Tag: Brexit

One Year On

This time a year ago, we were welcoming our new colleague, Nina Parish, to French at Stirling. A tremendous amount has happened in the intervening twelve months and Nina has been kind enough to send us her thoughts on her first year working at Stirling:

‘Last week I completed my first year of working in the Division of Literature and Languages at the University of Stirling and what a year it’s been!

2020 Jul NP Office ViewThe year started with floods and a very washed out graduation ceremony (I still can’t quite believe that it took place – kudos to those who made this happen!) and a considerable amount of damage to the Pathfoot Building where I have my office and do some teaching. The Pathfoot also houses and exhibits the University’s wonderful art collection – what an absolute headache for the curators! But by the start of the semester the vast majority of us had access to our offices and the teaching rooms were ready to be used again!

2020 Jul NP DumyatAnd so Semester 1 started – earlier than what I was used to in England – and I began to get to know my wonderful colleagues and my new, mostly Scottish, students. I was struck by how pleasant these students are and it made me think a lot about how high tuition fees have changed the student-teacher relationship south of the border. There were also a couple of students from the EU in most of my classes and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed teaching a class with this diversity of experiences. I’m sad that this is likely to change in the future.

Just as I was getting into my stride (and beginning to know my way around the Cottrell Building!), we went on strike. It is always tough to stop teaching in this context and to not have the contact with students that you did previously but it is also important to fight the good fight and there was a lot on the line here from casual contracts to pensions. Looking on the bright side, you also get to know colleagues better on the picket line.

2020 Jul NP Dryden TowerThere had been talk about the Covid-19 virus from the beginning of the year but I had managed to ignore it quite successfully and was all set to travel to Warsaw for a research meeting mid-March, to give papers in St Andrews and Aberdeen, to go to a conference in Rome and then travel on to Armenia for a month-long research secondment as part of the EU funded DisTerrMem project in May and June. All this was obviously cancelled and my world shrank to the tremendous city of Edinburgh where I live. Getting to know this city has been the high point of the lockdown and in the last weeks getting out into the glorious Scottish countryside to go walking again has been such a relief. I was appointed Director of Research at the beginning of the year and having the time to be able to talk to my brilliant colleagues about their research trajectories and future plans has been a delight.

I sometimes wonder what my second year at Stirling will bring (I was due to go to Lebanon and Pakistan for the Memories from the Margins and DisTerrMem research projects), but I’ve decided to focus on enjoying the summer and preparing online classes for September for now.

Bilan de l’année: des évènements inattendus (c’est le moins qu’on puisse dire!) mais j’aime vivre et travailler en Ecosse.’

Many, many thanks to Nina for the great post (and for the pictures of Scottish views) and we’re delighted to have you as a colleague at Stirling, and look forward to pestering you for more blog posts in the months and years ahead!

Old dog, new tricks!

With the start of the new semester (and all good wishes to those enrolled on our wide range of French modules and programmes, and to our students off on Semester Abroad or working as Language Assistants…), it’s time to post a new profile of one of our French at Stirling graduates, Kerstin Rosée, who has sent us this great article:

2020 Jan Rosee EuroDisneyBonjour, mes amis! French has always been a part of my life, with a last name like mine, this is hardly a surprise. I knew how to spell out my last name to people before I could write it myself and I could confidently say accent aigu before ever attending a French class in my long history of attending French classes.

Language teaching in Germany (where I originally come from) used to be taken more seriously than in the UK. At least until the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland which put a new and enthusiastic emphasis on learning not one, but two foreign languages with many pupils now starting at primary school age. Going back to the 80s and 90s in Germany, English was introduced in 5th grade and in 7th grade you would pick another foreign language, usually a choice of either French or Latin. Why Latin? Well, in Germany to do any kind of degree in medicine, dentistry or veterinarian studies, you need at least your small Latinum (that’ll be 4 years of study) – makes sense if you consider that most of your textbooks will be full of Latin words. Since the thought of having to put down somebody’s pet guinea pig put me off veterinarian studies quite early, I decided to go for a more practical approach in studying French. Foreign holidays were beckoning and at that time I had already visited France with my family several times.

