Mid-Semester Catch-Up

This afternoon marks the start of our week-long mid-semester break at Stirling and, as ever, it feels as though the first half of the semester has just raced past. It has been different, of course, from previous years but lots has still been happening and we wanted to give you a quick update on all things ‘French at Stirling’:

Firstly, we’re delighted to see a few of our students entering a French-language creative writing competition run by our colleagues at Napier University and we want to wish best of luck to the entrants!

This first half of semester has also seen a wealth of activity on the research seminar front, with French at Stirling staff giving talks at Stirling and elsewhere, and colleagues from other Universities giving papers in our (online) research seminar series. This started with Cristina Johnston giving a paper on the films of Céline Sciamma at the first Literature and Languages research seminar of the new academic year (alongside a great paper by our colleague in English Studies, Kelsey Jackson Williams). Next up was Nina Parish who gave a paper entitled ‘Remembering homeland and representing diaspora in virtual museums (or how to conduct fieldwork during lockdown)’ at Stirling University’s Centre for Environment and Heritage Policy.

Nina also spoke, this semester, at an event organised by the Centre for Poetic Innovation at the University of St Andrews, alongside her colleague Emma Wagstaff from the University of Birmingham, where they spoke about ‘Editing Bilingual Poetry Anthologies in the 21st Century’. This talk had been scheduled twice in the last academic year but both times were cancelled because of strikes and then the pandemic but, as Nina says, ‘this time we managed. What’s more, Emma was able to join us which was wonderful because we have collaborated on research to do with poetic practice in French for many years. Together, we edited a bilingual anthology of contemporary French poetry, which appeared with Enitharmon Press in 2016.

During our paper, we talked about some aspects of the decision-making process involved in compiling this anthology and gave a brief flavour of the texts it includes. We argued that an anthology of translated texts can affect how they are viewed in the original ‘source’ culture as well as introducing them to a new literary system. We discussed our plans for a further digital anthology that would enable us to anthologise some examples of the wide range of forms taken by contemporary poetic practice in French, but which also poses translation challenges of its own.’

The St Andrews connection continued, coincidentally, with a research paper given by Victoria Turner who is Lecturer in French at St Andrews and who works on medieval French and Occitan literature. The brilliant paper Victoria gave as part of our L&L seminar series was entitled ‘Everywhere and Nowhere: (T)racing Mixed-Race Relationships in Medieval French Epic.’

What else has been happening? Well, Hannah Grayson has just learned that a research project she is part of (Resilience+: Integrating Equity into Climate-Resilient Development) has been awarded GCRF and ESRC funding so congratulations there! The project will look at conceptualisations of resilience and develop a network to support inclusive and responsive programming and policy making in Rwanda. It particularly focuses on marginalised groups affected by flooding in rural Rwanda and Hannah’s contribution will be around language and inter-cultural understanding, building on her previous work in Rwanda.

We’ve also delighted to announce that our former PhD student, Jamal Bahmad, has co-authored a fantastic volume entitled Moroccan Cinema Uncut: Decentred Voices, Transnational Perspectives, with Will Higbee and Florence Martin. And that our colleague Elizabeth Ezra’s Shoe Reels: The History and Philosophy of Footwear in Film, co-edited with Catherine Wheatley, will be out in a couple of months. Both are published by Edinburgh University Press.

And, last but not least for the moment, we’re looking forward to welcoming Julie Hugonny, who will be joined us as Lecturer in French for the rest of this year after the mid-semester break, and we’d like to say thanks to Olivier Gillot who has been working as a French Teaching Assistant with us over the first half of this semester.

There is doubtless much more that could be added and more details on some of the above will come over the weeks ahead but, in the meantime, for Stirling colleagues and students reading this, we hope you have a good mid-semester break, and for anybody else reading, we hope this finds you well. À bientôt!

More Open Letters

Following on from yesterday’s open letters to Buchanan Street and to snow, another couple of letters penned by this year’s finalists (with their permission – thanks to the students concerned). Bonne lecture!

‘Chère Covid-19…

Par où dois-je commencer ? Je ne sais pas si je devrais vous remercier ou vous haïr. Vous m’avez donné du temps pour me détendre et me concentrer sur moi-même mais vous avez aussi volé la 21ème année de ma vie.

