Éasca Péasca (Easy Peasy): Student Stories – Immersion in Ireland

Student Stories

By Dr. Victoria Luna B. Grieve

My experience with being Irish can best be described as roundabout. I’m a third or fourth generation Pittsburgher, but my dad’s father was supposedly 100% Irish. I didn’t grow up with any kind of cultural pride for my ancestry, but my mum was in love with Ireland, at least her understanding of it.

Her side of the family didn’t tie back to Ireland, but she grew up with many folks who were exceedingly proud of their heritage, which gave my mum a kind of second-hand fascination. It was something like a fandom for her, gathering various tchotchkes related to Ireland, but I never really thought about it. That was my only connection to the place and people for most of my life.

I did well in school and managed to get into a local community college, hoping to be a teacher someday. Eventually I found pharmacy and pivoted my educational trajectory to include graduate school, which I managed to get into thanks to luck and hard work (and a king’s ransom in student loans).

I graduated, did a post-grad fellowship, then ended up back at the same pharmacy school I attended, as faculty. All that time, I really had no ties to anything culturally; I was just some lower-middle class girl with good grades and a passion for designing games and teaching.

Royal College of Surgeons
This changed drastically a few years ago. One of my girlfriends was applying to medical schools and got accepted to the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. I was so excited for her moving to Dublin and getting started with classes.

Every week we would do video calls so she could show me something in the city and gush about how much she loved it there. That summer I visited her for her birthday and got to see Dublin with my own eyes for the first time. I immediately fell in love.

I can’t really describe it but being in and around Dublin just felt like being home. We’d walk through Phoenix Park or St. Stephen’s Green, and I couldn’t believe how comfortable it felt being there.

Grabbing a coffee at House of Read and strolling through the city center was so natural, it was like I had grown up visiting regularly. I’ve never felt so connected to a place before. All the while, I would see Gaeilge on the signs and wonder about the language.

As someone who followed a strict STEM pathway through college, I never had time to study a language. I took some Latin classes back in high school, which I enjoyed very much, but studying a dead language has more in common with studying math or chemistry: the rules and components are ossified with time and academia.

I started Duolingo the day I left Ireland to return home and found that my university had an Irish language professor who taught quite a few levels of the class. I was hesitant to audit the class because my workload was unpredictable, and I worried about being disruptive to the experience as a 30-something year old professor alongside first-year students.

Eventually I just couldn’t pass up the chance and emailed Professor Young about being a learner in her classes. We met and chatted, and she gave me the specific permission to attend (for no credits or grade) as long as I “took it seriously and did the work.”

Well, here we are three semesters later and I can’t thank her enough for indulging my fascination. Taking Irish classes (and doing the work!) is the highlight of every week and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a class more.

This past summer (right before starting Irish 3), my wife and I went on our honeymoon, and I was charged with planning it. We went on a nine-day rail and bus tour across Ireland (with a small trip up to Belfast near the end).

It was wonderful, and I was a little surprised to find that feeling of comfort and belonging extending far beyond Dublin. Every town and city we stopped in just felt like a kind of home, much like I had felt in Dublin. I would adore moving to Ireland someday, but I’ll probably have to settle for yearly visits.

During that honeymoon trip, I got to speak to folks as Gaeilge, but mostly I translated signs everywhere we went, which only fueled my interest in learning the language more. To that end, my Duolingo streak is over 500 days and I’m about to start Irish 4.

Go raibh míle maith agat
I don’t know what level of fluency I’ll manage in the language, but I will always treasure the opportunity to connect with a language and a culture I didn’t realize would resonate so strongly. Go raibh míle maith agat mo mhúinteoir, Marie!

Find this and other Éasca Péasca and other columns HERE!

Picture of Guest Writer: Dr. Victoria Luna B Grieve

Guest Writer: Dr. Victoria Luna B Grieve

*works at the University of Pittsburgh in the School of Pharmacy as an Assistant Professor, specializing in ludic instructional design, with clinical area of expertise in gender affirmation for transgender patients. She has attended the University for twenty years as either a student, faculty, or both.

She grew up just east of Pittsburgh and never had the reason to leave, but has been spending at least some small part of her summers in Ireland , where she hopes to attend a language immersion experience. Is aoibhinn liom Baile Átha Cliath go háirithe!

Picture of Marie Young

Marie Young

*Marie Young is a native of Dublin, moving to Pittsburgh in 2001. She is the Irish language instructor for The LCTL Department at the University of Pittsburgh. She is married to a fellow Irish man John and has 3 children, Jack (22), Ronan (14), and Tiernan (8).

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