News from a former PhD student

2019 Verbeke Blog Pic 4 May19Many of the articles on this blog over the past months and years have given an overview of what our undergraduate students go on to do after graduation and we’re hoping to continue that particular stream of posts in the weeks ahead. For just now, though, a slightly different perspective, in the shape of this article from Martin who completed his PhD with us, under the supervision of Bill Marshall and Cristina Johnston, a few years ago now, working on language and French and Francophone rap:

‘Since the end of my PhD in June 2016, I have focused primarily on teaching and publishing my PhD research. Although my main area of study was French at university, I started working full-time as a Dutch and English teacher in a Belgian secondary school in September 2016 because of the shortage of such teachers. My Bachelor’s degree in Translation and Interpreting combined with my time spent in Flanders (for my Master’s degree) and Scotland made me a very sought-after candidate for such vacancies.

Of course, I would have preferred to teach French right away, ideally in a high school or a university (both types of higher education in Belgium), but there are many French teachers on the job market. Even with a PhD, it is hard to stand out when applying for a vacancy. This was made even more complicated by the introduction of a new law regulating the degrees needed to teach in secondary schools. Since September 2016, it has become mandatory to possess a teaching degree from a university (called agrégation). Without this degree, it is hard to find a teaching position, you get paid less, anyone with a teaching degree, even fresh out of university, will be prioritised over you regardless of your years of service, and it is impossible (actually illegal) to get a permanent contract.

2019 Verbeke Blog Pic 3 May19As I had been made aware of this upcoming legislative change, I enrolled in a French teaching degree at the Université catholique de Louvain in September 2016, right after my PhD. This course normally takes one year to complete, but I took it over two years while working full-time. It is only worth 30 credits on paper but takes a lot of time and effort and represents many more credits in practice. In fact, if you take it within a Master’s degree, you are allowed to take a 6-credit ‘empty course’ as compensation because they do realise that it would be too hard otherwise. Unfortunately, they do not offer such a privilege to people who only follow the teaching part of the degree. Things were made even more difficult by my father’s passing away in October 2016. Despite all of this, I somehow managed to finish the degree with the highest distinction (18/20 average) while having a second daughter and publishing 5 articles based on chapters from my thesis. My hair was thinning before and now I am completely bald… Go figure!

This new degree has created opportunities for me. It allowed me to start working part-time as a French teacher in a secondary school last September while continuing to teach English to ‘immersion’ classes (with students who have certain courses in English despite being in a French-speaking school). Next school year, I am very likely to work as a French teacher full-time. My goal is to do this for a few years and to eventually find a more fulfilling position in a Belgian high school or maybe university if I get the right opportunity. A big reform is about to take place with regards to teaching degrees, which means that high schools and universities will be looking for new teachers. The director of the French teaching degree at the Université catholique de Louvain told me that he will get in touch with me then, as I impressed him during my studies. I’ve had interviews with other high school directors who told me that my profile would be very interesting then. I do enjoy teaching in secondary schools, but students can be unruly and the school programs uninspiring at times. Furthermore, it does not make long-term sense, in my opinion, as my PhD is not valued at all (nor even taken into consideration).

In any case, we will see what the future has in store for me! I will make sure to let the University of Stirling know. In the meantime, you can read some of my publications on non-standard vocabulary in Francophone rap if you want to: in French here, and in English here, here, here and here!’

Many, many thanks to Martin for having found the time among so many other commitments to write this blog post for us and we look forward to hearing how things work out in the next academic year, and send you our best wishes!

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Welcome to Nina Parish!

Over the past 6 months or so, we’ve been able to report on a whole series of fantastic new appointments to French at Stirling starting with Beatrice Ivey, then Emeline Morin, then Aedín ní Loingsigh and finally Hannah Grayson who took up her post at the start of this year. And it’s with great delight that we get to welcome another new colleague in the shape of Nina Parish who will be joining us as Chair in French at the start of July. Nina is currently at the University of Bath and her research expertise encompasses representations of the migrant experience, difficult history and multilingualism within the museum space. She was part of the EU-funded Horizon 2020 UNREST team working on innovative memory practices in sites of trauma including war museums and mass graves. She is also an expert on the interaction between text and image in the field of modern and contemporary French Studies. She has published widely on this subject, in particular, on the poet and visual artist, Henri Michaux.

