HFA Student Profile: Liz O'Brien
Where are you from originally?
What is your major, and how did you select it?
English. Being an English major was in my blood, my grandfather and mother were both English majors - my grandfather was an author and college professor, and my mother teaches. Combined with my indecision of what I want to do after college, I decided to pursue perfecting my reading, critical thinking and writing skills through an English major. Whether my English major takes me on to teaching or to law school, I'm sure the fine education I've received at UMass Amherst will lead me to do great things.
How would you describe your Catalan classes at UMass?
I am currently taking a Catalan Culture class that I absolutely love! I had the special privilege to spend my Fall 2009 semester abroad in Barcelona, Spain where I experienced Catalan culture first hand. Towards the end of my journey I had the pleasure of meeting Júlia Llompart, my UMass Amherst Catalan Culture professor when she had returned to Catalunya for the holidays. When I heard that there was a class focused on Catalan culture I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for me to spend time each week reminiscing on all of my memories from Catalunya. The class has definitely allowed me to reminisce on my days in Barcelona, however it has also helped me learn a lot more specific detail about the culture through literature and film.
What is your favorite part about Catalan Studies?
Comparing what I learned while I was a part of the Catalan culture in Barcelona, to what I’m learning now as a spectator of the culture from America.
What inspired you to study abroad?
In elementary school one of my camp counselors studied abroad in Sydney, Australia. After hearing all about her experiences I couldn't wait for the day that I got to go to school in and explore another country. The hardest decision for me was choosing where to go; Barcelona was the perfect fit - it's rich in culture, has an abundance of art from every period, it’s an easy location to travel to other parts of Europe from, has great weather and is on the water, and is a sister city to my hometown, Boston!
What was your experience like?
Increïble (Catalan for ‘incredible’,'unbelievable',’amazing’). Whenever I’m asked this question, I freeze. I have thousands of wonderful, unique memories from being abroad, so it’s very difficult to give a short answer. Thankfully I always took too many pictures and kept an active blog while abroad - both of which serve as a great way to look back on all of my memories.
Has your year abroad helped develop your Spanish language skills?
Both my Spanish and my Catalan skills! Prior to college I had taken six years of French, which I found very useful in learning to understand Catalan. Although my French knowledge also helped me a lot in learning Spanish, the pronunciation differences of the languages was a huge obstacle. Needless to say, being in an atmosphere where I was forced to use Catalan and Spanish for everything was what helped me improve the most.
What advice do you have for other students who are interested in studying abroad?
Enjoy and make the most of every single second - it goes by way too fast. I was told this countless times before I left and thought it was pretty cliché, but it’s the truth. Family, friends and Amherst will be right where you left them – take absolute full advantage of this amazing opportunity!
What would you say is your best UMass memory so far?
Constantly meeting and learning from different types of people. UMass has so many different people and organizations. Thus far, I've been involved with Greek Life, a Student Business, Alternative Spring Break, Study Abroad, and the International Conversation Partners program. I hope to increase my involvement, do as much as I can and meet as many people as I can with my time left in Amherst.