Category: Learning and Teaching

‘A couple of paragraphs about Paris, Parisians and how to (not) be like them’

In a month and a half or so, our new academic year starts and among those coming (back) to Stirling will be the 20-odd students returning after their compulsory Semester Abroad in France or another French-speaking country. We have a very wide range of partners across France, as well as in Morocco, Switzerland and Quebec, and we’re always very pleased to be able to post reports on the Semester Abroad from those about to embark on their final year with us. From the Spring 2018 French Semester Abroad group, we’re starting things off with this post from Nicolas who spent his semester at Sciences Po in Paris, as part of his degree in International Management and Intercultural Studies: 

My semester abroad in Paris was amazing. It is a beautiful, vibrant and unique city. I don’t know another place like it.

2018 Nicolas Masdorp Pic IBeing in Paris for four full months gave me the opportunity to not just run through the standard tourist programme, but to dive in head first and learn to appreciate one of the original big cities. To me, Paris has become special. Wherever you go, the city feels alive and it will to you, too. It is a mix of past glory, current main stage French cultural and political theatre and future opportunities and struggles. When you take your time, and go to visit the historically-relevant sights, you gain an understanding of the grandeur and the heavy historical significance, and not only because every second building seems to have solid gold ornaments on it. For better or for worse, Paris is the centre of most of the francophone world’s current affairs: Government, parliament, media, high-society, low(-er) society, music and much more besides. It is a city that has seen much change in the past and, in my opinion, will see even more in the future. Paris is so much deeper than what you can see on the surface. Dig a bit and even those of you with the highest of expectations will never be disappointed.

2018 Nicolas Masdorp Pic V

Having been to Paris several times before on holiday, I felt like I had seen most of what the city had to offer. I was mistaken. Badly. My tip: there is nothing like going for a two-hour walk through a city, even if it is because you forgot to take change for your metro ticket back home. And get lost. Walk, sit and take your time. On holiday, you do the sightseeing. You sit in a ‘Parisian’ café and drink a cappuccino to feel more ‘Parisian’ while you look at (and possibly offer your kind thoughts on) passers-by. Maybe you try to become more like the locals yourself. I don’t feel any more ‘Parisian’ now than I did when I got there in January, despite trying, a little. I saw Paris for four months like the outsider I am now and always will be.

It’s a bit like when you feel like you’ve found your new all-time favourite song while, in the same moment, you realise you’ll probably never be able to sing it like the artist does yourself (at least not in front of other people). I learnt to enjoy and appreciate Paris despite not feeling like I’d ever be a Parisian myself.

I was trying to find an analogy for this feeling for ages and yes, this is the best I could come up with. Sorry.

2018 Nicolas Masdorp Pic III

I’m really not sure you can go to Paris and become a local. Maybe by living there for twenty years. Maybe not. To a certain degree, I believe the citizens of France’s capital are born, not made. I had four months to become totally French and city-slicker cool, but didn’t. The latter part was maybe more down to me than to the city. What I have learnt, in retrospect, was that I will not be like the people of Paris. I feel like I understand them and their home now, though. And both of them are exceedingly special and close to my heart. Weird and wonderful. In a good way, probably.

One thing I also learnt, though, was to not be one of the infamously obnoxious, selfie-posing, in-your-face tourists. I will try to take that with me, wherever I go next. And here’s an insider tip for my fellow German tourists: Please do not continue to actively reinforce the sandals with socks stereotype. You are not doing yourself and, crucially, the rest of us any favours.

2018 Nicolas Masdorp Pic IVOverall I would recommend spending time in Paris to everybody, if they have the opportunity. In my mind, there is nothing like it. Paris can be incredibly rewarding, if you put in the time, energy and patience to understand it. It is the centre of most things French and will most likely remain to be so for the foreseeable future. Like I said before, I don’t think becoming a local, if that is what you want, will be your choice. My last tip: Don’t try. Be curious, inquisitive and energetic when you explore this great city. And don’t forget the sandals with socks thing, either.’

Many thanks to Nicolas for the great blog post and pictures. We hope you enjoy the rest of the Summer and look forward to seeing you back in Stirling in September.