Our students will get their first chance to meet Nina in the Autumn semester and we’re all very much looking forward to working with her and doubtless gently persuading her to write a few blog posts along the way…

‘Learning languages can open many doors’

2016 Rogers Picture I MayAnd what better way to round off today’s blog catch-up than with a lovely post by our former student Stephanie who graduated a few years back in French and Spanish:

‘It’s been nearly three years since I graduated from the University of Stirling. I remember the stress of finding work and final exams looming. If only someone had told me to stop worrying and just enjoy spending time with friends on the beautiful campus.

When I left Stirling, I spent an incredible few months working as an English Language Assistant with the British Council just outside of Paris. Aedín, one of my lecturers, had told me “Take these fantastic opportunities while you’re young- they didn’t exist when I was in University!” Teaching with the British Council was indeed fantastic, and having not taken a placement during my studies, it was amazing to be able to go when I finished. Whilst I was there, I did some translation for the school where I worked, and this led to me doing a Master’s in translation and interpreting – this time at the University of Surrey. I loved this course, and although it was challenging, I would recommend studying translation and interpreting to anyone who has done a language degree, because these are transferable skills which can take you anywhere!

Other students from my year in Stirling have gone on to teach abroad, gained PGCEs, travelled the world as Flight Attendants, worked as translators and much more. Learning languages can open many doors, but even if you choose a career where you don’t use them directly, they will continue to be invaluable when travelling and meeting new people.’

Many thanks, indeed, to Stephanie for sending us this post and we wish you all the very best for the future – keep us posted on where life takes you!

Congratulations one and all!

Another very pleasant part of this whole blog catch-up thing is that it gives me a chance to pass on great news about successes for staff and students.

The University’s annual RATE teaching award ceremony took place at the end of last month so, firstly, congratulations to our Divisional colleague Bashir Saade who won this year’s prize for Excellence in Teaching in Arts and Humanities. It was fantastic to see a number of French at Stirling staff also being nominated for their hard work and commitment to teaching over this past academic year across a range of categories: Exceptional Student Support Award; Research Postgraduate Supervisor of the Year; Best Tutor; Fantastic Feedback and Excellence in Teaching in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities. And the feedback from the voters always makes us smile:

‘An inspirational teacher and one that I desire to be like myself’;

‘So passionate about her subject and creates an enjoyable atmosphere for learning. Where every student feels their opinion or interpretation is valid’;

‘Very constructive and friendly feedback that gave me the confidence to write essays with more ease’;

‘Most involved, best informed, best organised tutor and professor. Will always get back to you on time, will help with anything, always on time, always available for appointments.’

Thank you to all the students who voted for us – it really is very much appreciated by us all!

And congratulations, too, to Caitlin, Eszter and Eilidh, Stirling’s three successful applicants for this year’s Stevenson Exchange Scholarships, all of whom will be able to benefit from funding to undertake research projects while on Study Abroad or English Language Assistantships next year.

Eilidh – who is studying French with Spanish and Professional Education – will be working on a project exploring how a particular region balances its history and traditions against a desire to modernise and to exist within a changing world, with a particular focus on Lyon where she’ll be spending her year as a Language Assistant. Caitlin – who is on the same degree programme as Eilidh – is keen to explore the influence of Gothic art and architecture on the region around Montpellier where she’ll be working, also as a British Council Assistant. And Eszter – whose degree is in Spanish and Marketing – will be in Spain, on Semester Abroad, and examining feminism and the creative industries while studying at the University of Navarra-Pamplona. Congratulations to all three recipients of these competitive scholarships and we look forward to tales of your time abroad and the work you do with the Stevenson over the year ahead.

And thanks to Jean-Michel DesJacques and Jose-Maria Ferreira-Cayuela, Study Abroad Coordinators for French and Spanish respectively, for all their work in helping develop the applications.

