Author: cristinajohnston

A Year Abroad: ‘Full of new experiences, new friends, new places’

And following on from Andrea’s experiences in Spain, another great post – this time from Paige who has spent the past year working as an English Language Assistant and will be coming back into her 3rd year in a few weeks. Some excellent tips and advice here for students about to go away on assistantships this coming year or thinking about them further down the line:

‘By the time I come back to Scotland for my studies in September I will have lived in France for a year! This was something I had always wanted to do but I didn’t realise that University was an avenue to do it, especially in the middle of working towards your degree.

This year has been amazing! It has been such a quick year and I’m still not ready for it to end! To be honest it’s difficult to write about my year because it has been such a busy, full year. Full of new experiences, new friends, new places. I feel like I have spent the entire year out of my comfort zone, but it has been amazing! I have done so many things I never would have done before and it really helps you to grow as a person. That may sound clichéd but when you have to do so many things you perceive as scary – in a short space of time – eventually the scary things seem less scary, almost normal! And if nothing else, when facing another scary thing (like a job interview or starting a new job) you can look back, think of all the things you did that you never thought you could do and know that you can do this too.

I was assigned to the Académie de Créteil. I had never heard of Créteil but after a Google search I learned that it was very close to Paris and to be honest I was initially a little disappointed. I knew a lot of people wanted to be close to Paris, but I wasn’t one of them – I had already visited Paris on holiday and loved it but I really wanted to experience “real France” away from the touristy capital. The idea of being in a small town in France really appealed. However, as soon as you’re back in Paris it’s hard not to fall in love with the city all over again! I’ve really enjoyed discovering less well-known attractions and the non-touristy parts of Paris this year, but I also loved going up the towers of Notre Dame and I’m so glad I took every visitor up there before the tragic fire. I’m sure it will be repaired soon and I recommend that everyone go up the Notre Dame towers – it’s my favourite thing to do in Paris! Lots of attractions in Paris are free for under 26s (including the Notre Dame towers) so it’s a great excuse to see and do so much!

The two collèges I was assigned to were in two different suburbs outside Paris. I decided to look for accommodation in both towns rather than in Paris – accommodation in Paris is very expensive, as are the suburbs around Paris, although they are slightly less so. I found shared accommodation (colocation) in one of the towns close to both of my collèges and I highly recommend considering this – it can be really nice living with people when you’re in a new country and don’t know anyone. It’s also a great way to practice your French. Wherever you are assigned to in France I recommend using the appartager site to search for accommodation.

I really enjoyed working as an English Language Assistant in my two collèges. Working as an English Language Assistant sometimes involves working in class with the teacher, working with small groups or taking half the class (up to 12 students). It was such a great experience and has made me realise that I would like to pursue the possibility of teaching English as a foreign language in France. I had always wanted to be an English teacher (I began University studying English and Education) but I wasn’t sure if teaching English as a foreign language appealed or if I would rather teach English literature in Scotland. I think working as an English Language Assistant can give you a taste of what teaching is like and help you decide if it’s something you would like to do. Thankfully I still want to go into teaching – working in the collèges didn’t put me off! Of course, it could be challenging at times, especially at the start when you were trying to get to grips with the job, and it felt as though I was just getting the hang of it near the end!

I also embraced the opportunity to take part in the SCILT programme ‘Language Linking, Global Thinking’ which links a high school in Scotland with a Language Assistant. The main purpose is to encourage students to continue studying a language. As an assistant this involves sharing your experiences of living abroad through blogs, postcards, photos etc., as well as anything you learn about such as National holidays and answering any questions the class have for you. I loved responding to the student’s questions, and I enjoyed writing the blog posts as it forces you to research and learn things you otherwise would not.

I remember just before I left for France, one of the SCILT course leaders gave us the following advice: to say yes to every invitation we received unless we thought it would put us in any danger. I decided to follow this advice because although I’m a naturally shy person, I wanted to make the most of this amazing opportunity to spend a year abroad. As a result, I made so many friends of mixed ages and had so many fantastic days out and great experiences.

I found that people really make an effort to invite you to spend time with them when they find out you’re on a year abroad but there are also lots of things you can do too to meet people! My mentor teacher at one of the collèges was great – she really looked after me and invited me to so many soirées where I met other people who also invited me to spend time with them! It was a great way to meet people and spend an evening speaking French. There is also the option to go to Meetups, Franglish (a conversation exchange programme, where Native French speakers are paired with Native English speakers to converse and improve their target language), French classes and there are so many other options too! I went to Franglish and met some lovely French people that I later met up with outside of Franglish. They also introduced me to their friends, so I met even more people! I also went for some evening French lessons while I was in Paris which can be another good way to meet people and make friends.

