There’s no teaching this week at Stirling but that doesn’t mean everything stops and our Language Coordinator, Jean-Michel DesJacques, along with his Spanish counter-part Jose Ferreira-Cayuela, Fiona Buckland from our International Office and a few of our students have been at Holyrood to represent the University at a celebration of 30 years of the Erasmus programme. Dozens of our students – across French and Spanish – benefit from our involvement in the Erasmus programme every year, spending a semester at one of our extensive range of Erasmus partners that stretches from Caen in Northern France to Granada in Southern Spain.
As Fiona Buckland explains, ‘the Higher Education Institutes of Scotland held a joint celebration at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 24 October to celebrate 30 years of the Erasmus Programme. Students from the University of Stirling were invited to attend and contribute an article to a brochure for the event and be filmed for a video explaining what Erasmus means to them.
Erin Cawley who is doing a BA in International Management with European Languages and Society (and spent a semester at the Universidad de Santander), Suzanne Buiter, who is in the final year of her BA in International Management with European Languages and Society (and spent her Semester Abroad at the Universidad de Navarra) and Alex Sorlei, who has just started the final year of a BA International Politics and Languages (with a Semester Abroad at Sciences Po, Paris) attended the event with Jean-Michel DesJacques and Jose Ferreira-Cayuela. Speakers included the Deputy First Minister John Swinney, Alan Smith Director (Erasmus Bureau of the European Commission [1987-92]) and student participants.’
For Jose and Jean-Michel, the event was an important way to mark the role that Erasmus plays within languages degrees both for staff and students. As Jose puts it, ‘the event was a reflection of what Erasmus+ is all about: meeting people from all over Europe, exchanging ideas and experiences and a great opportunity to taste food/drink from different places. The setting was also great and the presence of very important figures of the Scottish Government proved that exchanges with Europe are a priority for Scotland in the future. Whether we still call it Erasmus+ or something else, is a different issue.’ Similarly, for Jean-Michel, the sense of community that Erasmus creates is crucial: ‘It was great to be amongst friends for the 30-year anniversary of the launch of the Erasmus programme. I felt a bit jealous at the wealth of opportunities young students – in fact young people in general – have to go abroad. For a short while, we managed to forget the uncertainty of it all and decided to celebrate one of the greatest schemes to come out of the European institutions.’
Thanks to Fiona, Jean-Michel and Jose for their contributions (and photos!) and to Erasmus+ for helping our students over the years. Many, many tales of Erasmus+ experiences to be found among the pages of this blog!
French (and Spanish) at Stirling students in their second year and in their final year were recently given the opportunity to attend a meeting with a representative of the British Council to find out about their English Language Assistantship scheme. We have a great success rate with ELA applications at Stirling and, every year, 20-30 of our students end up being offered contracts to teach English across a range of schools and universities in the wider Francophone and Hispanophone worlds. One of last year’s French at Stirling graduates, David Vescio, applied for an ELA during his final year and has just sent us this account of the start of his year teaching in Colombia, as well as plenty of pictures to brighten up a rather grey mid-semester break…
“Panicking about what you are going to do after university? Don’t worry; I have graduated and I am still not sure… and lo and behold, I am alive and well!
During my last year at university, I was trying to keep my options open so I applied for a PGDE in French and Spanish in Scotland as well as a teaching assistantship in Latin America through the British Council. I was lucky enough to be offered both and after careful consideration I decided to go with the latter and go to Colombia. Why opt for the less secure option when I could have studied for my postgrad in education, become a qualified teacher in a couple of years and found a stable job in Scotland? It’s simple: I just wasn’t ready.
Most of my fellow graduates still aren’t sure about what they want to do long-term and the secret to having a relatively stress-free last year as an undergrad is to keep your options open and have a back-up plan. Still stressing? Don’t worry, you have your dissertation to look forward to!
I would definitely encourage students to go away for a year after university with the British Council, especially if you are interested in travelling, teaching and languages. If you go off to teach for a year it doesn’t necessarily mean you will end up teaching for the rest of your life but it is an opportunity to gain experience doing a ¨real life¨ job in a relatively relaxed atmosphere while still having some freedom to travel as you will be working part-time.
