Not all the French and Francophone exchange students who come to Stirling from our network of partners take modules run by the French at Stirling team but we’re always really pleased to welcome them to Stirling and will be inviting them along to a range of events over the course of the semester.
This year, at last count, we have 24 exchange students coming from 11 different French Universities, business schools and grandes écoles with whom we have long-standing partnerships: the Universités de Limoges, Aix-Marseille, Clermont Auvergne, Lorraine and Perpignan, the IUT de Sceaux (Paris Sud), Sciences Po, the Ecoles de Management of Strasbourg and Normandie, ESSEC in the outskirts of Paris and the Université Catholique de l’Ouest. We’re looking forward to getting to know these students over the course of their time at Stirling and, this year, we’re particularly pleased to be giving some of them a chance to led informal conversation sessions with our Stirling-based students.
This year, all our final year students will benefit from a weekly paired session, while our Year 3 students will continue to benefit from fortnightly sessions. The idea behind the sessions is partly to offer more scope for students to prepare for the format of oral assessments they encounter in the final two years but it’s also a means of giving our students a greater say in the topics they discuss since they are responsible for finding articles to talk about at each session.
For Year 1, 2 and 4 students, we’re also introducing weekly 30-minute conversation sessions to provide further opportunities to build fluency and confidence. These sessions will be led by incoming French exchange students from across our partner institutions, helping them to get to know their Stirling peers at the same time as they get a chance to develop their professional experience.
When we asked last year’s finalists for advice they’d pass on to future students, many of them picked up on the importance of oral and aural classes, emphasising the importance of speaking up and not being afraid to make mistakes. This advice is echoed by our Language Assistants in the workpacks they prepare for oral classes: ‘The Spoken Language class is your best opportunity to improve your speaking skills. Of course, you will be confused at times, make mistakes many times (as we all do when we learn, whether it be a language or any other skill), but most importantly, your tutors will be there to support and guide you. We aim for this learning process to be a successful adventure, which means you have to be involved without holding back. Don’t be afraid, don’t be shy, and your language abilities will go from strength to strength. You will all learn from your own mistakes but also from each other’s in a relaxed atmosphere.’
With this in mind, we’re looking forward to feedback on the new oral formats from our current students!
In just under a fortnight, our new semester kicks off and we’re looking forward to welcoming back our continuing students and to welcoming to Stirling our new first year intake (currently enjoying our online Bridging Materials to help them prepare…) and all those visiting from our wide range of exchange partners from Strasbourg to Perpignan.
Following on from the success of our schools’ events in June and the fantastic presentations given by finalists and graduates, we’re continuing to develop our focus on the employability of Languages graduates. To help embed this even more firmly within our degree programmes, we’re launching a new Languages and Employability module that our students (of French and/or Spanish) will take throughout Year 3.
The module offers sessions on presentation skills (in English and French), decoding job adverts, producing a tailored CV and cover letter in French, and careers/employer workshops, as well as generic skills in personality profiling, and use of social media. It’ll be taught by colleagues from French and Spanish with input from Stirling’s Careers Development Centre with classes and workshops in Stirling in the Autumn semester and online content delivered during the Spring Semester Abroad.
We’re hoping that this new module will give our students a chance to build on the skills they’ve already gained – not least via the English Language Assistantships that many of them undertake between Year 2 and Year 3 – and that it’ll encourage them further to think about career opportunities for Languages graduates, whether in the UK or beyond.
“The Stevenson Scholarship has been an amazing opportunity. Indeed, it has made me realize that intercultural research is what I want to do in the future. In order to get a better idea of how Francoism was dealt with in Spain, I was able to combine both archival work, buying books (i.e: Otras miradas sobre Golpe, Guerra y Dictadura. Historia para un pasado incómodo by Fernández Prieto and Artiaga Rego , Qué hacemos para la Memoria Histórica? by Escudero et al. …) looking at the various books on the subject in different libraries in Granada (i.e: Biblioteca Pública Provincial Granada), the University library, Spanish media… and visits to numerous “lieux de mémoire” in Granada, Madrid and Toledo. The project has enabled me to have many discussions with friends, classmates, teachers, guides in museums, librarians…thus providing access to different perspectives and opinions.
In fact, the ‘Valle de los Caídos’ was the most recurring example given by the people I have spoken to regarding my research project on the ‘untold’ and historical memory. They were furious, ashamed that Franco could ‘rest in peace’ in the basilica of the ‘Valle’ while so many mass graves (‘fosas communes) have still not been exhumed, preventing families ‘the right to mourn’. I therefore decided to go and visit the Valle de los Caídos, (an hour away from Madrid), where we find the tomb of Franco, and which is not presented as a site of memory condemning the dictator’s actions but rather presenting him as a ‘hero’.
He lies in a beautiful basilica, in a tomb decorated daily with fresh flowers by the monks. What struck me during my time abroad, and which was particularly interesting was the ongoing presence of fascist symbols, imagery. This could be interpreted as the best example of a lack of political determination (‘voluntad política’). For instance, I learned that the economic crisis in 2008 was used to justify the inability to carry on with exhumations (Escudero et al., 2013). This infers the persistence of a Francoist influence at a political level: the past is still too ‘recent’.