Before I came out to France, I wasn’t able to speak much French at all, but my French has improved over the year! I always feel so proud of myself after I spend a day or an evening communicating in French with French-speakers even though my accent still makes me cringe – I need to work on that!

Spending this year abroad has also made me realise that you can go abroad with very little money in the bank as long as you have a job to go to. It’s very encouraging to know that travelling or living abroad for a year is not limited to the wealthy. This year has also made the whole experience of living abroad seem less scary and unachievable. I have learned that people are the same everywhere, no matter what country they live in or language they speak. I would definitely love to live in France in the future, but after having this experience of living abroad for a year I am now very open to the option of spending 6 months to a year teaching English in Japan or China at the end of my degree.

I’ll be very sad to leave France when I have to come back for my studies but I’m so thankful to have had this amazing experience and I highly recommend it!’

Many, many thanks to Paige for a fantastic post and we’re looking forward to seeing you back in Stirling in a few weeks!

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‘I Can’t Recommend Study Abroad Highly Enough!’

A few weeks from the start of the new academic year seems a good point to breathe some life into the French at Stirling blog which has gone a little quiet over the summer months. Our Bridging Materials are up and running for students joining us on our Semester 1 Advanced French module and we’re all looking forward to welcoming a new intake of students to both the Advanced and Beginners’ streams in mid-September.

It’ll also be good to catch up with all our returning students and to hear tales from those who’ll be back in Stirling after a year on a British Council English Language Assistantship (whether in France or elsewhere) or who’ve been away for their compulsory Semester Abroad at one of our numerous partner institutions. As we wait to welcome people back in person, we’re delighted to be able to post a couple of articles by students coming back from time abroad, starting with this post by Andrea who’ll be heading into her final year in Stirling in the Autumn:

2019 Kolluder Toledo Aug19‘Having recently returned from a semester abroad in Spain, third year has ended as the most challenging but also the most fun year so far in my degree. The language side of my International Management and Intercultural Studies course changed a bit, as the language learning focused more on learning a set of new skills like translation and essay writing rather than the division of classes like previous years. The skills previously developed in year one and two were now brought together for the writing and speaking classes rather than being separately focused on as before. Most of the classes were more unilingual than before (except of course for when we focused on translation) which was helpful to push me more towards thinking in French and Spanish, rather than thinking about these languages in English.

2019 Kolluder Seville Aug19

The change in the teaching was the followed by my semester abroad on Erasmus. I went to the Seville in Spain, and was and still am a bit worried that my French got a bit left behind as I made the best of the opportunity to improve my Spanish in a native environment. However, I did not completely leave behind my French studies, I signed up for a French module in Spain. It certainly was a very different experience learning French in Spanish. On one hand, it was a bit confusing to be learning a foreign language in another foreign language but on the other hand, it helped to clarify some of differences and similarities between the two languages. It has on occasion been challenging to separate the two languages in my head, but having someone fluent in both languages clarify some of the differences and similarities helped to box away the two languages separately in my mind. Also, it was a good experience to listen to other language speakers struggle with French pronunciation and it made me feel less self-conscious about my struggles with my accent when speaking French. Depending on our native languages we all struggle with trying to acquire a less foreign sounding accent in the languages we speak. So, for any of the students also learning both French and Spanish I recommend taking up a module in your other language when you go on your study abroad, it certainly widened my language experience.

2019 Kolluder Madrid Aug19I cannot recommend study abroad enough either. It was a fantastic opportunity to live the language, experience a different education system and culture, and meet new people. At first, it can seem like a daunting idea to pack your bags and go somewhere new alone, whether you’ve done it before or not, but it has been a great confidence boost to find my feet in completely new and unfamiliar surroundings once again. From my experience it’s good to be prepared for a long paperwork trail, start looking for accommodation early, and once your abroad to try as much as possible to make some native speaker friends (the culture clash really improved my language skills, too).’

Many, many thanks to Andrea for the great blog post and we’re looking forward to seeing you back in Stirling in a few weeks.

2019 Prize Winners!

It has been a busy few weeks for French at Stirling from the success of our taster days for secondary schools all the way to graduation last week via some unexpected challenges in the shape of flooding in our building. All of that has taken precedence over keeping up with the blog for a little while but, as many of us head off in different directions for holidays before coming back to prepare for the new academic year, we wanted to just post a few updates starting with congratulations to the recipients of this year’s prizes for French at Stirling.