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Unexpected directions

As ever, the blog is a little quieter over the Summer months but I’m determined to post a few articles, as and when they make their way to me so today it’s a chance to catch up with Chris who graduated a few years back now and whose career has taken him in rather unexpected directions since then:

‘It is hard to believe that it is seven years since I graduated from the French Department with the degree in International Management and Intercultural Studies. This programme was what drew me to Stirling – it was unusual in that it offered the chance to go to Strasbourg and get a Masters from a top French Business School.

2018 Chris Ball Photo 1 Jul18Following my time in Strasbourg, the opportunity came up to do a funded PhD which, although I had never been sure about what direction I would take following my Masters, felt like the right path for me. I came back to Stirling, because I really wanted to work with a lecturer who had taught me during my undergraduate time. My PhD looked at energy policies and green entrepreneurship in Britain, France and Germany, so I still used my French skills and conducted research in France as well as in the two other countries. During my PhD studies, I also did a stint teaching French at Stirling which I really enjoyed but I found very challenging, especially teaching things like direct and indirect objects to students fresh from school. It was fascinating to see it from the other side.

For the past two years, my life has taken a different direction. I have moved to Germany and started working in a research institution called Forschungszentrum Jülich, near Cologne, and I currently do research on the economic aspects of Germany’s energy policy. Although I already spoke German quite well, I have loved improving my German and becoming familiar with a new country. The skills I learned during my programme in the French department, involving a lot of time abroad, helped enormously with adapting to the new country and new language.

2018 Chris Ball Photo 2 Jul18

I still get to use my French quite regularly. The city in which I now live, Aachen, is on the Belgian border and close to Paris (two hours by train), so I am in the French-speaking world quite often. I also organise the French “Stammtisch” at work – it is a table of French speakers who meet once a week to have lunch, so that helps me to “keep my hand in” with the French.

When I reflect back on my time at Stirling, I have fond memories of the French Department. It was through the support of the department that I had the opportunity to do the Carnegie and Stevenson mini research scholarships which were very useful to my growth. I found studying contemporary Francophone culture broadened my awareness of different identities in the French speaking world. What I am doing now is quite different to what I did before and that is exciting – I would say that a key thing is to be adaptable and able to learn new skills and I felt that my degree at Stirling was a very good background for this.’

Many thanks (merci, vielen Dank!) to Chris for the update – it’s great to think there’s a Stirling-influenced Stammtisch meeting every week in Jülich! We look forward to finding out where the next few years will take you…

Study Abroad: ‘Just do it!’

One last blog post for the moment and this time it’s one from Sofie, who is about to enter the final year of her BA Hons in French and Journalism, and has just spent her Semester Abroad at the University of Tours:

‘Studying in another country can be a daunting experience and it makes most people nervous but these feelings change to excitement once you’re in your country of exchange. You’ll meet a lot of different people from different countries and make a lot of new friends so there’s really nothing to be afraid of. I speak of my own experience of going abroad twice and I’ve had the most amazing adventures both times of which one is still ongoing. I first went abroad when I moved to Scotland to study as a full-time student in 2015 and I couldn’t have been happier with my choice of country. My second time was quite recently when I studied one semester abroad in France as an exchange student and it went better than I expected, again.

2018 Sofie Karlsson old town ToursI went to Tours in France where I studied literature at Université François Rabelais. I knew I wanted to be close to Paris but I also wanted to live in a smaller city so Tours was perfect for me and it’s only 1 hour away from Paris by TGV. Tours also reminded me a lot of Stirling with its blend of old and new so it was easy to feel at home. It was also very easy to find friends thanks to the ESN community for exchange students. This did mean all students who joined were students from other countries except for France so it wasn’t as easy to befriend French students but ESN arranged many fun events where we got to learn a lot about French culture and food. They also organised trips almost every weekend to visit places like Saint Malo and Saint Michel but also amusement parks like ZooParc de Beauval and Parc du Futuroscope and of course many castles since Tours is located in Val-de-Loire which is famous for its beautiful castles. The trips weren’t expensive either so we saved a lot of money traveling France this way and everything was arranged for us which was really helpful. We just payed and tagged along.

