From French at Stirling to Kenya, Guatemala, Costa Rica, France, Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic and beyond…

We’re always delighted when former students get back in touch to let us know where their degree has taken them. Few of our former students have ended up collecting quite as many airmiles as Susan Peattie! It’s great to see how a degree in French can open so many doors, going way beyond the limits of the Francophone world…

“My name is Susan Peattie and I graduated in 2011 with a BA Hons in French and Spanish. I really enjoyed my time at University of Stirling. At 38, I was a mature student and before starting my course I had worked in the Jobcentre for fifteen years.

Prior to starting my studies, I went to Mombasa in Kenya to teach in a primary school for a few months. During my time there, I helped at Calvary Zion Children’s Home. On my return from Kenya, my friends and I founded a charity in Scotland and we raise funds to help with the education costs for the 44 children at the home.

In my first year, I found the challenge of doing advanced French tough at times, as I had done the Higher in just six months, and I realised I did not have a good grounding of the basics like the younger students who had studied French for several years at school. Also, I had never written an academic essay before in my life, but with the help of the staff and a few good books, my confidence grew!

I loved having the opportunity to spend a year abroad. I went to Guatemala, where I taught in a school run by a UK based charity, Education for the Children . The children have very tough lives living in poor conditions and very often with serious family problems to cope with too. I lived with a local family, and as I was teaching in Spanish, by the end of my time there, I was dreaming in Spanish! I then travelled to Costa Rica and I lived in a hut near to the beach on the Osa Peninsula. Here I helped at a conservation project and we monitored sea turtle activity. The aim of the project being to protect the nesting sites in order to increase sea turtle numbers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I then spent six months in France studying at three private language schools in Bordeaux, Montpellier and Chambery. Up until this time, my degree included Professional Education, so on my return to university life I had to complete a placement. I went to the placement, but I felt really unsettled. The teachers were obviously under pressure to achieve results, complete endless paper work and my impression was that teaching the kids was something that just got “fitted in” if time allowed! I am not sure if my year out in the wider world was at the root of this or the fact that I did not want to join another rat race, but I made the decision to change my degree to French and Spanish only.

I graduated in 2011 in absentia because I had taken up the challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro in order to raise funds for the children’s home in Mombasa. After the climb, I travelled by bus up to Mombasa to spend the rest of the summer with the children. When my friends there discovered that I had missed my graduation, they decided to give me a graduation party. Seventy people attended, two goats were slaughtered and they had even found me a gown to wear! They sang a beautiful Swahili song for me and it was a fantastic afternoon I will always remember. Here I am being fed cake – another tradition in Kenya!

Graduation Lunch
Graduation Lunch

As I still wanted to teach, I completed a TEFL course with the intention of working in a French or Spanish speaking country. However, I saw a vacancy for a Kindergarten Teacher in Almaty, Kazakhstan and I applied as I felt it would be a great life experience. I was delighted to get the job, started in August 2011 and worked there for two years. It truly was an amazing experience. The kids were fantastic, as were the people I met there, the culture and architecture was great to see too. The minus 25 winter temperatures took a bit of getting used to though!

Today, I am in Vsetín, a sleepy town in the south east of the Czech Republic close to the Slovak border. We are surrounded by hills and there are endless hiking and cycling trails to enjoy. Here, I work for a private language school teaching English to children, teens and adults. The Czech people are very welcoming and hospitable, often inviting us to their villages for local festivals or their house for dinner! Susan Costumes

Teaching English as a second language is a great job, and for me the best part of moving to a new country is meeting new people and discovering the culture and customs of the country. In the future, I definitely plan to work in French and Spanish speaking countries. Although I have not really used my languages to any great extent since graduating, there is no doubt that having a language degree has given me an in depth knowledge of grammar and an insight into how it is for the students learning a foreign language. Also, most language schools require a degree in order to apply.

I have no idea where my journey will take me in the future, but I think that is all part of the excitement!”

We wish Susan all the best for the future and look forward to hearing more about her travels and experiences across the globe.