Modern Languages and Cultures (French and German) Personal Statement
Submitted by Caitriona
I am interested in modern languages because of their absolute vitality in the world today. Languages divide societies, but those who learn the languages of others can help to bridge the divides. I am also drawn to the logic associated with language. This year I had the opportunity to take part in the All Ireland Linguistics Olympiad. I qualified for the final, coming 23rd out of 1200 competitors, and received a commendation for my performance. I enjoyed the problem-solving and I hope to study linguistics in the future.
Through my reading of Camus' L'Étranger I grew interested in the subject of identity. In this novel Meursault's identity is questioned by society after his mother's death. He is judged for his actions but, secure in his identity, he does not judge others. I enjoyed studying the way in which Camus' existentialist ideas come alive in the character of Meursault. While reading En attendant Godot I noticed Samuel Beckett's use of existential ideas. Vladimir and Estragon spend the entirety of their lives waiting for someone they do not even know, in an everlasting sequence of confusion. We use language to express our identities every day but Beckett creates a world in which all the structures of life are stripped away leaving a meaningless existence in which even language is powerless.
In contrast to these existentialist ideas, I have found it interesting to explore realism in German literature and film. I have cousins in Berlin and my visits there have led me to read fiction about the city's history. One novel that made a strong impression is Fallada's Jeder stirbt für sich allein. We often ask why so many Germans acquiesced in Hitler's rule, some standing back and others stepping forward. Many allowed their personal identities to be subsumed by the Fascist project. Fallada shows instead how one man uses words to fight the Nazis in the hope of reclaiming his identity and inspiring others to do the same. It is interesting to compare the Germany of World War II with that of the Cold War. Despite the defeat of Hitler, those living in East Berlin continued to lead challenging lives. The films Goodbye Lenin! and Das Leben der Anderen present two different depictions of the same period but the relationship between national and personal identities is prominent in both.
My own experiences have also drawn me to the topic of identity. My sister has struggled with mental illness for the past five years and has little sense of her own identity. She dreams of travel but is trapped both literally and emotionally. This has encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone. In July 2017 I spent two weeks staying with a family in Paris, improving my spoken French and learning about French culture. I attended the 14th July parade, and was struck by the immense pride that many French people take in the armed forces. This contrasts sharply with the perception of the military in Northern Ireland where many feel torn between Britain and Ireland in terms of their identities. German national pride seems very different from what I observed in France. The celebrations on Tag der deutschen Einheit are quite muted, and I wonder whether this is related in some way to a sense of guilt about Germany's role in World War II. These experiences have given me a strong desire to spend a year in either France or Germany before starting university in order to improve my cultural knowledge and language skills.
Outside of the classroom I am a keen sports player. I have represented the College in netball and swimming for six years. This has taught me the importance of commitment, a lesson that is useful in all aspects of life. I play the viola, sing in the school choir and dance competitively. I am interested in charity work, which in August 2017 took me to South Africa where I spent two weeks working in primary schools in the townships of George. It opened my eyes to the beauty of South African culture while allowing me to encounter new languages.