Pourtant, malgré ça j’ai eu de la chance, puisque j’ai passé les premiers mois de l’année en France entouré des gens les plus sympas et les plus cool que je n’aie jamais rencontrés et je leur parle encore. Et après, quand vous avez décidé d’envahir l’Europe, j’avais encore de la chance. Je suis allé en Suisse où je me suis caché dans les montagnes et, en fait, j’ai fêté mon anniversaire là-bas. Vous m’avez enseigné à être reconnaissant et malgré tes efforts je me suis encore bien amusé. Comme je l’ai dit, j’ai eu vraiment de la chance, moi, mais d’autres ont été moins chanceux. C’est bizarre de penser que vous n’existez que pour contaminer les humains.

Peut-être votre existence a des raisons qu’on ne peut pas saisir ou peut-être avez-vous été envoyée par la Terre afin de re-équilibrer la planète ? Même David Attenborough dit qu’on a détruit la planète. Mais on continue à ne rien faire donc on peut comprendre pourquoi vous êtes apparue. La nature est en train de disparaître et nous continuons à nous propager sans cesse. Il faut qu’on fasse de notre mieux et c’est est pourquoi je t’en supplie, de la part de l’humanité, d’arrêter votre campagne impitoyable et quand vous retournerez à la Terre demande-lui si on méritera une dernière chance.’

And finally:

‘À mon équipe de foot,

Tu me manques énormément, c’est vrai. La dernière fois que je t’ai vue au stade, c’était il y a presque huit mois. Si j’avais su que ce serait la dernière fois que je te verrais, je crois que je n’aurais jamais quitté le stade. Je serais resté à ma place dans le stade avec mes amis après le coup de sifflet final, pour profiter de la vue du magnifique terrain vert. Bien sûr, je peux te regarder tous les week-ends à la télévision, mais on doit être honnête ; ce n’est pas du tout la même chose que de te regarder en personne (En plus, il y a désormais une semaine de foot international, donc je ne pourrai te voir que dans une semaine et demie … Quel dommage !). Quand je m’assois sur mon canapé et me mets à hurler des insultes à l’arbitre, je sens mes plaintes tomber sur des oreilles sourdes, et ça me rend vraiment triste. Aujourd’hui, je me rends compte que je t’ai pris comme acquis, et je te promets que je ne le ferai jamais plus. En attendant que ce jour arrive, je vais rester chez moi pour te regarder et te soutenir. Ce n’est pas juste à mon avis, mais je comprends que c’est nécessaire en ce moment.’

Many, many thanks not only to the authors of the lettres ouvertes that have made their way to these blog pages but to all the finalists who wrote such fantastic letters!

Open Letters

I think this may be the first time that some of our students’ homework has made its way onto the blog (with the students’ consent, I hasten to add). I don’t expect this will be a common occurrence but, as part of our final year language teaching, a couple of weeks ago, I asked the students to write open letters to whomever/whatever they wanted. The prompt was an article we had been working on, an open letter written to the Mediterranean by a French diver, and the idea was that it would give them an opportunity to write in ways that ‘conventional’ composition exercises don’t necessarily allow for.

Rather short-sightedly, what I hadn’t anticipated was that these letters would be so moving. The students had really taken the task seriously and had written witty, thoughtful, emotional letters. As I read through them, it occurred to me that they might also make for good blog posts so here we are. It made sense to me to select those that seemed to best reflect the combined sense of sadness and, for want of a better word, resilience that is also coming across in classes. So, with no further ado, and with thanks to their authors, here are the first couple of letters:

“Chère rue Buchanan,

Enfin !

Je n’aurais jamais imaginé un jour où je ne pourrais pas te marcher dessus sans un seul souci au monde. Ne me méprends pas, il y a eu des jours où ce n’était pas aussi agréable de te marcher dessus ! Par où devrais-je commencer ? Je ne sais plus combien de fois tu m’as accueillie avec l’odeur de la fumée de cigarette ou où j’ai marché sur du chewing-gum que les gens t’ont négligemment craché dessus. Mais, malgré tout, tu m’as manquée.

Pendant ces mois d’été, tu m’as forcé à travailler à plain temps, au lieu de me sentir triste de mon désir pour toi !

Alors, qu’est-ce qui m’a le plus manqué chez toi ?

