Since graduating with a BA Hons in French in 2014, Jana Kautska has kept in touch with French at Stirling and we’re really pleased to be able to post this article by her about life as a student of French at Stirling and what can happen next:
“Scotland enchanted me during my first visit in 1996 and I have been in close touch with this country ever since. I wanted to discover more. I wanted to get closer to its inhabitants and I was hoping to be able to experience the real way of life there rather than visiting it only as an accompanying Tour Leader (the non-elegant sort of all-in-one coach guide/interpreter/translator ready to sort every single problem that popped up on the long journey from the Czech Republic to the U.K.). My clients were mostly teachers and students travelling to Scotland in order to enhance their language, cultural, historical and political knowledge. Malheureusement, while crossing several borders before reaching our final destination the chic France stood in our way. Whenever I tried to open up a conversation the response from the French part was one and the same: “Parlez-vous anglais?” Clearly it was either time to quit my attempts at French altogether or “Il fallait recommencer mes études de nouveau.” So I did. This is how une idée to study French in Scotland est née.
Stirling was my preferred choice because I found the university grounds very compact and I liked the fact that even the neighbouring village of Bridge of Allan or the town of Stirling were within walking distance. This connection was very important to me because of the train stations which enabled links with the cities of Glasgow or Edinburgh and their airports so easy to reach. De plus, the beautiful lake in the middle of the campus and the majestic Dumyat hill and its ‘friends’ took my breath away and they still do whenever I revisit the campus. This could be a perfect temporary home for a while I thought. The bonus was that the University Accommodation Services offered a family type of accommodation which I needed to secure for my small family of three and what´s more there was also a Playgroup run by the Department of Psychology on offer. What a bonus! I must admit that the university web and printed brochures contributed to my decision. The place seemed to be modern and dynamic; the library was on the spot, shops, bank, MacRobert cultural centre with cinema and theatre all in one.
What made me accept the offer from the Stirling University? First and foremost it was the possibility to dive into the desired French Studies. I found the combined degrees as well as the variety of modules possible to study quite amazing. I initially opted to study French in combination with Psychology but I ended up studying French only. This allowed me to sign up for linguistics, religion and cinema modules, as well as allowing me to undertake the semester abroad required by the French department which was one of the principal reasons for me to accept the offer. I was fully aware of the importance of study abroad. I knew that my spoken French and understanding of the real spoken language would not progress as desired without an immersion in French language and culture. The semester abroad was absolutely crucial. It was the fastest way to improve my comprehension as well as conversation.
I was granted the degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honours in French in 2014 and I thoroughly enjoyed every single module I took. Indeed, there are several modules I will never forget. At the beginning of my studies these were for instance Language and Society together with Foundation of Language presented by Andrew Smith. These were such good fun. Or for example Religion, Ethics and Society totally surprised me with its content as it was so amazingly linked to the current affairs in the world. The topics of Orientalism and Edward Said were so interesting to look into not only in connection with the issue of veil so often discussed in the press all over Europe that time. Post-War European Cinema, Transnational Identities, Québec Cinema and Introduction to African Literature and Cinema all on offer by the French Department are still my number ones though. These brought a completely different dimension into my life friendship-wise as well as on the internal level of thinking. For instance, I can still hear the beautiful soundtrack to a very moving film Mon oncle Antoine to name at least one. Thanks to an essay question related to this film Québec became so close to me although so distant in reality. On personal level these modules brought some very firm friendships into my life with francophone students from Africa and Switzerland who chose Stirling University as their exchange partner university and with whom I have been in contact ever since.
And so this is how in 2010 I begun to live my dream LIVE thanks to the offer from the University of Stirling. I chose to study French here because I believed that there would be a different approach to studying a foreign language in Great Britain to the one carried out at the universities in the Czech Republic where I originally come from. I was right and I would not change a thing. Studies at Stirling were dynamic, modern, non-rigid and absolutely up-to-date in every sense. Language teaching in Stirling exceeded my expectations. I really liked the approach of having a lot on offer on one hand but having also a choice which helped me to cope with the immense load of work at the exam period or reading weeks. It is entirely up to each individual to explore what one wishes to find out and how deep into the topic s/he wants to go. I find this very democratic. There was no compulsory drill, no repetition, no memorizing as is often the case at the universities on the continent (France included as I learned through my personal experience).
The professionalism of the professors at Stirling is amazing and the flexibility of studies matched my needs perfectly. The expertise the professors possess is absolutely enormous. It is so nice to read a book written by someone who is actually giving lectures or seminars. Everybody is so supportive. For instance such a little thing as the French language café run by the Language Assistant, Bernadette Corbett (now retired). How useful and helpful this was! Thank you Bernadette! Or what an opportunity to get on board of a train and explore an Interpreting Event in Edinburgh Heriot Watt University together with other students and language tutor Jean-Michel Des Jacques. To witness student peers at another university how they sweat while training their conference interpreting skills at real inbuilt booths/cabins the partner university uses for teaching purposes was more than interesting.
And of course joining the Erasmus programme together with my daughter (then just 4) needs no comment. It was the most challenging of all assignments I had to fulfil but the very best and cleverest request the French department had on offer. If only I was a bit younger and British I would have joined my peers and gone for the English Teaching Assistantship programme supported by the University of Stirling and the British Council. All my friends who joined came back linguistically very well equipped to fulfil their final 4th year of their studies. They were also more than ready to face the real life challenges on the current job market.
And what have I gone on to do with my French since graduating? My decision to accept the offer made by the University of Stirling has changed my life completely. Although I do not use French as a ‘working language’ when interpreting (my free-lance job) I found it extremely useful when working as an ESOL Home Tutor and Classroom Volunteer for Community based ESOL at the Edinburgh College. One woman there, an elementary student from Morocco, arrived in my classroom speaking no English whatsoever. Luckily she knew some French. You can imagine the sparkles in her eyes when I offered French translation to several key English words in order to comfort her and break the ice a bit. We even managed to joke! She says a big “HELLO” to me whenever I meet her in the streets and has no more fear to try her English skills with me. What a success thanks to French! To my amazement last spring time my volunteering work was appreciated by my nomination to Inspiring Volunteering Achievement Awards 2015 by the Edinburgh College. It was such an interesting experience for me to participate at this community event.
I can honestly declare that my language studies at the University of Stirling opened the door to my voluntary English teaching in Britain. This is quite an achievement for me as a non-native English speaker I must admit and teaching refugees and asylum seekers has been the most rewarding job I have ever done. My degree also made it possible for me to join several interpretation agencies and work free-lance. My French degree was fully recognized by one of the leading ones on the market and if I agreed I would be included on the list of the interpreters having French on offer! What a stress! Quelle horreur! I am convinced that I still have a lot to learn so I prefer to be modest for the time being and offer just English/Czech/Slovak and vice versa as my working languages. In my point of view learning any language is a life-long learning process which is one never-ending story I have decided to live LIVE.”
Thanks to Jana and we look forward to following the next stages of her career post-Stirling!