2018 Sofie Karlsson Saint-Malo

Studying at a French university was interesting and a bit difficult since it was all in French but if I could manage to do it, then anyone can do it, trust me! I missed studying at university of Stirling a little bit though because I know how things work there but everything made more sense with time. I chose to study five courses which were comparative literature, French literature, two French language courses (CUEFEE) and translation from French to English. It was a challenge but I learned a lot of French and it was a fun way to learn the language. Studying wasn’t the most fun thing out of the experience though, for me, it was to meet so many amazing people from all over the world. I made friends from USA, Canada and other various countries in Europe and it’s nice to know I’ll always have connections there. There were also opportunities to meet locals who were interested in other cultures but I had to look for these places myself. In Tours, there’s a nice café/restaurant called NewLita aka “the language café”. I went there a few times and it was a great way to practise my French and meet new people.

2018 Sofie Karlsson Gare de Tours

But how did I end up studying abroad? Well, I had one mandatory semester abroad in a French speaking country during my 3rd year since I’m studying French as part of my degree. Being me, loving to travel, I didn’t hesitate one second when I found out I was expected to study in France. However, I had a lot of thoughts the summer before the start of my 3rd year because I didn’t know anything, at the time, of what needed to be done before going but things got clearer once we got more information during the autumn semester. There was of course a lot of paperwork but it got easier with time so it wasn’t as difficult as it seemed at first and I didn’t have any issues with anything. I was also eligible to receive the Erasmus grant, since I studied in Europe, and I got it in time so I had an easy experience overall with the application process. Besides, all the preparations during the autumn semester made everything more real which was exciting at the same time as it was stressful. The whole study abroad experience had its ups and downs but I’m so happy I did it. I would recommend anyone who’s thinking about it to just do it because you won’t regret it. It was definitely worth it!’

Many thanks to Sofie for this great post (and pictures!) and we look forward to hearing more about your time in Tours when you’re back in Stirling in September. In the meantime, bonnes vacances!

From teaching English in France to teaching French in Scotland

From one Fiona (our colleague, Fiona Barclay) to another… Fiona Mears, who graduated a few years back, and who has kept us posted on her travels and teaching career at regular intervals (here and here and here!). Fiona is now back in the UK and about to embark on a new stage in that teaching career:

‘Back in April 2017, my contract at the Université de Franche-Comté where I’d been teaching English for the previous two years came to an end. Since graduating in 2012, I’d been living year by year, predominantly seeking out work which would allow me, first, to stay in France and, second, continue building on my teaching experience. Having lived in France for four years in total, though, I felt it was time to head back to Scotland and, to the great joy of my parents, give the whole ‘settling down’ thing I’d been determinedly avoiding a go!

2018 Fiona Mears Awards ceremony Jul18I’d decided to swap teaching English in France for teaching French in Scotland and had been accepted onto the PGDE Modern Languages course at the University of Glasgow. And what a year it’s been! When people say the PGDE is full-on, they’re not exaggerating. Attending classes at university turned out to be the most relaxing part of the whole course. It came as no surprise that placements were tough: you have to hit the ground running, learn fast and develop a thick skin pretty swiftly. Fortunately, I was very lucky with the mentors and other colleagues I worked with, all of whom were welcoming, supportive and, most importantly, human. We all had our good and bad days, not just me. What I hadn’t expected was that holidays would largely be devoted to writing assignments, which was a shock to the system after the holidays I got in France! At the end of the day though, the hard work and effort everyone put in just made qualifying in June all the more rewarding.

2018 Fiona Mears Grad ball PGDE Picture Jul18

I haven’t ruled out moving back to France or indeed trying out life in another country, but for now I’m enjoying being back in Scotland and can’t wait to start my probation year in August.’

Many thanks to Fiona for this update, congratulations on the PGDE and good luck with the probation year! We look forward to more tales!

‘Learning French and making it my own’

Following on from Julian’s account of life two years on from graduation, it’s over to Andrea who is two years into her degree programme in International Management and Intercultural Studies and who has sent us this update:

‘The summer holidays seem like the perfect time for evaluating the last academic year. About a year ago I wrote my first blogpost looking at how I got along with the French modules at Stirling at the end of first year. It is only the end of my second year, and I have already said goodbye to some friends who recently graduated, including a French friend. Now seems as good a time as any to follow up on how my learning has progressed since my first year at university.