I was appointed to the Catholic University of Pereira, a relatively small town located in the coffee region of Colombia. Before leaving for Pereira, I attended an induction session in Bogota with all the other language assistants in Colombia which was a lot of fun as we were provided with free food and accommodation for 3 days. This was a really nice opportunity to meet everyone taking part in the programme as well as the language assistants from other countries such as France, Germany, India, etc. Language assistants are posted all over Colombia so it is a great opportunity to go travelling with them and visit this wonderful country and beyond!
When I got to Pereira, my tutor helped me find accommodation and the university staff have been really helpful! Although I definitely stick out like a sore thumb, Colombians are always welcoming and curious to know where I come from as well as what I am doing here. Lots of people have invited me to their homes for dinner and despite the bad reputation Colombia has had in recent years, I would definitely recommend it as a memorable place to visit.
I have only been here for about 2 months and I don’t think I have ever travelled so much! Since I only work 18 hours a week, this leaves me plenty of time to explore the region and I have been to some pretty incredible places as you can see in the pictures. I have been to Bogota, Medellin, Salento, Guatape, Manizales, Cali and Bucaramanga so just imagine all the places I will have been to after spending a whole year here! People ask me if I miss my family and friends and of course I do, but there are so many new places to go, things to do and people to meet! So the good things definitely outweigh the bad. I am still, however, struggling with Irn Bru withdrawal symptoms…
I think being a language assistant has really helped me become more adaptable. For example, I never expected to be asked to be teaching technical terms in industrial design classes, but I have managed to do so and I have even learnt a wee bit about industrial design in the process! I have had the opportunity to take part in an International Relations class every week where I talk to students about the differences between the U.K. and Great Britain and the different nations within the former as well as explaining to them the concepts of Scottish Independence and Brexit, but also the topics of multiculturalism and freedom of religion as well as less cheerful subjects such as terrorism and the Grenfell tower fire.
I have started up a conversation club for students and another for teachers where we discuss current local and global affairs and have also been recording a weekly radio show where I talk about my experience here in Pereira and compare it to life in Scotland. Believe it or not, quite a few people don’t know where or what Scotland is! But let’s be honest, how many people reading this right now actually know where Colombia is? One of my students even asked me last week what ¨I dinnae ken¨ meant because apparently they were watching a Scottish YouTuber… the joys of teaching!
With all of that, plus the hot weather (and despite the accompanying Scottish ¨tan¨) as well as the incredible variety of exotic fruits, I am really glad I decided to take a break from studying as, let’s face it, travelling is a form of education in itself.
So, to all fourth year students who may be reading this blog piece, remember to enjoy your last year at university and to keep your options open.”
Many, many thanks to David for finding the time to send us this post and we’d echo his advice – of course – about keeping open all the options a languages degree offers!!
Time for a mid-semester blog catch-up… As was mentioned in an earlier blog post, a number of our students have been out in local schools acting as Language Ambassadors again this semester. Rhiannon Quinn who is in the 2nd year of a BA Hons in French was part of a small group of students who spent an afternoon at a local high school at the end of September and she has sent us this great account of the day.
“I recently went to Wallace High School, located right next to the university, to take part in their European Languages Day and to talk to them about my experiences in studying modern languages. When I was at school, European Languages Day was well celebrated with all different kinds of activities and fun things to do and I wanted the third-year kids to have the same experiences I did. As there was a few of us from the university we managed to split the classes into small groups of about five, so that each pupil could have the chance to be heard and have a real personal chat with us.
It was very interesting to see how many of the children were interested in studying languages and they seemed to be very relaxed when talking to us and were very confident in giving us their opinions. They seemed to be very intrigued when I told them that I would have the opportunity to go abroad and live in a foreign country as part of my degree to which I informed them that if they gave languages a chance, they could definitely have that experience too. A few of the children even knew people in their own families who did semesters abroad and they were able to tell me about it.
Even though there were kids who weren’t that keen on languages, they still gave their input and even told me what they wanted to be when they were older. One thing in particular I noticed was that every single one of the kids were able to tell me multiple French and Spanish films they had seen, which I told them was a good thing and doing things like that will help you improve and that you can have fun while learning languages and it’s not just all work and memorising.
Everyone at Wallace High School was really nice, teachers and pupils, and they made us feel extremely welcome. They even gave us a card and a box of chocolates at the end as a thank you gift. They were extremely complimentary and overall, it was a great experience which I would love to do again.”
