Janelle Dempsey, '20

Janelle Dempsey sits on a bench in Arrupe hall.

Junior Janelle Dempsey recalls always having a passion for travel and language. She loves the idea of being fully immersed in another culture and has a dream to live somewhere outside of the U.S. someday.

Dempsey was able to finally fulfill this passion this past year when she had opportunities to travel abroad on a service immersion trip to the Dominican Republic, and again a few months later when she traveled to Italy to study abroad for a month.

Choosing Rockhurst was an easy decision for her; having a brother come to Rockhurst and an aunt, Mary Haskins, Ph.D., professor of biology, teach at Rockhurst, she was already familiar with the school before she stepped foot on campus as a student.

“I’ve basically grown up on this campus, but it wasn’t until I was in high school that I realized it was a University, or that it was higher education,” Dempsey said, “My brother, David Dempsey, was here, my aunt was here and obviously I was on campus a lot growing up so it was just very familiar.”

Coming to college, Dempsey knew that she would travel abroad at some point, but she thought her first time abroad would be to study abroad. She credits her aunt as the motivation for traveling for a service immersion trip with Rockhurst as her first overseas trip.

“When I was in high school I was studying Spanish, and I think that was the first time my aunt had gone on a service immersion trip as a companion,” Dempsey said. “Coming into Rockhurst I was like, ‘how cool would it be if I went on a service immersion trip as a student and she went as a companion?’ Which is what happened. I got to go with her, and I think what drew me to the trip was the family aspect.”

About two months following the service trip, Dempsey took another opportunity to travel. This time to teach English in Carpi, Italy. Although she had never traveled outside of the country before, these two experiences showcased two very different cultures and helped shape her worldly perspective.

“Both times, I lived with host families, but in the Dominican Republic it was different because they were of a lower socioeconomic status and they didn’t have indoor plumbing or basic things we take for granted here,” Dempsey said. “When I went to Italy, I’ve never studied Italian, so I wasn’t able to necessarily communicate in Italian as well as I could in Spanish.”

Visiting places outside of the U.S. gave Dempsey a fresh and new outlook on the world.

“I’m not just thinking, ‘well everyone outside of the United States has less material items and less privileges than I do.’ I’m also seeing that there are countries that have just as many opportunities as I do, just in different ways and they’re structured differently,” Dempsey said. “It really helps to balance my perspective of the world. It’s realizing in any country there are people who have more and less, but we’re all human. We all share that in common.”

Dempsey began using her artistic abilities to document the places she’s been and figured out a way she could share her art with others. As a self-taught calligraphist and brush-letterer, Dempsey decided she would express her travels through something she had become so passionate about: language.

“I think the first time I did this is when I went to California in high school for a national convention,” Dempsey said. “I was like, ‘we’re going to go to the beach’. What other opportunity am I ever going to have to use the beach as a background for my artwork?’ That was the first time I did artwork in a specific location to document traveling in a way. That was a catalyst.”

Dempsey shares her art on her Instagram account, which became a challenge for her when she decided that she wanted to figure out other ways to document her life by way of art.

“I made a commitment to myself that if I was going to keep my Instagram account, it was not going to be about myself, but it was going to be about who I am and how I express myself through my art, and it’s going to be a means of sharing that with the world,” Dempsey said.

When she’s in another country, her artwork takes on the language of whatever country she’s in at the time.

“When I go somewhere, I try to do all of my artwork in that language of the country. So, even though I didn’t know Italian, it forced me to learn Italian,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey uses her Instagram account to not only document her travels and challenge herself as an artist, but she also uses the platform to make a larger statement on social media and humanity.

“Over the years, I can see how it’s challenged me. I can’t control what I look like, but I can control who I am on the inside,” Dempsey said. “There’s just so much more that you can share with the world than just what you look like, because you’re so much more than what you look like.”

She hopes to continue traveling the world, and offers this advice to others considering:

“Don’t be a tourist. Be a traveler,” Dempsey said. “One of the things I’ve developed through this philosophy is don’t travel to just see the world, travel to meet the world.”