A number of awards have been made this year, recognising outstanding performances across the board by students on degrees involving French. Amy, who is at the end of Year 1 of our Professional Primary Education degree, with a specialism in Modern Languages, is the recipient of our prize for the best Year 1 performance in the Beginners’ stream for French. The prize for best Year 1 performance in the non-Beginners’ stream was awarded to Mihaela who is studying for our BA Honours programme in International Management with European Languages and Society.

The prize for best performance in Year 2 has two joint recipients this year. Like Amy, Marc is also on our Professional Primary Education programme, specialising in Modern Languages. For him, ‘having this opportunity to study the language to such a high level alongside my main degree is extremely beneficial to my future career. Having never been to France before, the department structures French studies in such a way which enables me to not only learn the language, but also the historical and cultural context of France and the French empire which is something I’ve found particularly interesting.’ Marc’s co-recipient of the Year 2 award is Victoria who is studying International Politics and Languages with us and will be off for Semester Abroad in the Spring next year. Victoria moved to Stirling from Germany for her degree and, before moving, says that she couldn’t have imagined ‘the possibilities my studies would bring about but I must say that I am really happy to be given the opportunity to learn French in such an international environment. I am aiming to spend my spring semester next year in Morocco and am thankful for all the support the French faculty has given me so far in order for this to be made possible.’

As always, competition was fierce for our Simone de Beauvoir prize which is awarded to the final year student with the strongest performance across their French modules but this year’s recipient is Bethany who has just completed her BA Hons in International Management with European Languages and Society. Bethany was also the very deserving winner of our final year Translation prize and she kindly took the time to send some thoughts on her time at Stirling:

‘Studying Advanced French and Francophone cultures at University enabled me to gain a more profound and realistic understanding of French identity and cultural issues that I had witnessed first-hand in France itself. It was just incredible to discuss current challenges with a rational step back from the social situation and critically analyse what is occurring in society today. I realised that French studies was deeply aligned with my interests as studying felt seamless and effortless. The tutors constantly deepened my interest and made me engaged with the topics raised, making me want to learn more, grow more and gain more from the University experience. Walking though the French corridor in Pathfoot always filled me with butterflies in the pit of my stomach, anticipating the next lesson or debate. I felt it provided me with a bold emotional attachment that united me back to France throughout my time at University and made me desire to return to my adoptive country and undertake future studies to generate change to overcome some of the negative issues that France is tackling. Winning two Prizes for French filled me with an immense feeling of pride, recognition and gratitude towards all my lecturers and tutors who I cannot thank enough.’

2019 Prize Winners Natalie Photo ICongratulations, too, to Natalie, who has also just graduated in International Management, having studied both French and Spanish throughout, and who was the recipient of the equivalent final year prize for her work in Spanish. Natalie was ‘overjoyed to have received the Jose Blanco White Prize for Spanish. It has been a wonderful way to end what has been a fantastic four years at Stirling. As well as studying Spanish, I have enjoyed learning about French and Francophone cultures through exploring literary texts, films and engaging in fascinating discussions. I believe that my passion for the French culture and language was enhanced by the support and commitment of all the tutors who work incredibly hard to promote languages within the University.’ A particular highlight for Natalie was the opportunity to work as a Student Ambassador for Languages to promote French and Spanish in local secondary schools and during our Open and Applicant Days: ‘I feel proud to be part of a team who play a fundamental role in inspiring our young people to learn foreign languages. Another of my highlights would definitely have to be my semester abroad in Strasbourg which I spent at EM Strasbourg Business School: a fantastic opportunity to use my French skills in real-life situations and to become more confident in my abilities. I feel extremely proud to have been part of a wonderful faculty and I am incredibly thankful to all of the tutors who have helped me along the way!’

And finally, congratulations to Stefano who has just graduated with his degree in International Politics and Languages and who was named one of the University’s Students of the Year in recognition of an outstanding contribution to the University over the past four years. In particular, Stefano has been recognised for his energy and commitment to helping others feel part of a welcoming, inclusive academic community.

Félicitations à toutes et à tous!

 

Congratulations!

It’s graduation week at Stirling and, from all of French at Stirling, hearty congratulations and good wishes to all our students! More to follow soon but, for just now, congratulations and we wish all of you all the very best for the future.

And a special mention to today’s honorary graduate, Lilian Thuram, who was recognised for his contribution to football and for his commitment to education against racism.

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[With thanks to Elaine Livingstone for the photo!]