Apologies to Rhiannon for the delay in getting this post online but thank you very much for taking the time to send it to us and for your work as a Language Ambassador.
Any of you with an interest in African cinema (one of our areas of research expertise at Stirling) should catch up with Radio 4’s The Film Programme where Lizelle Bisschoff, founder of the annual Africa in Motion Film Festival (and former French at Stirling PhD student), has just been talking about her Africa’s Lost Classics project. The 2017 festival kicks off next week and the full programme is online here.
This semester seems to be flying past and it doesn’t entirely seem possible that we should already be a week or so away from our mid-semester break. Our Year 1 students have just received feedback on the essays they wrote as part of our package of Bridging Materials, assessment deadlines are starting to fall for this semester’s modules, the schedule of films for Stirling’s section of the French Film Festival has made its way into the MacRobert programme… Against that busy backdrop, it’s good to get a chance to reflect on what a year in the life of French at Stirling can look like, from the perspective of one of our PhD students, Fraser McQueen who has very kindly made time to send us this blog post:
“I came back to Stirling to start my Ph.D in French Studies in October 2016, having originally graduated with a degree in French and History in 2014 before going to St Andrews to do an MLitt in French Studies and then spending a year teaching English as a lecteur at the Université de Toulon. I came back to Stirling mostly because I thought that it was the best place in Scotland for my project, given the department’s strategic focus on colonial and postcolonial studies, but also because I’d enjoyed my time here before. If it seems like a year is a long time to leave it before writing a blog post, I’m the only one to blame: I’ve been promising to do this for several months now!
I’ve just passed the first year review of my Ph.D, which means that I’m officially allowed to progress into the second year: the review process, during which I had to answer questions from three academics on the work I’ve produced so far, was quite stressful but also very helfpul in showing me the areas in which I still have a lot of work to do.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed the first year of my Ph.D. I research representations of Islamophobia and coexistence in contemporary French literature and film: I believe that this is an extremely important subject, and it’s been great to have the chance to research it in depth.
I’ve also enjoyed the other opportunities that come with doing a Ph.D: I’ve presented at three conferences and had four articles published in The Conversation, a news and opinion website via which academics from Ph.D level upwards are able to share their research with a non-specialist audience. This is something that I’ve particularly enjoyed: I think that it’s important to communicate academic research to people outside of academia, particularly with projects like mine, and The Conversation is a great way to do that. Writing for non-specialists has also really helped me to write more clearly: I used to have a bad habit of writing huge sentences filled with jargon, which their professional editors wouldn’t allow. Although I can’t use the exact same style for my academic writing as I would in The Conversation, the experience of needing to be more concise has definitely helped and I’d strongly recommend that other Ph.D students try writing for them.
I also had my first journal article published in Modern and Contemporary France last week, which I’m really pleased with. Getting it through peer review was a very long process – I originally submitted it last November – but I feel that the article is much better for it. I also had a book review published in Modern and Contemporary France earlier in the year, and am now working on another journal article which I hope to submit elsewhere in the next month or so. I’m enjoying all of this, but trying to balance it all out with actually doing my research and writing my thesis can be tricky at times!
Problems balancing my workload and the occasional stress of writing to one side, though, I’ve really enjoyed the first year of my Ph.D. Over the next year I’m hoping to get draft versions of four of my thesis chapters written: it’ll be a challenge, especially given that I’m now also teaching undergraduates, but it’s one that I’m looking forward to.”
Many thanks to Fraser for taking the time to write this and congratulations on the progress review success, as well as on the publications front!
Last Thursday’s get-together for our Year 3 and 4 students and our HNU Translation and Interpreting class was a chance for them to exchange thoughts and tips on Study Abroad as our finalists (across all degree programmes) settle back in here and our 3rd years get ready for their own departures next semester. With that in mind, it seemed like a good time to get an account of Semester Abroad from one of our students who has returned from furthest afield. Rachel Talbot – who is just starting her final year in French and Journalism – spent her Spring semester at our partner Laval University in Quebec, partly thanks to funding from Santander which is vital to our students who opt for non-EU (so non-Erasmus) locations. As you’ll see in the account that follows, there’s much more to Study Abroad than just an opportunity to see what another University system is like:
‘From 5th January until 1st May 2017 I had the opportunity to study at Laval University in Quebec City. I had never been to the Americas before and flying from Scotland to Iceland onto Toronto and then Quebec was a huge journey in itself. I had heard Quebec City described as s a ‘Piece of Europe in North America’. Unlike the grid like road maps and blocked buildings of most North American cities, Quebec has an ‘Old Town’ and small, winding cobbled streets and architecture which makes it a gem in the North.