Tes chanteurs de rue, tes lumières de Noël ou les échantillons gratuits de thé à Whittard. Tu as une quantité infinie de cafés qui portent l’arôme fort et réconfortant du café fraîchement moulu chaque fois que quelqu’un ouvre ou ferme la porte. Il n’y pas de meilleure sensation que de tenir une tasse de café chaud à emporter par une froide matinée de décembre pour me réchauffer les mains et me faire sentir un peu mieux. De plus, c’est à cause de toi que je suis arrivée en retard pour mon train parce que tu m’as persuadée de chercher dans un autre magasin de chaussures ou de réfléchir à une raison d’acheter encore un autre sac à main de créateur.

Ne t’inquiète pas, chère vielle rue Buchanan, tout reviendra bientôt à la normalité.”

And then:

“Chère neige,  

Reviens! Je t’en prie. Je ne savais pas à quel point tu me manquerais avant d’avoir passé trop d’hivers écossais sans toi, avec la pluie et les vents comme mes seuls compagnons. Ce n’est qu’après ton départ que je me suis rendu compte que l’hiver peut être si vide, sans aucune joie. Maintenant, sans toi, je me rappelle tout le bonheur que tu as apporté à ma vie. Les matins où je me suis réveillé et je t’ai regardée par la fenêtre avec extase. Les après-midis passés en faisant de la luge, les soirées au Canada où tu m’as aidé à trouver ma passion pour le ski. Tout cela, je le vois comme la vie en rose.

Cependant, j’espère que ce ne sont pas des choses du passé, que tout cela n’existe pas seulement dans mes souvenirs. Je comprends pourquoi tu ne peux plus venir assez souvent, que, à cause de notre folie, les endroits que tu as aimés auparavant, sont maintenant en train de mourir. C’est ironique que, plus on doit voyager loin pour te retrouver, dans nos voitures et nos avions, plus loin encore tu seras, l’année prochaine. C’est vraiment égoïste je sais, de te demander, à toi, de revenir pour m’amuser, mais j’imagine aussi, avec tristesse, les générations suivantes, pour lesquelles, tu seras un conte de fées, un trou blanc dans nos vies, pour l’éternité.”

Thanks again to the authors of these particular letters. Another couple will follow shortly.

From Morocco to Scotland and Back

Following on from Maja’s ‘postcard’ from life as a Stirling undergraduate, we’re really pleased to be able to post an article by our former PhD student, Jamal Bahmad who is now Assistant Professor of English and Cultural Studies at Mohammed V University in Morocco:

‘I will always remember the time I landed at Edinburgh airport one chilly night in early October 2010. It was a direct flight from Marrakech. You can imagine the shock I went through that night not only due to the radically different weather, but also the quietness of Edinburgh compared to the riotous Moroccan cities.

My wonder turned into long-lasting wonderment when I took the train to Stirling the following morning. Arriving in a new city where I knew no one was enough to make every step and moment an adventure for me. British culture was not foreign to me as a long-time BBC listener and graduate of the English Department in Morocco, but the broadcast and bookish Britons were different from everyday Stirling one decade into the twenty-first century. I thought I had prepared myself for that by watching some recent Scottish films, but my Scotland was more Braveheart than Trainspotting. That wasn’t to change much over the course of the three and a half years I spent as PhD student at Stirling University. This was in part due to the Scottish trait to encourage fantastic images of Scotland, and another part due to my own reluctance to engage much with everyday life in the city. I didn’t go back to Morocco to see my family for almost three years. I spent most of the time in my room working on my doctoral thesis on Moroccan cinema. No wonder I submitted it on time, and the piece went on to win the British Association for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) Leigh Douglas Memorial Prize 2015 for Best PhD Dissertation.

Yes, I didn’t travel to the Highlands. So what? Our campus, as the university’s marketing team kept repeating, was literally at the foot of the fabled Highlands. Almost every window at the university buildings gives on a fable-like vista. Scotland is a beautiful country. I say that even though I mostly read about it while I was in Scotland! Imagined Scotland is more powerful than the touristic experience.

The wet and cold weather of Scotland is one thing, and the warmth of Scottish people in general and the cosmopolitan academic and admin staff at the modern languages division at the university was something else. My supervisor David Murphy was the best thesis advisor I could have wished for. A brilliant mind and industrious person, David wasn’t short of warmth and hospitality. He and his partner Aedin occasionally invited me to their flat in Glasgow, a city I discovered halfway into my Scottish stay. It was markedly different from Edinburgh or Stirling and felt more real than both. Bill Marshall was a huge presence in the department and the School of Languages. His humility and cosmopolitan character made him a great help to me. Antonio Sanchez in the Spanish department was a great person and interlocutor, always willing to give of his time to students even if for just a chat in the corridor. We felt immediately close perhaps because of our shared Moorish heritage and character.