Conferences and ‘To-Read’ Lists

Next up in today’s blog catch-up, I’m delighted to have our first post by Hannah Grayson who joined us as a Lecturer in French at the start of this year, focusing on her research trip to the States earlier this semester:

‘Back in March I was lucky enough to be in the USA for two academic conferences. My first stop was Washington, DC, where the American Comparative Literature Association was hosting its annual meeting at Georgetown University.

Unlike a lot of conferences, the ACLA has a distinctive structure where seminar groups of 10-12 people meet for two hours each day over three days in order to foster extended discussion. I would definitely choose to participate in this kind of structure again, as it allowed us lots of time to develop our conversations and draw links between papers. Our seminar stream, organised my colleague Eloise Brezault from St Lawrence University and myself, was titled ‘Responding to Violence: Hierarchies of Memorialization in Postcolonial Africa’. Our aim was to explore why certain instances of violence take precedence over others in terms of historicization, and how literary/cultural texts can both reorient historiographical trends and provide new lenses for revisiting historical moments. Among other things, we discussed the use of digital technology to tell stories in new ways, and different forms of responding to the silencing of history.

Our Stirling colleague Fiona Barclay presented research on the contested memorialisation of the massacre that took place on 26th March 1962 in Algiers from her current project. My own paper ‘Responding to Ebola’ was on En compagnie des hommes, a recent novel by Véronique Tadjo who is one of the authors studied at Stirling in the option module French and Francophone Cultures of Travel. I discussed Tadjo’s itinerant writing, and her critique of political responses to the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic. There was also plenty of time to attend other sessions, and I followed a fascinating seminar stream on injustice and witnessing. On the final evening, the keynote address was given by prize-winning author, Amitav Ghosh, who spoke to us about the challenges of representing polyglot societies in what he described as the essentially monolingual form of the novel.

2019 HG US Trip Pic 1With a few days to spare I took the opportunity to visit the Library of Congress, which is the largest library in the world. Though I was mainly marking first-year commentaries, it was also a great opportunity to read some new material on Tierno Monénembo, a francophone Guinean author whose writing was at the heart of my doctoral research. I also got to see the Lincoln Memorial and the White House, but will have to plan a return trip to make the most of Washington’s amazing collection of museums.

 

The next stop was Oklahoma City: a place, according to those I asked in DC, known for being totally flat, extremely windy, and not much else! Oklahoma City certainly isn’t known for being a centre of interest for scholars of French and Francophone literature, but it is there that we gathered for the annual 20th and 21st Century French and Francophone Colloquium. I presented on Tadjo again, but this time on a panel about the suffering body: ‘Corps en souffrance: s’adapter et survivre face à la maladie’. It was great to discuss the place of illness and mourning, and the position of the patient, in literary texts by René Allendry, Maëlys de Kerangal and Emmanuèle Bernheim.

The theme of the conference, ‘Catastrophes, Cataclysms, Adaptation & Survival’, had caught my eye because of my research interest in fictional representations of crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. Where the majority of papers were based on texts from metropolitan France, those from the wider francophone world particularly interested me and I’ve now added Edgar Sekloka’s Coffee and Failles by Yannick Lahens to my to-read list for this summer. Stirling students who take the French Atlantic Slave Trade module would have especially enjoyed Fabienne Kanor’s presentation on the process of writing her novel Humus, which tells the stories of 14 female slaves who in 1774 chose suicide in the Atlantic rather than a life of slavery. She spoke about the journeys she made from archives in Nantes to Badagry, Nigeria, and her process of writing those 14 voices, always keeping the sounds of the sea present in the text, and asking herself, “comment témoigner à leur place de cette catastrophe?”

On the final day of the conference I made my way through a huge St Patrick’s Day parade to the Oklahoma City national memorial and museum. Having discussed the filmic and literary representations of so many episodes of violence in the two conferences, it was very moving to walk around the monument to the 168 lives lost in the domestic terror attack of April 1995. I spoke with staff there about the process of designing the memorial, the decision to have an empty chair for each of the lives lost, and the presence of an elm tree which remarkably survived the blast and all the destruction that followed. I was also reminded of research I’ve done in Rwanda around how museums, monuments, fiction and testimony all contribute to building a memory landscape in the wake of the Genocide against the Tutsi of 1994. But perhaps that’s something for a future blogpost!

