue a Fulbright scholarship to gain my Master’s in Ireland, either in the field of folklore or studies of the Irish language.
Did you have any previous second-language exposure before coming to Pitt?
I took three semesters of Spanish in high school. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much other than the very basics. I have a small level of knowledge in American Sign Language through classes over the years. I get to practice and learn more each time I hang out with friends who work at a deaf school here in Pittsburgh.
How did you become interested in studying Irish?
I have always been interested in mythology and folklore, and as I child I fell in love with a movie called “The Secret of Roan Inish.” It features pieces from Irish folklore and some use of the Irish language. I told myself as a child that I would grow up and learn the Irish language, and coming to Pitt, I was able to fulfill that childhood dream.
How does studying Irish fit into your future plans?
Since being in the Irish language program, I have learned more about the language and its current situation, and have become passionate about it. I am interested in continuing learning more once I graduate and get into a Master’s program. I also had the privilege of helping my professor form an Irish language night here in Pittsburgh and that is something we hope to continue into the future for all of the Irish language speakers in the city.
What has been your best experience using Irish?
I was fortunate enough to be able to do a two-week language immersion course in Ireland two summers ago. We were able to get so much access to the language and the culture through trips, music, and conversations with native speakers and learners alike. I will be going back this August to participate in the program again at a higher language level.
What is the greatest challenge with learning Irish?
Irish is intimidating to look at. The sounds that letters make don’t match up with the way we usually hear them in English. My favorite example of this is the Irish word for ‘winter.’ It is spelled geimhreadh but pronounced geev-ruh. Once you know why though, it makes sense, and you even start applying that pronunciation automatically to any new word you see, Irish or not.
What has knowing/studying Irish allowed you to do that you would not have been able to do otherwise?
Studying Irish has given me a passion and a focus. I love learning the language and it has motivated me to push myself further in trying to learn it. The first time I ever left the country was to participate in the immersion course in Waterford, Ireland. I have been able to do so much since setting out to learn it that I wouldn’t have done had I not pursued a language.