When the time came to pick a career and to think about what kind of training would be necessary, I found myself stumped by the idea that I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grow up. I still don’t, and I’m getting the feeling that I’ll probably be retired before I figure out what I’ll do with my life.  But… I was good at English and French and ended up at an academy training to become a trilingual executive secretary, adding Spanish to my portfolio en route.

Sadly, the job I took after leaving the academy was with an American organization and while my English improved my French and Spanish were neglected. I missed the golden opportunity to spend my holidays in French and Spanish-speaking countries and along the lines of ‘use it or lose it’, well, I lost it.

In my late 20s I relocated to Scotland and, being armed with a good grasp of the language and a willingness to delve into the local lingo (thank you, guy at the chippy, you were my trial of fire), I continued in my field of work but suddenly minus the trilingual aspect. Why? Mostly because many people speak English anyway and there were very few jobs for people with language skills in the Central Belt unless you wanted to settle in call centres. I tried, I escaped.

Having dabbled in part-time study for a while, I finally started a full-time course at the University of Stirling: Primary Education with Modern Languages. The course was brand new to the university at the time and we were the willing guinea pigs together with a cohort studying Primary Education and Environmental Science. I had just turned 38 when I started my degree at Stirling and my daughter had just joined P1. Great, I thought, we’ll learn together. To cut a long story short: I did not end up being a teacher. It turned out that I really didn’t like the classroom. Unlike my new just-from-school study buddies, I loved the semesters and hated the placements; I loved the languages but never really warmed to the pedagogy. For myself, the mix of classes, lectures and tutorial groups in French were a winning combination. Grammar: the necessary evil. Passé simple you say? Yeah sure, it rings a bell. Spoken language with Bernadette, the Spoken Language Tutor at the time: simply hilarious. Lectures and culture tutorials opened a whole new world to me. A word of warning though – reading, writing and talking about 2nd wave French feminism may come with strange side effects if you are an adult returner, for instance: flares of anger and bursting out into tears.

I graduated in 2012 and, thanks to my last-minute degree change, I was the only student to graduate with a BA in French on that day amidst a sea of Education students. I cannot thank the BEd Primary Education cohort enough for my round of applause when I entered the stage while everybody else in the room probably wondered whether I had showed up on the wrong day.

Everybody’s question was: what next, then? I’ll be honest, if you are in your forties and tied to the Central Belt as a location, career prospects in Languages are somewhat limited. If you have done the Call Centre gig and have no intentions of ever returning to it and if you need to plan your workday around the school hours, it makes it just that little bit harder.

Will I be using French for work at some point in the future? Well, this brings us back to ‘use it or lose it.’  The sad thing is, if you don’t use your languages regularly, you will forget a lot of vocab and grammar. The silver lining is that it will be easier for you to pick it up again, every time you do pick it up again, as long as you have a decent foundation. My current exposure to French language and culture is singing along loudly to Les Misérables and Plastique Bertrand while scouring Netflix for French crime shows I can binge on. The beauty of Netflix is that it provides you with crutches; I love to listen to the original French actors but using English subtitles to make sure I don’t lose the plot (literally) but you could swap this around if your reading skills need to be honed.

To make matters worse, a certain referendum 4 years ago which is intent on ending our opportunities for free travel to work in any of 28 European countries without a lot of red tape may be a further deterrent for pupils to even consider modern languages as a subject for their university studies. Businesses may decide that the UK is no longer an attractive location for them and those precious few jobs that open up opportunities to graduates in modern languages may leave the country. I am still cautiously optimistic that Brexit will turn out to be undeliverable and we will all just forget about this embarrassing episode in recent UK history – I guess we’ll see.

2020 Jan Rosee BretagneIn the end, all is not as gloomy as it seems, and you must look for opportunity where it presents itself. My plans are to convince the family to holiday in Canada and spend some time in Québec: find out how different from metropolitan France it really is, sample some of the lifestyle and speak French, a lot of it, possibly very basic. After that, I might try to duplicate my experience of moving to Scotland and visit Bretagne – I was there on a holiday when I was 5 years old, armed with only once sentence: Je ne parle pas français!

Surely, it has to be better than that by now!’