All in all it was a great trip, and I came back to Scotland with a huge to-read list, and lots of ideas to follow up.’

2019 HG US Trip Pic 2

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Many, many thanks to Hannah for this article and we’ve taken careful (and grateful!) note of the promise of future ones!

Travel, internships, language assistantships, translation, further study…: 2019 French Finalists’ plans

As ever, with the end of the academic year, we like to get a sense of what plans our finalists have for life after graduation at the end of June – it’s becoming something of a tradition. And, as ever, those plans are diverse and varied so, with many, many thanks to all those who contributed (and to those who have promised additions to this post as and when their final assessments are over…), here’s a taste of what lies ahead for them:

Greig, who has been studying for a BA Hons in French with us, has been saving to go travelling over the past year with the intention of going to south-east Asia at some point in the near future for 6 months to a year. Over the summer he’ll be ‘working for a wealth-management company (Succession) doing data-entry and reviews just to help add to my travel-funds and then after summer I intend on applying to work as a chalet host in the Alps in France for a ski-season. After that I hope to have saved up enough money to begin my travels and, as cliché-d as it sounds, do a bit of soul-searching and find out what I want to do with my life.’

Like Greig, Samantha, who will be graduating in French and Spanish, is ultimately very much hoping to become a translator. However, she hopes to spend ‘at least a year saving up for a backpacking trip around Europe in Spring-Summer 2020 before either starting a Masters in French translation or doing a translation internship and eventually gaining enough experience to become a freelance translator in French, but also maybe in Spanish and Italian. I’m not sure when I’ll officially have a career as a translator but it’s definitely my end goal and has been my dream since I was 6 years old.’

Paloma is on our International Management and Intercultural Studies programme that we run in conjunction with the Ecole de Management in Strasbourg and, having completed her Stirling modules and a semester of Study Abroad in Rabat, she’s off to Alsace in the Autumn for the Master Grande Ecole. As she says ‘Back in 2017, I had the chance to take part in a Summer School in Strasbourg, and I fell in love with the city. After finishing up my bachelors in Stirling (where did time go?), I am excited to go back and study a masters at EM Strasbourg starting in September. I am looking forward to being at the heart of Europe in a buzzing, historic, and multilingual city filled with European institutions.’

2019 Hornberger UN Bonn Pic April19Another of our International Management and Intercultural Studies students, Annika, has just started a Summer-long network and research internship with the UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) based in Bonn, with a pretty fantastic view from her office windows. Core to her role will be to assist in the planning and preparation phase of the 2019 UNEVOC TVET Leadership Programme in Bonn later this year, including logistical support, preparation of communication, PR and programme materials. Thanks to her language skills, she’s also been asked to work with the Communications and Capacity Building Team there. And then in September, she’ll be hopping over the border to Strasbourg to start her MGE year.

As for Alex, who has been studying French and Maths at Stirling, as he says: ‘Like many 4th year students, I am yet to decide what field of work I’d like to go into. Despite this, I have applied for the British Council placement to become an English Language Assistant in France for roughly 8 months. This opportunity will give me good experience in teaching, especially if I decide to become a teacher, whilst further improving my level of French. I have received confirmation that I am likely to get a place and am awaiting allocation of my destined region, which I should know by the end of June.’

Among the plans of other finalists are more intentions to travel far and wide, as well as offers for Master’s programmes in everything from International Political Economy to Peace Studies. To all our finalists from this year, we send our very best wishes and look forward to learning where life will take you – keep in touch!

Languages: ‘A vital part of who I am!’