Time passed quickly and I soon graduated with a PhD. I wasn’t exactly happy because I had to think about the future, something I had been sheltered from by the Horizon Studentship-funded time to work on my thesis in the warmth of my room in postgraduate student accommodation in Lyon Crescent, Bridge of Allan. A job wasn’t long in arriving. Almost without applying, I soon started working as a postdoctoral research fellow at Philipps-Universität Marburg in Germany. Obviously, people saw in me something I didn’t see in myself. Living in Germany didn’t appeal to me from day one, so I was overjoyed when I heard from the British Academy one week into my first postdoctoral job. I was one of the lucky few to get awarded one of the prestigious British Academy postdoctoral fellowships. I stayed in Germany till late December 2014. I started on my BA fellowship at the University of Leeds in January of the following year. It was an exciting time. I even began seriously thinking about settling in the country to pursue an academic career.

I was in the middle of fieldwork in Algeria in May 2015 when I heard that my dear father in Morocco was sick. He was diagnosed with a malicious kind of melanoma. I was devastated by the news and was soon back in Morocco to be next to him. Family is primordial in my Amazigh culture, and my father was very close to me even though or perhaps because our relationship consisted mainly of him telling stories of his life and me listening avidly. The listening project intensified during his illness. It made me reconsider my transnational life. I frequently travelled back to Morocco to see him and ultimately decided to plan for an academic career in Morocco even though my father had a terminal illness. He passed away on 27 March 2016. Less than three months later, I landed a job as an assistant professor at Mohammed V University in Rabat. I’m now here and have survived the pandemic unharmed so far (those hermetic days in Lyon Crescent didn’t go to waste; they immunised me against loneliness and boredom!), but Stirling and the memories of my time there are forever on my mind. It’s a beautiful and unceasing friendship. How I long to revisit that beautiful campus and relive some of those memories!

Rabat, 26 September 2020′

Many, many thanks to Jamal for this fantastic postcard from Morocco (and from Stirling) and we look forward to hearing more from you over the years ahead, and send you all our best wishes from Scotland.

Language learning and food ordering

Language learning and food ordering

As some of you may be aware, last Thursday was World Postcard Day so, a little belatedly, we thought we’d post two virtual postcards from Stirling, each coming via other locations, too, one from a current undergraduate, the other from a former postgraduate student. To start things off then:

Salut! My name is Maja (said exactly like Maya, just spelled weirdly) and I am currently in my second year of doing an undergrad joint degree in Psychology and French.

I am originally from the North West of Germany; however, since I first visited the UK in 2013, I had a desire to leave my motherland behind me and move to a country full of lovely people, beautiful landscapes and glorious food. I changed my phone background to a picture of the Brighton Pier and from that moment on, little by little, I took the necessary steps that would help me move to the United Kingdom.

Initially, I planned on moving to England but when it came to choosing a university, I quickly realized that I was not willing to pay roughly 10,000GBP a year, if I could also get a high quality education for not even a fifth of that amount a bit further up North. I tried to do a bit of research on the different universities in Scotland and Stirling stuck out to me. I don’t know if it was the nicely designed university website or the gorgeous images of Stirling itself, but my gut feeling told me to apply for the University of Stirling and luckily, I was quickly accepted.

The first semester I did a ‘normal’ Psychology degree because, feeling rather overwhelmed by all of the possibilities and things that needed to be arranged, I wasn’t aware that you could even do a joint degree with another European language. But eventually, I was made aware of this by other people doing similar programmes and I immediately scheduled an appointment with the French programme director at the time.

My love for French and France itself, began in a similar way as my love for the UK, although a bit earlier. Ever since I can remember my family has spent their summer holidays in France. I always thoroughly enjoyed this time of the year and loved picking up a bit of French along the way (when I was 8, I proudly ordered my own crêpes and barbe à papa). I have nothing but good memories of these holidays.

In school, then, from year 6 onwards, I was able to study French and did so until I graduated and eventually came to Scotland. Because of my previous experience, I was able to join the advanced stream of French learners at Stirling, despite having missed out on the first semester entirely.