Yes, we’re sure that it is! Many, many thanks to Kerstin for this great post and for the fantastic pictures of childhood holidays in France. And we wish you all the very best for travels to Quebec and to Brittany, and to many other Francophone locations beyond!

Study Abroad: ‘It’ll be an adventure so don’t waste a second!’

In a few weeks, many of our Year 3 students will be setting off on their integral semester of Study Abroad. We wish them all well for the semester and hope they have a fantastic time, and are very grateful to Lily, who was at the same stage a year ago, and who has just sent us this extremely well-timed post. Lily spent her semester in France as an Erasmus exchange student but much of the advice she gives will be helpful for students heading for some of our other Erasmus partner countries or beyond the Erasmus network to Quebec, Morocco, Switzerland or (for those also studying Spanish) to Latin America:

2019 Dec Lily Ice Cream‘This time last year, I was preparing to move to France for my ERASMUS semester abroad, and I was panicking. Endless paperwork, the terrors of flat-hunting and of moving to another city… think first year of uni all over again, mais en français.

I’ve now moved to France on two separate occasions – first as a teaching assistant just outside Paris, and secondly on an ERASMUS exchange to Angers. Both were amazing experiences, though terrifying at the outset as I figured out how to navigate a new country and settle into a whole other way of living.

So, for this year’s French students preparing to go on their university exchanges: it may feel totally overwhelming right now, but believe it or not, you can do this. If there’s one thing I learned from my time in France, it pays to be prepared. With that in mind, I’ve put some information together that I wish someone had given me before moving to France.

Paperwork

Take everything. In triplicate. Every piece of paper you’ve ever touched. You may have heard of the stereotype that the French like bureaucracy. This is a lie. They LOVE it.

For enrolment, accommodation, banks, housing benefit: here’s some of the stuff you might need. Originals and copies!

Passport photos, Passport photo page, Proof of home address (bills or bank statements from the last three months or so with your name on them), Birth certificate, Stirling University enrolment letter, Host university enrolment letter/paperwork confirming exchange, Proof of activity for the last five years or so (if not covered by your university enrolment letter), European health card…

Any student cards, youth cards or Young Scot cards are also good to have on you for getting into museums and attractions for free. Many attractions are free for EU residents under 25, so have proof of age with you wherever you go (post-Brexit, you may also need proof of residency in France such as your French student card). Failing that, many museums and galleries are free on the first Sunday of the month – but arrive early, as these tend to be their busiest days!

2019 Dec Lily Les machines de l’île Nantes

Money

Money: believe it or not, you’re probably going to need some.

My friends and I chose a lot of different ways to handle our finances abroad. Here’s a few options to consider. Also: take some hard cash with you when you first head out – enough to survive on for a week or so while you get yourself set up or in case of complication or catastrophe.

Opening a French bank account.

Pros: If you want to try and claim French housing benefit, you need to have one of these. Some services – like renting a bike in certain cities – require one. The simplest way to avoid messing around too much with currency conversion and international payment charges.

Cons: I won’t lie, it’s difficult to set up an account. Most banks ask for proof of a French address (bill/bank statement with your name on it, letter from landlord, etc.) as well as proof of identity amongst other things. Some banks may be hesitant to set up an account for so short a period of time.

My opinion: Probably the most faff, but worth it for the security and flexibility it gave me while abroad. My university in France made an agreement with a local branch to help their foreign students set up short term accounts, so check with your exchange coordinator or ask other exchange students which branch they have gone with.

Using your British Bank

Pros: Easy. You already have it!

Cons: You’re subject to changing exchange rates and foreign transaction fees depending on your bank, meaning this is one of the more costly options. Additionally, it’s hard to say how Brexit will affect access to your British account –  there’s been a few newspaper articles about UK citizens losing access to their accounts while abroad in the case of a no-deal.

My advice: This seemed the more popular choice amongst my British friends but come prepared to look into other options just in case. Check your British bank’s rules and charges and notify them before leaving the UK so they know your details haven’t been stolen by a French tourist, lest you be blocked from your own account for buying your pre-class croissant.

Travel Credit Card

Pros: A card that will let you withdraw money in any currency in any country without charging foreign transaction fees. Simple and flexible.

Cons: Again, interest fees. Some cards use their own exchange rates.

