Feature: “For the people,” an interview with Janelle Dempsey

“Friday Features” share the stories of members of the Rockhurst community and their endeavors beyond academics.


Pictured: Janelle Dempsey in Burano, Italy

Janelle Dempsey is a 20-year-old junior, who is double-majoring in Spanish and Education, and who self-admittedly cannot stop talking about language and culture.

From travelling to the Dominican Republic for a Rockhurst service trip in March 2018 to studying abroad and teaching English in Italy in May 2018, Dempsey’s travel itinerary has only just begun.

Dempsey considers herself a lifelong traveler and learner of language and culture. She aspires to live and work abroad after graduating from Rockhurst.

The list of languages she is learning is comprehensive, one might call it a worldly effort—Spanish, Italian, French, and Turkish.

But why the obsession? Why is are language and culture so important to Dempsey?

Her answer is simple: the people.

“Studying another language is important because the people that speak that language are important,” Dempsey said.

Janelle Dempsey (second from the left) with other students in Verona, Italy

World-travel and multilingual aspirations were not always what she envisioned for herself.

In high school, everything started to change. She began to dream of becoming a polyglot, of leaving the country and studying or working abroad as soon as possible—at the time, she had yet to fully discovered her purpose and passion.

Dempsey has grown up in the same house and city her entire life and had never even left the country before 2018.

But after her 2018 trips abroad, she recognized her heart for language, culture and traveling.

Her interests have deepened since high school, and her “why” has dramatically changed. Her dream now is to learn languages for the purpose of connecting with people and places.

When asked, “Why the combination of Spanish, French, Italian, and Turkish?”, Dempsey said that together they equal a global community of close friends she has cultivated over the years. Learning each of these languages is not a random choice or a resume-builder, rather, they are the means to direct, deeper connection with people she knows around the world.

As a native English speaker, Dempsey is often asked “Why learn another language when most people are learning English around the world?”

She feels that the answer to this question is foundational to her vision of traveling: “I want to show that person that they are important enough for me to learn their language, not the other way around…The whole world may be trying to learn English, but I want to show these people that their language and culture is just as valuable.”

“I want to show that person that they are important enough for me to learn their language, not the other way around…”

— Janelle Dempsey

Dempsey previously thought that returning to the United States was one of the hardest things that she had to do after feeling the fulfillment and joy of the world abroad. This year however, her biggest lesson has been to not only look for opportunities to leave the country, but to truly cherish and experience the cultures “in her own backyard.”

Now attending a Spanish-speaking church in a culturally diverse area of Kansas City, and volunteering as an ESL teacher in the same community, Dempsey is finding that she is able to experience the same passion that she found outside the United States just as much as within it.

Janelle Dempsey (far right) with her host family in Italy

From her recently-created blog, Janelle details her ultimate inspiration and vision:

“Language opens up the entire world. It is a living and breathing thing that has the ability to grow us as individuals, to expand our understanding of the world and life itself, and to connect us with the rest of our word. Language provokes us to go beyond our definition of normal and to discover the inherent value of all people, despite their language, culture, or country of origin.”

She explains it perfectly: language, culture, and travel are about people.

So why not carry that same mindset with us the next time we go on a trip, walk into our foreign language class or interact with someone of another culture? We should be more Janelle Dempsey and do it for the people.


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