Psychology is still the main focus for me, as this is the field that I want to work in later on, but I am so happy that I chose to also take on French. I am not going to lie, it is demanding at times and sometimes I am relatively convinced that my brain is simply not capable of processing more than two languages but nonetheless, I still absolutely love it. I really appreciate that we are being provided with a lot of guidance and have three different seminars every week. I feel like within two semesters of French at Stirling I have already learned so much more about the language and the French culture than I ever did at school.

I love learning about languages and truly feel like everyone in the French department is putting so much effort into providing us with the best possible learning experience.

As for my time abroad (which is a course requirement), I am hoping to do the minimum amount of spending four weeks at a language school in France. Doing a whole semester abroad does sound like an amazing opportunity, but I do also have personal reasons for not wanting to be away from my home in Scotland for this long. And with the current circumstances, who even knows what the future will hold.

But nonetheless, I am planning to keep working on my French, enjoy the course and hopefully soon I will be able to return to France and flaunt my new language skills at the crêpes stand.’

Many thanks, indeed, to Maja for having taken the time to send us through this great post and we really hope you continue to enjoy your time learning French with us.

Language Swap

Following on from our recent post detailing the varied range of languages spoken by staff and students of French at Stirling, we wanted to remind readers about the fantastic Language Swap scheme, established by our colleague, Fiona Barclay, which is still going strong. The aim of this free scheme is to learn a language with a native speaker and for them to get the opportunity to learn your language in exchange.

This semester, in particular, with face-to-face contact more complicated and, in some cases, just not possible, it’s a great way to find ways to keep speaking other languages with native speakers. For students of French, obviously, this is a great supplement to your scheduled classes but the language pairings that are possible go well beyond just French and English. The more people in the Language Swap database, the wider the range of language partnerships that can emerge.

To register with Language Swap, just go to the website and create a profile. Once that’s done, you can search the database for people whose language you want to learn and who are looking to learn your language, and you contact them via Language Swap’s private message function.

A brilliant opportunity to keep building your language skills!

Happy European Day of Languages!

For the past few years, as our way of celebrating the European Day of Languages (tomorrow – 26 September 2020), we’ve posted articles with details of the wide and varied range of languages spoken by students and staff in French at Stirling. Every year, the list changes slightly and every year, we’re amazed to see just how multilingual a group we are, and this year is no different. Once again, amidst the bustle of the first fortnight of a new semester, our students have kindly taken the time to send details of their languages, and, this year in particular, we really are grateful to them for having done so.

And so, with no further ado, here’s this year’s list! Staff and students at Stirling speak (in no particular order): French, Spanish, English, Catalan, Italian, Russian, German, Turkish, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Croatian, Varesotto dialect, Portuguese, Mandarin, Romanian, Arabic, Dutch, Finnish, Swedish, Serbian, Scots Gaelic, Norwegian, Latin, Cantonese, Pavese dialect, Greek, Armenian, Hungarian, Korean, Basque, Japanese, Bulgarian, Welsh, Asturian…

And, in keeping with our annual tradition, to all those who took the time to get back to us: merci, gracias, thank you, gràcie, grazie, Спасибо, Dankeschön, teşekkürler, dziękuje, díky¸ vďaka, hvala, Obrigada, xie xie, Mulțumesc,  شكرا , Dank je, kiitos, tack, hvala, Tapadh Leibh, Tusen takk, Grātiās tibi ago, 唔該 , at ringrasi, Ευχαριστώ, Շնորհակալությունy, köszönöm, 감사합니다, eskerrikasko, Arigatou, Благодаря, diolch, gracies…

I’m sure there are others out there, too, spoken by other colleagues and students so, if you’re reading this and your language or languages aren’t in the list, feel free to drop me an email and I’ll very happily add to this. Mainly, though, a Happy European Day of Languages to everyone!

Petit Pays: From Week 1 teaching to conferences

It’s hard to believe that we’re already reaching the end of Week 1 of our new academic year at Stirling and we’ll hopefully get a chance to post some news about what we’ve all been up to over the next little while. For the moment, though, I’m really pleased to be able to post the following article by our colleague, Hannah Grayson, who has been doubly busy this week with Week 1 teaching, on the one hand, and a presentation at a conference, on the other:

‘When I read of one of our students reading Petit Pays by Gaël Faye on his time abroad, I wanted to write a short post to encourage more people to do so! A couple of students who were in touch with me over the summer looking for reading recommendations have already been pointed to this text, but the more readers the merrier.