My advice: This is good for frequent travellers as it will work for you almost anywhere in the world. However, be careful what kind of card you get, and make sure to keep track of your spending lest you end up with the mother of all debts at the end of your holiday semester.

2019 Dec Lily Rennes StreetTravel

Lucky you! France is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Top tips for getting around:

Trains

The SNCF carte jeune is a 50 euro youth railcard valid for one year for 18-25 year olds, which gets you a decent discount on most train journeys. It may feel expensive for just a few months, but train fares in France are rarely cheap and if you plan on doing lots of exploring, you’re sure to get your money back. You can also get offers on last-minute tickets that haven’t sold. Ouigo is also worth checking, as it offers budget rail travel often far cheaper than its competitors.

Attention! Check strike dates before you book your ticket. There’s usually a lot of them. It’s France – what were you expecting?

Planes

Companies like Ryanair offer fare discounts and free luggage for students with an ESN (Erasmus student network) card. Check esncard.org for more info.

Cars and Coaches

Probably the cheapest options out there. Coaches operate just about everywhere for the road-tripper on a tight budget. Alternatively, Blablacar is very popular in France as a kind of long-distance rideshare scheme. [Note from the blog: Do remember to take the same precautions with such sites and schemes as you would do anywhere else!]

Accommodation

This is the one that seems to stress everyone out the most. Step one: don’t panic!

Where to look?

Your university may have an accommodation services office – this is a great place to go to for help, and they’re usually prepped to help the wave of incoming exchange students.

University accommodation: some universities will offer one-semester digs in their student accommodation. This is a great way to meet students both local and on exchange.

Famille d’Accueil: Some universities have programs that will lodge you with a French family during your stay. A wonderful way to make friends with locals, practice French and perhaps try some homemade French meals!

Airbnb: Surprisingly, several of my friends found studio flats on Airbnb. Search for properties with discounted monthly rates.

Roomlala.com: This is the site I used when I moved to France as a teaching assistant. Good for finding spare rooms in flats or houses shared with other people. Range of different options/types of accommodation available. Other students have recommended appartager.com

My main recommendation is to live with French speakers if you can. It may seem daunting at first, but it really is the best way to immerse yourself in the language and culture. You’ll really see the difference down the line!

Addition: For moving in, some students have recommended companies like Send My Bag as a cheaper and easier alternative to lugging your suitcases from one country to another. They’ll send your luggage right to your door so you don’t have to struggle with heavy bags while you’re travelling.  

Housing Benefits

Rent prices can be higher in France as landlords know that many of their tenants receive help paying for accommodation. Luckily, you might qualify too!

If you can make a successful application to CAF (Caisses d’Allocations Familiales) then you can do anything. CAF is notorious for being an awkward, laborious mess of bureaucracy, even for native French speakers, but a successful application can pay a couple hundred euros a month towards your rent. No pain, no gain!

Top tips:

Start early, work fast. CAF is usually very slow to reply, so send in any paperwork they ask for as soon as you can. Additionally, who knows how the rules will change after Brexit – try to make as much progress as you can ahead of the deadline.

Make your account the month before you arrive: CAF won’t pay benefits for the first month your account is opened, so don’t wait until your arrival to begin setting up your account.

Practice makes perfect: CAF will let you “faire un simulation” i.e. make a pretend application to estimate if you are likely to qualify, and for how much. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get what the simulation estimates, but it might help you decide whether the process is likely to be worth your time.

Check with your uni: my accommodation services office offered to help exchange students with their applications.

Remember, to receive CAF you will need a French bank account. Which means… more paperwork. Quelle surprise!

Phones

Most UK networks will now let you use your phone as usual, up to a point. The fair usage policy means that if you use your phone more in another country than you do in the UK, they’ll add roaming charges. If you’ve been on your contract for a long time, this will be fine as long as you don’t use more data in France than you’ve already used in the UK the whole time you’ve been on your contract. If you’re on a newer contract, you’re more likely to pass the amount you’ve already used at home, at which point you will start getting roaming charges. Insert usual warning about Brexit changing all the rules here.

If you’re going to be charged for using your UK number, Free Mobile is popular as a pay-by-month sim card for short-term French residents.