A Year in Brittany

Following on from Stuart’s tales of life in sub-zero Quebec and Brett’s of life teaching English in Japan, it’s time for more travels, this time with thanks to Emily who is reaching the end of her year teaching English in France:

Salut encore! It feels like hardly any time has passed since I was writing my last post for the French at Stirling blog, where I spoke a bit about my first two years studying French and History. First and second year went by so quickly, but not as quickly as this year! Instead of carrying on into third year, I decided to take a year out from my studies to work in France as an English Language Assistant. In my last post I had just found out that I’d been accepted into the programme run by the British Council, and was waiting to hear where I would be posted. I ended up being placed in a lycée in a small town in Brittany, which I was really excited about because it would be an opportunity to explore a region of France that I’d never seen before.

The town I was posted in, Combourg, wasn’t much different to my hometown in Argyll; it was rural, the population was small (7,000 people roughly), and the lycée was a similar size to the high school I went to, with 600-odd pupils. The job itself consisted of me leading conversation classes in English with the older pupils, which was a bit daunting as there was only an age-gap of two years between me and most of my students! However, I thought back to my oral classes at Stirling University and what I liked most about them (the conversations on recent events, discussing our own interests, being encouraged to speak, even if we made mistakes or our pronunciation wasn’t the best) and I tried to apply these things when I was planning my own classes. It was also a great opportunity to talk about Scotland and our culture, as most of the students had only really associated the UK with England. They couldn’t believe what goes into some of our best loved dishes, like haggis!

2019 Ronald Blog Update Brittany June19Although I was working in Combourg, I actually ended up living in a house-share with four French people in St Malo, a wee coastal town in the north of Brittany. Living with native French-speakers was really fun as I was able to learn a bit about French culture, and they really helped me to improve my language skills. There was so much that I loved about living in France, but the thing I enjoyed the most had to be the food. There were markets in different neighbourhoods of St-Malo near enough every day, and it’s safe to say that most of my wages went on trying as much authentic French food as I could! When I wasn’t spending my money on food, I was using it to explore nearby towns with some other language assistants in the area. We were able to visit a lot of places, like Dinan and Rennes, by using public transport, which was amazing as it wasn’t expensive and it gave us the chance to see new parts of France.

Although I had a fantastic experience in France, I’m really looking forward to getting back into my studies at Stirling and putting everything I learned over the past seven months into practice. And I’ll be back in France in no time, because in third year we have the choice of studying abroad for a semester! I’m hoping that I can go to a different part of France for this, just because I think it’d be nice to experience a new region, but no matter where I end up, I’ll definitely be paying Brittany a wee visit!’

Many, many thanks to Emily for taking the time to send us this post and we’re looking forward to finding out where you’ll be spending Spring 2020, too!

Schools Day Success

As regular blog readers will know, this week the time had finally come for our Languages event for S5 and S6 pupils from schools from all across Scotland. On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, we welcomed a total of around 300 pupils to the Pathfoot Building and colleagues from French & Francophone Studies and Spanish & Latin American Studies led them through a day of mini lectures, culture and language classes, CPD sessions for the teachers and a series of presentations by current and former students, as well as our Faculty Employability Officer, on the benefits of time abroad as part of a degree (whether within Europe with Erasmus+ or well beyond), English Language Assistantships and the many, many doors that languages open up in the wider world beyond University.

davAfter a brief welcome from the Faculty Dean Richard Oram, and the event organisers, Pete Baker and Cristina Johnston, the pupils were split between French and Spanish activities for a short opening lecture and then for the classroom activities. Those doing French enjoyed a lecture on ‘Race, Religion and the Republic’ by Aedín ní Loingsigh before heading off into smaller groups for culture classes examining extracts from Autour il y a les arbres et le ciel magnifique led by Cristina Johnston, Emeline Morin, Aedín ní Loingsigh, Elizabeth Ezra, Hannah Grayson and Beatrice Ivey. At the same time, those doing Spanish enjoyed Pete Baker’s lecture on Frida Kahlo and further discussion of Kahlo’s work in culture classes led by Pete and his colleagues Inés Ordiz and Ann Davies.

After lunch, it was back into the classrooms for some written language and listening work, led by Jean-Michel DesJacques, Mathilde Mazau, Fraser McQueen and Cristina, Emeline and Aedín for French, and Jose Ferreira-Cayuela, along with Pete and Inés for Spanish. And while the pupils were hard at work in their culture and language classes, their teachers were being led through CPD activities focusing on feedback and assessment, as well as the challenges that arise in the transition from secondary to HE, by Emeline and Aedín. The CPD sessions also included an opportunity for the teachers to benefit from a guided tour of the AHRC-funded Experiences of Exile exhibition by Beatrice Ivey.

