South West College Confucius student Cathal Deehan will be speaking at the ‘Confucius the Philosopher’ online event on June 16th on behalf of students in Northern Ireland. Ahead of the event, we caught up with him to hear about his time studying Mandarin with South West College.

Cathal Deehan's passion for languages is nothing new. He says, “my interest in studying mandarin started with a general interest in languages. I went to the Omagh CBS, where I studied Spanish to A Level, then I lived in Spain for a year. Living in a foreign country and speaking to local people in their native tongue is a special experience and I really caught the language bug from that.

"I first studied Chinese when I was at university in London. It struck me as a very different challenge to learning a European language, so I took a few evening classes. It was several years later, when I was living in Omagh again, that I realised South West College were offering Mandarin. It both surprised and impressed me that this was available in Omagh, and it definitely rekindled my curiosity."

When he started his Level 1 studies at South West College, Cathal was in a class with three other students, alongside an A Level Student and a grandmother who was learning Chinese in order to communicate with her new in-laws, after her son had married a Chinese woman. Following Level 1, Cathal carried on studying, this time receiving one-on-one classes with his tutor.

“Level 1 was really a refresh course for me," he says, "but I decided to go further. I was in a class on my own which really highlighted the commitment South West College have had to mandarin and the benefit of their relationship with the Confucius Institute. It's a great feeling of support when you realise a course is carrying on for your benefit.”

Now, Cathal has completed three levels of exams and he considers himself to be an intermediate Mandarin speaker. Having began this journey due to curiosity and interest, he admits that the idea of working in a career involving mandarin is beginning to interest him.

“Initially I studied out of interest, but now the idea of living and working in China feels possible, and there’s certainly an appeal to it. I visited China once, after finishing school, and the idea of living and working there for six months or a year is something I’ll definitely be looking into in the future.”

Like everyone, Cathal’s studies were interrupted in the last year, but he says he was grateful to have been able to study any way possible. He says, "I kept studying virtually. Again, I think this shows the commitment South West College have had to Confucius studies, which I’ve certainly been a beneficiary of. I’m very happy to have been doing online classes. You lose a bit by not meeting tutors in person, because at the end of the day we’re studying communication and body language and tone of voice are a huge part of that, which is lost slightly through virtual classes. But above all I’ve been delighted to continue in any way.”

Cathal will be speaking at the event, 'Confucius the Philosopher', on Wednesday 16th June. Born in 551 B.C., Confucius established the Confucian school of thinking, or Confucianism, considered one of the most influential traditions in the world. Confucius devoted his whole life to education and is quoted as saying, “I have never grown tired of learning, nor wearied in teaching others what I have learned”.

Cathal says, “Confucius is prominent in China but also worldwide and this event will look at his life, his work and his influence. I’ll be speaking about what I learned about him, including reflecting on a few of his proverbs that have most influenced me. It was an honour to be asked to speak at the event. Of course I’ll be speaking in Mandarin so there’ll be a few nerves because I’ll be keen to do my tutors proud. But above all I’ve benefited so much from South West College and the Confucius Institute, so I’m just looking forward to the opportunity to give something back by doing my best at this event."