Pros: No contract, decent value for money

Cons: Notorious for difficulties in ending subscriptions.

Make sure your phone is “unlocked” if you think you’re likely to get a French sim card. This will allow you to switch out your sim card, but can take some time, and may be easier to do before leaving the UK.

Other

2019 Dec Lily UCO Scottish Desk

Your university will likely organise a lot of events and exchanges for foreign students. Take food, flags, decorations, postcards etc from Stirling/Scotland/the UK for displays or for sharing. That is,if there’s any room left in your suitcase!

2019 Dec Lily English FoodIf you find yourself dying for a taste of home, check out the foreign food section of your local supermarket, if only to laugh at what the French supermarkets think qualifies as “English” food…

Most important (if cliché) advice of all: have fun, try new things, and roll with the punches. It will be an adventure, so don’t waste one second!’

Many, many thanks to Lily for having taken the time to send through all this advice which will be incredibly helpful for future students. And for those reading this and getting ready to head off, profitez bien de ce semestre et on se reverra en septembre!

Erasmus+ Teaching Exchange in Limoges

As we mentioned in the previous blog post, this year’s French at Stirling Study Abroad cohort are just starting their semester at one of our many partner institutions across France and the wider Francophone world. Most of them will be doing so as part of an Erasmus+ exchange so, as they start that particular chapter, we wanted to post an article by Aedín ní Loingsigh who also benefitted from the Erasmus+ programme just before Christmas but, in her case, in order to undertake a teaching exchange with one of our partners:

“In December, I spent a week teaching at the Université de Limoges as part of the Erasmus + staff mobility programme. The location of Limoges in west-central France meant I was able to fly to Bordeaux and spend some time there before beginning my teaching. I had lived in Bordeaux as a student many years ago (I won’t say how many…). Although the city has changed a lot since my time there, it was wonderful to stroll around and recall the thrill of discovering the possibilities that France seemed to offer as I was coming to the end of my undergraduate studies.

I left Bordeaux early on the day that a large Gilets jaunes protest was planned. Driving inland to visit some friends in Agen, I encountered a small number of protesters at various roundabouts. These were all cheerful encounters and did nothing to prepare me for accounts I later heard of the violence that had broken out in Bordeaux after I had left. Chatting with people later, I noticed that the Gilets jaunes was an ‘event’ that people wanted to explain to me just as they wanted me to explain the story of Brexit dominating the news in the UK.

These topics of conversation did not disappear when I got to Limoges. If anything, Gilets jaunes/Brexit became the ‘must-be-acknowledged’ issue to broach, however briefly, each time I encountered somebody new. Some of the most interesting conversations were with the students I taught. They were particularly keen to learn how the Gilets jaunes movement was being interpreted in the UK and what I had understood was happening since my arrival in France. In my responses, I noticed how they ‘corrected’ what they thought was ‘inaccurate’ and how they sometimes disagreed amongst themselves as they tried to ‘explain’ the reasons behind the actions of the French protesters. In my own attempts to ‘explain’ Brexit, I became highly aware that my own views on the subject invariably coloured the version of events I was providing for my French listeners.

2017 oct dodds downey limogesIn the end, I saw that this was a really interesting way into some of the key principles of translation theory that I had been asked to teach during my visit. The key point I had prepared for discussion with the postgraduate Translation Studies students in Limoges was the question of ‘translator stance’, i.e. the idea that translators/interpreters are not neutral figures who simply transform the ‘same’ story into another language. As translators translate, they are also trying to explain. But it is inaccurate to imagine that as translators do this, they somehow remove themselves from the reality of the world they live in and become neutral figures. In other words, it is wrong to think that bias becomes lost in translation. Discussing this idea with the students in Limoges was really rewarding, especially once we had established how our own ‘stance’ can influence our explanation of events across different languages and cultures. As well as thinking about how we translate ourselves, we looked at different examples of translators/interpreters in the colonial era and tried to find evidence of their ‘stance’ in things like footnotes, 2017 quentin hotel-ville-mairie-limoges marchprefaces, diaries and personal correspondence.