I attended the FLE Language School at Laval University which meant I had 16 hours a week. I enjoyed having that much contact time and the course, especially my public speaking class, boosted my confidence greatly speaking French and aided my advancement in the language massively.
At Laval University there is a huge international community (I didn’t meet a single fellow British citizen while I was there!) and it was incredible to meet students from all round the world. Everyone was so open and friendly on their Study Abroad experience that I was lucky enough to have a good group of friends from the very first day!
Not only did the Language school organise my classes but they organised activities at least three times a week, every week. With FLE I was lucky enough to visit the Quebec Parliament, the “Cabane de sucre”, (a traditional French-Canadian restaurant where everything was smothered in Maple Syrup!), the incredible Ice Hotel and many other brilliant landmarks.
Living in Quebec is definitely not for the faint-hearted, with the temps reaching -25c! At first we found it bizarre to have to leave for a night out with full snow boots and a ski jacket. However, our university was connected by tunnels so you could go to the gym, class, even the pub without stepping a foot outside. This took some getting used to but added to the experience. Despite the cold, to see everything blanketed in snow was a beautiful sight.
With the amount of snow there were lots of opportunities to try out new winter activities such as skiing, dog sledding, ice skating and ice fishing. We managed to do all these activities at discounted prices through the university – you could basically try a new sport weekly. We also became massive Ice Hockey fans and had the chance to watch the local team play many times – a massive highlight for us all! I did try my hand at skiing in Vermont and despite thinking I was a natural, I managed to break my collar bone on the second day. Having to be tobogganed down the hill and treated in an American Hospital has become a good story to tell – but definitely sabotaged my budding Ice Hockey Career!
I lived in Quebec for 4 months and during that time my friends and I managed to do a lot of travelling. As Quebec is positioned very well in North America we took the chance to visit to New York, Boston and Vermont. This was something I had always dreamed of doing and I couldn’t have achieved if I had chosen to stay in Europe. Buses were cheap and we had a week off for Spring Break so it was fantastic to see some of the States as well as Canada.
We found the Quebec people warm and friendly. The history of Quebec and how it was founded and formed interested me hugely and I decided to do a comparison project for my coursework examining how Scotland and Quebec have both bid for independence in the past. I managed to gain a huge insight into Quebec and its culture through this research. It was definitely an amazing experience which came at the right time during my four years of University as it has only motivated me to master this fascinating language even more. I would never have had such a perfect chance to visit North America either while still studying towards my degree. For this I am so thankful to the University and I look forward to visiting Quebec again soon!’
Many thanks to Rachel for taking the time to send us this great post and we look forward to more tales from Quebec from future Study Abroad students!
Back in June, a small group of our students were lucky enough to be able to attend the annual Summer School organised by our partners at the Ecole de Management in Strasbourg, an opportunity that gave them a chance to spend time in a beautiful city but also to benefit from fantastic classes and visits to European institutions and much else besides. Nick, Paloma and Stefano are now all back in Stirling and they’ve each sent their own take on the experiences in Strasbourg.
For Stefano, ‘one of the most thrilling aspects of our Summer School was the possibility to go on business trips to the European Institutions that are located in Strasbourg. Within our first ten days there, our group was invited to visit the Council of Europe, the continent’s oldest political organisation, founded in 1949. It was exciting to experience such an institutional and international atmosphere! Once we got there through the beautiful surroundings of Strasbourg’s diplomatic area, we managed to explore the building with its famous Hemicycle and we also got the chance to attend a conference on “The role of the Council of Europe in the European Political Architecture”. It is perhaps worth mentioning some key facts about this vital institution in Europe. The Council itself groups together 47 countries, including 21 countries from Central Eastern Europe and it currently has one more application from Monaco. Moreover, the Council has granted “observer status” to 5 external countries (US, Canada, the Holy See, Mexico and Japan). Broadly speaking, the Council is distinct from the European Union, but no member state has ever been part of the Union without joining the Council of Europe in the first place.’
