Communication and women’s and gender studies double major sophomore Clara Gallagher has dual citizenship in the United States and Germany and speaks four languages—more than most people would ever dream of learning. Her multi-lingual talents arose from spending half of her childhood in the U.S. and the other half in Germany.
Gallagher grew up in a predominantly Dominican area of the Bronx, attending a school where students spoke both Spanish and English while she learned German from her mother at home. When Gallagher was 10 years old, her mother received a job offer too good to pass up: a position at the first liberal arts college in Germany. Gallagher and her brother went with their mother while their father stayed home.
“When I left for Germany, Spanish and German were my best languages,” Gallagher said. “My mom just really wanted me to have a German education alongside my American one. I feel like I’m equally American and German.”
From ages 13 to 16, Gallagher attended the Rudolf Steiner Schule, a Waldorf school that emphasizes independent, creative methods in learning without the use of technology and is entirely self-sustainable.
“It is much more oriented toward connecting with nature, thinking outside the box—we had to learn to dance our own names,” Gallagher said.
Other activities at the Rudolf Steiner Schule included hand-binding her own notebooks and writing biographies, according to Gallagher. Now as a college student, Gallagher can speak to the advantages of this type of education.
“[The school] gave me a way to find myself a lot earlier,” she said. “I wasn’t forced to be a certain person.”
She picked up her fourth language, French, while at the school, describing it as the language to which she feels most connected. Additionally, her mother only spoke French to her at home and the two of them would only read and watch television in French.
“I’m telling you, my parents did not let me speak English,” Gallagher said.
In addition to her impressive linguistic talents, Gallagher played oboe with school orchestras in Germany, touring in countries like Norway for their performance of Bizet’s “Carmen,” which finished in Oslo’s opera house. Gallagher added that she still plays, but not as often as she used to.
When she was 16, Gallagher decided she wanted to receive an American high school diploma. Thus, she returned home to live with her father.
“It was like going back to my childhood home,” Gallagher said.
After high school, Gallagher chose to go to Geneseo because of how much she loved the people here. On her tour of the college, having the opportunity to speak with different professors really impacted her decision, according to Gallagher.
Gallagher is an active member of the Student Coalition for Migrant Workers and is using her Spanish skills to help immigrants in Livingston County. She also participates in Students Against Social Injustice, Peace Action and sustainability initiatives.
“If it’s social justice-oriented, I’m probably going to be there,” she said.
In the future, Gallagher hopes to find a job that will give her the opportunity to help people. Regardless of what her future holds, Geneseo is lucky to a student like Gallagher on campus.