All the pupils and teachers were brought together for the final session which included presentations by a group of Languages graduates, as well as current students at different stages in their degrees, and our Employability Officer, Elaine Watson. They all spoke passionately about their experiences of Study Abroad, teaching English as a Language Assistant, travelling during time abroad, career paths they have embarked on or are considering as a result of having studied a language and, in the words of Meg, one of the speakers, the confidence that comes from knowing that ‘if you can navigate France through train, plane and University strikes, you can do anything!’

2019 ASMCF Logo IIAll in all, a great chance for us to get to talk to a fantastic group of pupils and teachers, and an opportunity for those pupils, in particular, to get a real taste of what University and Languages at University is like and where it can lead you. Many thanks to all those who came along, to all the colleagues who led sessions over the course of the two days, to the students and graduates who gave up their time (and sent photos!) to come and speak to our visitors, and to the Division of Literature and Languages and the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France for their support.

Jumping in at the deep end: Speaking French in Québec

Following on from Brett’s tales of life in Japan, more travelling French at Stirling adventures, this time courtesy of this great post from Stuart who has spent the past academic year working as an English Language Assistant in Québec:

2019 Close Snow Photo June 19‘Salut tout le monde! It’s been a while now since my last post which, as you know, has been due to working as an English Language Assistant on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in Québec, one of the last bastions of French in North America. With my nine months there over now, I’m excited to share a little bit about my experience with you.

First off, I want to address the elephant in the room here. Yes, les québecois do have a very different accent to the French we’re used to hearing in a European context. At the beginning this can be a major shock to the system and can leave you in situations like when, in the very first week, I had a 20-minute conversation with an elderly bus driver where I understood about 10% of what he was saying! However, by the end of the nine months, your ear starts to tune into it far better and you can feel yourself starting to accept the things they say and even repeat them without even thinking about it (those of you in my conversation classes next year will have this challenge to look forward to!).

When I was anxiously awaiting news of my placement in Québec last year, I had a few people tell me that it might be a detriment to my French dealing with the accent and all the slang (this ended up encouraging me more as I am rather stubborn!). I’ve since found out that this is what some French language assistants are told about coming to Scotland! I won’t lie: it is challenging, but challenging ourselves by stepping outside our comfort zone is a common occurrence when trying to learn a new language. Plus, at the end of the day, it is still French, albeit with many strange new phrases like fin de semaine (which they’re very proud of and like to ridicule their European cousins for saying le weekend ), c’est plate (that’s boring) and c’est correct (pronounced corr-eck and meaning the same as that’s good or that’s fine).

2019 Close Snow Scenes II Photo June 19The other thing you might have heard about Québec is that it snows a lot there. Let me tell you, words cannot do that justice, so I’ve included some photos to give you a sense of it. The average temperature was around -25C (even reaching -50C one evening with the help of some polar winds. So, bloody cold safe to say (or il fait frette en tabernak, asti! as I would often hear). The beautiful thing about Québec is that even faced with these temperatures and snow levels that would totally shut down most other countries (*cough* the whole of Britain during the ‘snowstorm’ March 2018), life goes on and then some in Québec. I’d safely say the most fun I had was in winter – skiing, snowshoeing and watching live ice hockey matches became part of daily life.

2019 Close Snow Scenes III Photo June 19

2019 Close Poutine Photo June 19If I was to write about my whole 9 months there, you’d be reading this till the end of next semester, so I’ll leave you with one little language learning victory. To make a long story short, the day in question had been extremely long and exhausting and I fancied a nice big poutine to make it all better (poutine is chips with gravy and cheese curds, and I’ll miss it dearly). I headed to a local fast food place with my heart set on the biggest format – Réguliere. In what I knew was good French. However, when the receipt came back it read: bébé… I knew that this just wasn’t going to cut it so I pointed it out to the cashier. He went into the kitchen (which was right in front of me so I could hear every word they were saying) and I could make out through the huffing and puffing the cashier saying in French : ‘Yeah I know man, it’s just that he speaks French so weirdly’. Normally, I would have brushed this off, but after the day I’d just had I couldn’t help myself. To the two guys and the entire queue forming behind me, I loudly announced ‘c’est parce que je suis écossais’ (it’s because I’m Scottish). I think they’d assumed I couldn’t understand what they were saying, because, after looking very taken aback, they changed the order to the big format at no extra charge! Learning a language pays!

While I wouldn’t quite say I’m fluent in French yet. I can definitely see an improvement from where I was last year and I’m excited to test it out back at Stirling this year. I hope you enjoyed my ramblings about Québec and maybe take some inspiration for where to go for your ELA year (which I highly recommend doing of course). Merci, et à la prochaine!’

Many, many thanks to Stuart for the fantastic blog post – we’re delighted to hear that things have gone so well and hope that you won’t miss the poutine too much when you’re back in Stirling…