Petra O'Toole talks about fourth year

A day in the life

Petra O'Toole talks about fourth year


Learning the subtleties of the German language expands your understanding—both of literature and the world—that much further.

Thinking through literature

Toronto native Petra O’Toole was in Germany on a high-school student exchange when she started applying to universities all over Canada. Getting a scholarship from Dalhousie helped persuade her to come to Halifax. She also wanted “a different perspective on Canadian culture” to contrast her experiences growing up in Toronto.

So what does she think about Halifax? “I love it!” she smiles. “I love being next to the ocean—it’s the best thing! It’ll be really hard if I ever have to leave!”

Working on a combined honours degree in Theatre and German, Petra confesses neither discipline was her first choice. But she’s smitten with German now. “You’re not only studying German, you’re studying philosophy and literature. So here, you’re not only learning the language—you’re also learning how to think.”

Petra especially loves German literature courses. But she also finds “nerdy joy” in the language itself. All courses encourage her to use various language skills to analyze texts. “You learn how grammar influences the spirit of the language,” she explains. “When you know that, it changes the way you think about a text.”

Meetings with her professors are just as rewarding. “Some of the best moments happen when you talk with profs in their office hours or at social events. You discover you can apply your knowledge, making connections between everyday life and what’s discussed in class. And the profs always make time for you—they’re always willing to help.”

And they’ve been very supportive of Petra’s “double” life. Her rehearsal schedule in the Theatre Department is strict. But the German Department has adjusted class times so she doesn’t have to worry about being late for rehearsal. “That they’ve accommodated me and other Theatre students like this has made a huge difference.”

It looks like Petra won’t have to leave Halifax any time soon: she’s been accepted to Dal’s MA in German literature program. She also intends to keep acting. Will she ever perform onstage in German? “I get asked that a lot,” she says, eyes twinkling. “But I don’t know—I guess I’d have to go there and try it out!”

Photo: Petra O'Toole as a member of the chorus in the Dal Theatre production of Medea, taken by Ken Kam.