Regarding the way the history of Spain is taught at school level, many students told me they did not study the Civil War nor the dictatorship, or only very briefly, the reason being that it was always taught at the very end, and that there wasn’t enough time to work on it. This is comparable with the Algerian War in France, being a ‘late event’. At the University of Granada, the same problem occurred with the course “Civilisation et Culture Française” which taught the entire French history, from prehistory to modern day in one “cuatrimestre” (four months), making it impossible for the teacher to finish the program, leaving aside the most recent events (Colonisation, WWII). The problem seems to be ‘chronological’. However, many Spanish people have told me it is ‘an excuse’ more than anything when I told them about this ‘chronological reason’. The teaching time could be distributed differently: should it be more dedicated to recent, contemporary events rather than spending more time on the Reyes Católicos in Spain, or the Gaullois in France? It is a long, complicated debate. Nonetheless, the Civil War, and the Dictatorship, need to be taught. At the University of Granada, I also took the course “Spanish Literature of the XXth century: theatre and prose”. We were taught key works set during the Civil War, the dictatorship…such as “Qué has hecho hoy para ganar la Guerra?” by Max Aub (1939). Limiting the teaching in courses focusing on defined time-periods could perhaps be beneficial when it comes to recent, still painful events: it could guarantee their teaching. Moreover, my teacher herself (Gracia Morales) said that literature as a means of communicating, teaching historical facts could help as it is not perceived as the teacher’s own opinion, but as the work of an author which is interpreted. I must say that this was my favourite class!”
Many thanks to Jeanne for this update on how things have gone with the Stevenson and the doors it has opened up in terms of this particular topic of research. We wish you all the best for the rest of the Summer and hope this post gives future Stevenson scholars ideas for ways they can conduct their own projects.
Just before the blog takes a little break for a couple of weeks, two great articles for you. The first one here is by Alex Hill who just graduated with his BA Hons in French in June and has gone straight from graduation to internship, with career plans beyond that. The second article is by Jeanne Nozahic who has been away in Spain for her Semester Abroad and who has been reflecting on the experience generally but also in particular about what her success at obtaining a Stevenson Scholarship meant for her. Alex first…:
“A few days ago, I was lucky enough to receive an email from Cristina asking if I’d like to share a few thoughts on my time doing French at Stirling and my plans for the future, which I then realised I had accidently ignored for more than a week due to being so busy! This got me thinking to myself about how time has flown by since finishing my degree; as I write this it’s 28 days since my graduation (2.1, get in!) and 103 since the end of a coffee-fuelled, sleep-deprived few months spent balancing writing a dissertation on French politics whilst also trying to get my head round the art of translation.
Since then it’s been all go, having started an internship with Oxford-based triathlon events company IRONMAN UK in the Operations team in early May; a job which saw me head over to France a few days in to get a taste of what to expect on the job. As I should have expected, I was designated the role of interpreter (read: food order-er), and, after ordering a few sandwiches and coffees for lunch, I was greeted with high fives and comments regarding how awesome it was that I was able to speak French. That’s one of the perks of being able to speak a foreign language – it’s a skill not many people have so it gives you the chance to show off and feel smug every once in a while!
Joking aside, studying a French degree really is one of the most useful and coolest things I have ever done. When I first decided to study French at university, it was a case of “it’ll be cool to say I’m fluent, plus I can probably get a job as a teacher or translator afterwards”. What I have discovered in the last four years is that it is worth so much more than that; you develop oral and written communication skills to an incredibly high standard, something highly regarded by employers and essential not only from a working perspective but also in life in general. As well as this, you strengthen your critical, analytical and research skills from studying French literature and get to put this to the test in engaging and interesting class discussions. These skills are crucial in almost every job market, which explains why French graduates not only get jobs as translators and teachers, but in business, journalism and diplomacy amongst other domains. Furthermore, French gives you an understanding of (political, social and economic) culture in a range of francophone countries. It’s not only francophone countries this will prove useful in; if you can learn French you can learn any language! This makes you employable not only in Great Britain, but across the world, which it doesn’t take a genius to work out significantly increases your chances of finding a job.
I really believe I made the right choice coming to Stirling to study French. The campus has to be one of the most beautiful in the world, which makes looking out the library on a sunny day that little bit easier. The people are all friendly, and at the end of the day it’s good fun and everything you need is nearby. The French course itself is run by a dedicated team of lecturers, who put in a great deal of time to make every last module exciting and appealing, resulting in a varied course that not once did I find boring. As well as this, the lecturers are always more than willing to help and provide useful answers to queries and feedback. If you are thinking of, or about to start, studying French at Stirling, I would recommend the Quebec cinema module, run by Bill Marshall, or the Francophone Detective fiction module, run by Cristina (hopefully these will still be around!).
Without doubt, however, the highlight of my time at Stirling was going on my semester abroad; it’s just such a different academic experience and results in your language skills coming on more than you thought possible. It improves your ability to adapt and improves your confidence, both as a French speaker and in general. You make lifelong friends and at the end of your time away, you feel a genuine sense of pride in yourself for coping with what at one point felt like a goliath-sized task.
As for me, once I finish my internship, I will be moving back up to Stirling to start a job on the Enterprise Rent a Car Graduate Scheme as a Management Trainee. After finishing that I plan to return to Stirling to do a Master’s, followed by hopefully finding work in the investment industry. Having said that, there are a number of jobs in a variety of industries I find interesting and would like to do, and I wouldn’t mind running my own business one day. Thanks to my French degree, I am lucky enough to have a world of possibilities in front of me and I’m very excited about what the future holds. In the words of my favourite film La Haine, “Le monde est à nous” (the world is ours). Just in case you were worried that I’m not getting much chance to celebrate graduating by entering the big bad world of work straight away, I get two weeks between my internship and full-time job, during which I plan to escape somewhere sunny!
Finally, one final big thank you to everyone at the French department at Stirling and all the other staff who work so tirelessly to provide every one of us with a fantastic student experience.”
Many, many thanks to Alex for this great post, all the best for the rest of the summer (internship and holidays!) and good luck with the next steps! And yes, the Detective Fiction option is back in the Autumn…