I spoke about this text this week as part of a virtual research workshop hosted by the University of Warwick and organised by Pierre-Philippe Fraiture. The workshop was titled ‘Central Africa and Belgium: Empire and Postcolonial Resonance‘ and the range of papers interrogated all kinds of connections between the past and present, forms of cultural representation, and ongoing debates about decolonising museums. All kinds of things our French at Stirling students cover in their modules. My paper was titled ‘Récit d’enfance, récit de distance. Gaby as implicated subject in Gaël Faye’s Petit Pays’.

Petit Pays, published in 2016, has received critical acclaim for its lyrical depiction of a childhood universe set alongside the violence of Burundi’s civil war and the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. It tells the childhood story of Gabriel (or Gaby) as he comes of age in Burundi. We are given a picture of his everyday life, and gradually the disruption and destruction of various forms of violence, both at a domestic and broader regional level.

A number of critics who’ve examined Petit Pays have claimed the story is about a ‘paradis perdu’ or lost paradise where the perfect innocence of childhood is interrupted by the violence of war and genocide. I disagree with these readings, and find that instead the text shows a far more complex, ambivalent, and therefore more interesting experience of childhood. The protagonist, Gaby, gets involved in all kinds of scuffles, but what the author really brings to fore is the number of small-scale moral dilemmas he faces.

I spoke about this presentation of a child as an ‘implicated subject’, using a term proposed by Michael Rothberg in his 2019 work The Implicated Subject: Beyond Victims and Perpetrators. With ‘implicated subject’, Rothberg provides an umbrella category for those who participate in injustice, but in indirect ways. My previous research into the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda has focused on the stories of adults who lived through it, so it was fascinating for me to consider this figure of Gaby as a child protagonist who is entangled in all kinds of systems of privilege and power. Anybody interested in reading/talking about this more can get in touch with me.

Beyond all this, it’s a great read. So I wish you bonne lecture!’

Many, many thanks, Hannah, for having found the time to write and send through the blog post, and enjoy the rest of the conference!

New Semester!

And we’re off! Today was the first day of our new semester and new academic year at Stirling and we’d just like to welcome and welcome back all our students. Whether you’re starting Year 1 or entering your final year, we’re looking forward to working with you, and getting to know you, over the semesters ahead. It’s going to be a rather strange semester, of course, with online delivery our norm for the time being and there will be technical challenges to work around, not to mention the general strangeness of not actually being in the same space as our students, but we’ll get there.

There’ll be more news and more detail over the days and weeks ahead but, in the first instance, we just wanted to say hello and welcome (back)!

Living and working abroad: ‘Be open to change!’

Another week, another chance to catch up with one of our students. Caitlin is about to start Year 3 of our BA Hons in French with Spanish and Professional Education (Secondary) and spent part of the past academic year on a British Council Language Assistantship in France:

‘Almost six months after returning from my placement in France, I reflect on how much can change in one year. This time last year, I was between placements and convincing myself for my upcoming trip – “okay, if I can spend six weeks abroad, I am sure that I can spend six months abroad”. Meanwhile, honestly, I was slightly in panic mode about what would happen in a month’s time. Where will I stay? Do I have enough money? Have I brought enough books to last me for my time away? Trivial matters, yes, but when you feel that you are moving so far away for longer than a typical week’s holiday, you do tend to overthink things.

2020 Aug Blog Caitlin Pic IINonetheless, I set off at the end of September to begin my foreign placement in Montpellier, France. The first few weeks were vital to organising accommodation and paperwork (e.g. bank accounts). This was daunting initially as, having been living in Spain for almost 8 weeks, my mind, as I always say, was in ‘Spanish mode’, and even the basic French words and sentences were confusing at first. Whilst this sounds like a bad thing, this motivated me more to push myself to speaking and learning French in day to day interactions.