The classes progressed in the same style as last year with separate strands focusing on grammar and writing skills, reading and watching media in French, and speaking. The different books and films we have been exposed to this year have been more of a challenge than in first year. However, the stories have remained very interesting through the struggle of understanding and analysing them. Thanks to this structure of learning, I have had time to look at where my strengths and weaknesses lie in learning French and making it my own. The structures of the seminars and assessments have really helped to pinpoint what areas of language learning I still need to improve on and what areas have progressed more. Throughout the year there have also been more opportunities to speak the language in formal and informal environments through our guided speaking classes and the less formal conversation classes. Coupled with a job in tourism, this has really improved my speaking skills. Over the summer I’m hoping to stay exposed to the language and focus on reading and writing in French to improve my vocabulary and grammar.

As second year moved along I have also discovered a new challenge to my language learning. I started learning Spanish from scratch in first year, and now that my Spanish has improved a little too it’s been difficult to keep the two languages apart in my head. My French is still better, and my brain often seems to default to it when I struggle in Spanish. With third year coming up, I am close to a semester abroad in Spain. I feel the challenge of keeping the two languages apart in my head will remain and I am still looking for ways to hopefully be able to keep my French alive while my semester abroad takes me to Spain. For anyone else taking two languages, I recommend you take your time with both languages and make sure neither of them is neglected otherwise they might jumble up in your head. I do feel that immersing myself in both languages as equally as possible has helped me to separate the two languages a bit more but the untangling is still in progress.

Overall, I have really enjoyed my second year of French at university level and I look forward to the new challenges of the years ahead.’

Many thanks to Andrea for sending this great post – enjoy the Summer months and we look forward to welcoming you back in the Autumn.

Two Years On!

Still basking in the glow of last week’s graduation ceremonies, another little flurry of blog posts to start the week, one by a current student, another relating more to staff and research and this one by Julian who graduated in French and Law back in 2016:

‘It’s been exactly two years since graduation, and another year has passed since my last blog entry. There haven’t been any dramatic changes in my life, not like in the first year after graduating. I have thoroughly enjoyed this past year but I am now looking forward to a bit of a change.

Right after graduating I decided to take a year’s break from studying to gain some work experience, preferably abroad. But it was while at home in Germany that I heard about an airline looking for flight attendants and, on a whim, I attended the casting. To my surprise, I was hired. Following about three months of quite intensive training in which we were given several useful tools, such as conflict de-escalation and how to react quickly in unusual and critical situations (and I have had to apply these more often than I thought I would need to), I started working as a cabin attendant.

2018 Julian Osei Bonsu Ballooning in Mexico July18
Ballooning in Mexico

I had initially planned on doing this job for only a year, in which time I would see as much of the world as I could. And it has turned out better than I could have ever imagined. For work I have visited places I had dreamed of seeing for years and I have met interesting and inspiring people even if only briefly. It’s getting on for two years now and it has been a really good time, making the idea of leaving the job not an easy one.

 

However, looking at graduation photos and reminiscing about my four years at university, the period of my life I am most fond of, the desire to again experience something similar has grown immensely. I feel I am ready to be immersed again in an atmosphere that is stimulating both intellectually and socially. At Stirling, I loved being challenged to learn and further my knowledge about issues and topics that interest me, and the friendships I made at university have been deeper than any I have ever had before or since.

I have therefore applied to university here at home with the hope of furthering my education and experiencing something similar to Stirling. I am aware that it probably won’t be as great as my time at Stirling Uni, with my wonderful friends, inspiring lecturers and the magical Scottish atmosphere, and I don’t want to get my hopes up too much. But I am looking for a new challenge, and if everything goes as planned, I would welcome a new chapter in my life.’

Many, many thanks to Julian for the great blog post and for keeping us updated, and we’ll keep our fingers firmly crossed for success in your future plans!