As regular blog readers will recall, the BBC published an article a few weeks back that focused on a decline in language learning in UK schools which prompted us here on the blog to post a series of articles by and about our staff and students, and their experiences of language learning. Those conversations have been continuing over the intervening few weeks and I’m delighted to get a chance to post another series of thoughts on the joys and challenges of language learning, this time by Stefano:

2018 Intropido Pic I‘I am really glad to have this opportunity to write again on this topic here on the French at Stirling Blog, as I cannot recommend studying languages enough! In fact, if it wasn’t for languages, I wouldn’t even be able to write this post at all; but… is it really all about articles and academia? No, there is so much more to it!

When I was a kid, I was lucky enough to be in a school, back in Italy, where I could already start learning some bits of English from a very early age (I think I was 4 when the teachers started organising some playful and funny activities so that we could learn nursery rhymes and games in English). Although I am not too confident now with my knowledge on kids’ songs, I am sure that this joyful approach made me keep going with English in primary school, where I also started some extra-curricular English courses to engage more and more with this beautiful language. My ongoing passion for the subject then pushed me to carry on with English all throughout my schooling years, right until the very end of high school, where I found myself to be a bit of “anglophile”; as Emeline mentioned earlier, even just the chance to read books and watch movies in their original language uncovered a whole new world of possibilities (and yes, the new Harry Potter books did play a crucial motivational role in this, I must say).

After so many years of learning and practising English in Italy I’d say I never got bored of it, but I started feeling the curiosity for going to English-speaking countries to put the theory into practice; I liked English so much that I ended up working as a Group Leader for younger Italian pupils abroad during their summer camps in the UK and those travelling experiences made me realise how far even a young student could go just thanks to a foreign language! And when it was then time to apply for universities, moving to Scotland simply seemed to me like the best choice to carry on along this path.

A bit of a warning here: studying a foreign language might be contagious…

Not only does it make you connect with (and be inspired by) so many new people, but once you start learning something as eye-opening as a foreign language, it is really hard to stop!

In my case, the “language-bug” made me study French, starting when I was 11. It could have been something temporary, as in Italy you are only required to pick up a “second” European language (usually French or Spanish or German) between the age of 11 and 14. However, once again, I became ‘too’ fascinated by this new wonderful language and I stuck with French all way throughout my 5 years in high school in Italy and (spoiler alert!) even at university level here in Scotland.

When I arrived here I realised how differently you can learn French in these two countries; whilst in Italy a much greater focus is on France’s history and literature (I have lost count of the classic French novels and plays we had to study in school…), here in Scotland attention is mostly put on language skills, as well as postcolonial and contemporary studies, which makes the two countries’ approaches perfectly complementary!

Looking back, I still struggle to believe how far I have come just thanks to French and the number of experiences I have gained through it. Some examples include: school trips and holiday in France (yeah I know, this might sound obvious, but as soon as you learn how to order French food it is really hard to resist!), an unforgettable Summer School in Strasbourg, an even more memorable Semester Abroad in Paris, a research scholarship to travel across the South of France2018 Intropido Pic I and many more.

As I have been travelling around Europe, people have often asked me if I am now a “trilingual” student. I am finally happy to say, a bit more confidently, that I am now fluent in three languages (although my parents make fun of my now broken Italian sometimes, but that’s another story), but especially I am really happy and grateful for all the places I have seen and the people I have met along my journey thanks to these languages.

Anyway, as you might have guessed, this “language-bug” thing is not getting any better… I should indeed mention, perhaps, that I also studied Latin for eight years in school and, guess what, I simply loved it! Call me boring, but I had so much fun with Latin as well that I managed to be selected for a national competition in the North East of Italy; no, I didn’t win, but yes, I had a great time, everything was included for the journey and I managed to meet some other great people even in that occasion. Therefore, let me just go against a well-established stereotype on “dead languages”: not only do they help you learn modern ones, but they take you around more than what you would think!

To conclude, I do believe that languages are not just subjects, but rather constitute a vital part of who I am; they represent wonderful key to access our world! And if you think you have got a “language-bug” yourself, don’t worry, it can only get “worse” 😉

Now I really have to go though, I have just seen a flyer about a Spanish course…’

Many, many thanks (merci, grazie, thank you!!) to Stefano for this brilliant post and for the infectious enthusiasm for languages.