2020 Aug Blog Caitlin Pic I

During my time in Montpellier, I would be working as an English Language Assistant with the British Council, based in two primary schools in a small town called Lunel, 31km east of the city. I worked every Tuesday and Thursday teaching English to children from aged six to twelve. This was a great experience, although different to my own previous experiences of teaching. Firstly, because I study French and Spanish with Professional Education, my experience so far has been in teaching in Secondary Schools. However, the tables had turned with my position here as I was teaching my own language to younger children.  I felt that this was a beneficial way for me to learn how to plan lessons and activities to keep the pupils engaged. It has also given me an insight into how second languages are taught at a ‘primary’ school level and this will be most help to my professional career as a Secondary School teacher.

2020 Aug Blog Caitlin Pic IIIHaving been placed in Lunel, a smaller town, I decided that I would benefit from staying in the smaller town to immerse myself in the localities. After all, I could always get the train to Montpellier which only took 20 minutes. Having considered my options, I was lucky enough to find the perfect accommodation in living in a private studio which belonged a lovely French couple who always made me feel so welcome. This was a fantastic decision for me – I had the perfect balance between having my own private space but I was able to converse in French with my landlords whenever I wanted. This really did help to improve my French and made me feel at ease, knowing I had support. I enjoyed the perks of a small town also – the local cinema where I would go and watch the latest films (La Fille au Bracelet was a favourite of mine!),

Whilst living in a small town had its perks – the local supermarket was a five-minute walk, the train station was a straight fifteen-minute walk through the old cobbled, traditional centre ville, I found in certain times there were also challenges. In December 2019, the people of France organised one of the country’s largest and longest protests that it has seen in years. Due to the government’s pension reform, millions throughout the country participated in strikes from their daily job s- including teachers and SNCF train workers. During this time, I found myself stranded in Lunel for eight days just before Christmas. This was difficult at times. However, it made me discover other parts of the town, study and live life normally as I would in Scotland.

2020 Aug Blog Caitlin Pic IVWorking as an English Language Assistant is also a great way to make friends from different parts of the world – the friends I made were from different parts of America and the first friend I made was from Kenya. Although you learn about French culture, it is a great way to learn about other countries and to share your own. As you settle into a country on your own, if you really want to make the most of the experience, you really have to push yourself out there: make friends, learn and speak the language, try to live like a local but travel like the tourist that you are.

In addition, whilst I was in France, I participated in the Stevenson Exchange Scholarship, which meant I was able to travel and to learn more about aspects of French culture as part of my project. Due to this, I have so many unforgettable experiences from my time spent in France, including the many long weekends I made the most of by travelling (Toulouse, Lyon, Avignon, Marseille, Sète…). In addition, the drastic weather on some occasions, learning about French culture by trying out new dishes such as fondue, raclette, pain au chocolat (or ‘chocolatine’ as they say in the Southern France) and enjoying a café gourmand sitting at Place de la Comédie in the centre of Montpellier, made my experience memorable. The English Language Assistantship is not only a fantastic way to gain professional experience but for me, I found it has made me become a more culturally aware, sociable and independent person. And of course, I feel that my French has improved!

2020 Aug Blog Caitlin Pic V

Unfortunately, my time in France was cut short due to the Coronavirus pandemic. I was on the bus to the airport for a long weekend at home in Scotland when the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, announced that the schools would not open again and unbeknown to me, I would not return to Lunel- to see my friends, to pack all my belongings and to see the teachers and pupils I had spent the last six months with. I came back a month earlier than anticipated and did not get to travel to certain places. However, I see this as an excuse to return in the future! A quote I have read states that “experience is the teacher of all things” and this is the perfect way to sum up my Assistantship experience.

For future English Language Assistants, I have some advice:

-ensure that you are prepared before you go- do you have all your paperwork? Birth certificate, passport, statements, student card? This is all vital for you to settle in and arrange accommodation and opening your bank account. I would also recommend that these are copies- you don’t want to risk losing the original!

-Accept that you may have to travel more: the train/bus from the smaller town, and a regular journey for me- the night bus from Montpellier, via Toulouse to Barcelona- to catch an early morning flight back to Scotland due to the flight schedules. For me, it made the journey more of an adventure!

-Make the most of the days you are not working- travel, meet up with friends, visit tourist attractions, find a little coffee shop you can frequent to read and study. I found that keeping busy kept me motivated!

-Be open to change. You are in a different country- not everything will be as you expect but take that as an opportunity to learn!’

Many, many thanks to Caitlin for sending through this great post and pictures. We hope you’ll get the opportunity to return to Lunel very soon and wish you all the best for the new semester ahead.