Sunshine and Successes

It has been a fantastically sunny day in Stirling today, ideal weather for this year’s finalists who have just become this year’s French at Stirling graduates. Everybody looked great in their finery and, despite the heat in the Gannochy, it was a morning of smiles all round. Congratulations once again to all our graduates!

And it’s not only our finalists who are to be lauded today – as I got ready to don my gown for the ceremony this morning, I was very pleased to find a blog post from Jack, one of our students who is halfway through his degree, waiting in my inbox. As we mentioned recently on the blog, Jack was recently awarded a Stevenson Exchange Scholarship which he’ll use – as he explains here – to learn more about competition structures for tennis in France:

‘For language students, third year is a biggie. It’s the one we all look forward to – the one where we finally get to spend our semester abroad! We have all talked about it amongst ourselves endlessly, saying things like “I think I’ll go to Quebec’ or ‘Tours sounds nice!’, but this coming September myself and the rest of the French students at Stirling going into their third year of studies will have to make a final decision on which francophone university we would like to study at in January 2019. What seemed like a decision so far away is suddenly right around the corner!

2018 Jack Oswald Tennis Photo 1For me, it has been a decision that I have had to put much thought into. Being a tennis scholar at Stirling, I wanted to find a French-speaking city that I would find exciting and where I would have ample opportunities to improve my ability in the language, but also have the tennis facilities and travel links that would allow me to continue with my rigorous training and competition schedule. Luckily for me, France is one of (if not the) best tennis nations in the world! Having spent some time in Montpellier during my teenage years, I knew that South of France is where I wanted to be due to its fantastic climate, the amiable hospitality of its inhabitants and, of course, the many tennis clubs and academies that are dotted around the region!

February last year, I was informed by the French department of the opportunity to apply for the Stevenson Exchange Scholarship. This scholarship was developed in order to provide some funding for students who wished to undertake specific research projects during their time abroad, alongside their Erasmus studies or an English Language Assistantship. Due to my passion for tennis, I leapt at the chance! After deliberating on which aspect of tennis in France that I wanted to explore, I decided that the most interesting would be to research the structures for competition in France, and how they compare to that of the United Kingdom. In more simple terms, I wanted to try to figure out how why the level of tennis in France is so high, and how we might be able to better organise tournaments in Britain from beginners all the way up to the professional level in order produce the next generation of future stars.

2018 Jack Oswald Tennis Photo 2I decided that with the help of the grant I would travel to a few professional events around the country, including L’Open Sud de France in Montpellier that commences in February, and especially the French Open at the end of May. I would also visit a few of the popular tennis academies and clubs located in the south of France and interview some of their coaches about how they develop their players into champions. So, with the guidance of Cristina, I drafted my personal statement, which included my detailed proposal for my research alongside a bit about myself. I then sent this off, along with my application for the Scholarship and just hoped that I might be selected for an interview.

And as luck would have it, I was! Two months later, there I was on the train to Glasgow for my interview at the university. When I got there, I was greeted by a handful of other nervous language students. We all wished each other the best of luck as each of our turns came, not really knowing what to expect. Finally, my name was called. I found myself in a room with the heads of the French departments for five Scottish universities including Glasgow and St. Andrews. I had never really been good at interviews, but I took a deep breath and decided that I would simply try my best to answer their questions as honestly and thoughtfully as I could. Twenty minutes later I was out the door on my way back home, relieved that the toughest part was over, regardless of the outcome. Now the waiting game commenced!

Luckily, I did not need to wait too long. Just a couple of weeks later I received an email saying that I had been granted the Stevenson Exchange Scholarship for my semester abroad next January! I honestly can’t wait for my semester abroad in France and to embark upon some research into my passion during my time there. I would like to thank Cristina for helping me organise my application and proof reading it several times over (!). I honestly couldn’t have done it without her, as well as Jean-Michel for providing references for the application. I strongly encourage all Language students going into their second year at Stirling to apply for the Stevenson Exchange Scholarship for their semester abroad. It is more than worth the effort and will enrich your experience abroad whilst also allowing you to follow and develop your passion.’

Many thanks to Jack for a great blog post and congratulations on your success in being awarded a Stevenson Scholarship. We look forward to hearing more about the project while you’re in France in the Spring.