Stefano also points out that the EU’s motto (United in diversity) fits very well with their entire programme of classes and visits: ‘ As a group of 30 students from, almost literally, all over the world, we had first-hand experience of how so many different countries can work within European Institutions. For instance, just one week after our visit to the Council of Europe we got the chance to explore the European Parliament, the only directed body of the EU. Most importantly, we were lucky enough to attend real sessions and debates of the Parliament over the following week; throughout these experiences we got a strong sense of how the Parliament elaborates community laws and how strongly its relations are intertwined with those of the European Commission and the Council of Ministers.’
From Paloma’s perspective, the cultural, geographical and linguistic aspects of the month in France were as important as the access to elements of the structures of the EU. ‘Strasbourg is a mixture of two cultures, French and German, perfectly balanced. Generally, the French were friendly and easy to talk to (as long as you were trying to speak in French…), however body language and gestures were required if our French wasn’t enough. Also, a large proportion of the older generations spoke German (or the alsacien dialect).
It is an adorable city, the perfect size, not too big, not too small. Sightseeing in Strasbourg was hence relatively easy: from the cathedral and la Petite France to the Parc de l’Orangerie (a mini zoo) a few blocks away from the school and the Place Kléber with the main shopping area. The first Sunday of the month gives you free access to some cultural spots, so we took advantage and visited a few museums, the cathedral tower and its astronomical clock.
As Strasbourg is located very centrally, we could easily travel around to Nancy, Colmar, Obernai, and even Zurich and Karlsruhe. However, its central location and its position as the seat of many EU institutions means that living expenses are quite high, so we took the tram line to Kehl in Germany to do our weekly groceries.
Local cuisine included tarte flambée (dough bread covered with cheese, crème fraiche, onion and bacon), baeckeoffe (casserole with vegetables, pork, beef and lamb cooked slowly in white wine), kouglof (bread-cake that is displayed in the window of every bakery in Strasbourg) and lots of white wine. Local farmers’ markets in the street parallel to our accommodation every Saturday had everything from yogurt, fruit and vegetables, bread, flowers, to second-hand clothes and pots and pans. The boulangerie was a few blocks away from the school; in the morning you could see the French queueing for the bread of the day.
On the 21st of June, we experienced La Fête de la Musique. Once a year, the city transforms into an “open concert” with music for all tastes. A different band plays in every corner downtown Strasbourg. For us (as Paloma is of Mexican origin), some of the highlights of the night were an Ecuadorian duo and a Brazilian party.’
And finally, from Nick’s point of view, it was the mix of classroom-based learning and extra-curricular activities that really stands out: ‘During my month in Strasbourg all students had a significant number of classes alongside the social activities most of us took part in outside of the curriculum. The classes were divided into several different subjects: European Integration, French Language and Business, which included Marketing, HRM and other topics.
Most classes were quite intense and well-structured. They were also very interesting and engaging (for the most part) with the only downside being the teaching rooms which did not have air conditioning or any real ventilation. It can get very hot in France during summer…
Some of the courses included some very cool field trips, such as a visit to the Europa Park, which was supposedly related to the business part of the course. It wasn’t really, as we spent most of the day on awesome rides (or queueing for them), but unsurprisingly nobody complained about that.
I feel it is maybe important to let future participants of summer school know that the amount of class in hours per week is significantly more than most of us will be used to from UK universities. This, however, is no issue at all, as self-study time is kept at a minimum and most classes are very informative and highly enjoyable, with lecturers from all over the world (Ireland, the US, Poland, France, etc.).
I can personally say that I genuinely learned a lot about the EU, European culture and French language during my stay in Strasbourg. I loved the outside activities and the group we were in was amazing and very international. The lecturers were entertaining, clever and left us all with an unexpectedly large amount of knowledge. I would recommend Strasbourg summer school to anyone at any educational level and from any background based on my experience this past summer.’
Many thanks, indeed, to Nick, Paloma and Stefano for sharing their experiences and their photos from the Summer School. Having also had the pleasure of visiting colleagues at EMS in September, it’s particularly nice to be able to confirm that it really is a great place to send time so thanks to the students and to colleagues at EMS for having made us all feel welcome!