The seminars I taught were longer than I am used to in Stirling (two of the seminars I taught were 3 hours long) and the students weren’t quite as used to working in groups as students in Stirling are. But they were enthusiastic to work in new ways, they were well prepared, and they had lots of ideas they wanted to share. They were also happy to be active translators in the classroom and willingly helped me to find equivalents for any terms and concepts I couldn’t find in French. In the end, the length of seminars went unnoticed. Moreover, with my teaching largely timetabled for the morning (8.30am starts are quite common), I had plenty of time to go to the university restaurant for a delicious three-course CROUS lunch for less than 7€ — students pay even less. In some respects, the university buildings and teaching facilities in Limoges were less well maintained than in Stirling but the emphasis on healthy, affordable food and communal eating was really inspiring and made me wish it was done so effortlessly in our own university.

My time in Limoges was too brief. I only managed to see a little of the city centre and had no time to explore the beautiful countryside I had seen on my long train journey from Agen. But I saw enough to want to go back and make teaching in France something I try to do more often. Learning from the students in Limoges, translating at the same time as I was teaching about translation, and being confronted in real time with the complexity of communicating ideas back and forth between English and French was deeply enriching. I had many wonderful experiences in Limoges but what it reminded me above all else was the importance of exchange: of engaging with other ways of doing things, of learning about/from differences of culture and opinion, and of striving to be open at all times to new experiences.

Finally, two discoveries from my week in France might be useful to students in Stirling reading this blog as they prepare for discussion of topical matters related to France this Spring:

  1. This podcast from France Culture called L’esprit public. It comes out every Sunday and is a really clear and accessible discussion of the big political events of the previous week.
  2. This short text from Édouard Louis, Qui a tué mon père. It is a very moving, personal account of this young author’s relationship with his father crossed with a more detached, sociological attempt to understand the cultural and economic factors shaping working class life in North East France. Although it doesn’t directly address the ongoing political upheaval in France and the significance of the Gilets jaunes, it was the best ‘translation’ I came across of the deep frustration and anger that is underpinning this movement.”

Many thanks to Aedín for the great blog post and to our partners at Limoges for their hospitality!

Welcome to Tourzzz! (pronunciation Ryanair-style)

Among all these updates on students past and present, time for a couple of staff-related blog posts, the first of which comes from our Language Coordinator and Study Abroad Advisor, Jean-Michel DesJacques:

2018 JMD la Loire‘I am very grateful to the International Office to have funded my trip to Tours in order to pay a long overdue visit to one of our partners in the Loire Valley. I was lucky enough to be able to meet with Solène Loiseau from their Bureau International, and then with the Co-Director of the LEA programme, Joëlle Popineau. I would like to thank them both for having taken the time to speak to me as Study Abroad Advisor here at the University of Stirling.

It is self-evident but somewhat understated that meeting people de visu and spending some time with them is what helps create a strong and lasting bond between institutions. We don’t have many opportunities for spontaneous exchanges and it was very refreshing to be able to go beyond the usual email niceties and urgent queries.

Inevitably, in spite of all the positive things we had to say about our exchange of students (and hopefully staff soon), the conversation had to revolve around Brexit. I was surprised to hear that there seems to be a lot more anxiety on the French side that there was on ours. I was also very sorry to hear that some programmes had their compulsory semester abroad component in the UK cancelled due to the financial uncertainties that Brexit has created: Erasmus grants are vital to students and the risk, a financial one, was deemed too big to take a leap of faith into the unknown. Interestingly enough, new English-speaking destinations were being sought, rather successfully it seems: the Netherlands in particular and Scandinavia to a lesser extent.

2018 JMD Place PlumereauAs for Tours itself, well, I am not sure where to start: if you are a bit of a gourmet, you are more likely to find happiness wandering on the old Place Plumereau rather than the Pathfoot building. Without necessarily going for a Gargantuan feast (yes, François Rabelais is from nearby Chinon), you could find yourself in a nice bistro for a delightful plat du jour.

There is certainly plenty to do and see and it would be best to let you discover it for yourselves.’

Thanks to Jean-Michel for making the visit and finding time to send us the blog post (and for the great pics!). And we look forward to continuing our exchange with Tours over the years ahead.

From Dumyat to the Montagne Saint Victoire

Keeping things ticking over nicely on the blog, another update from one of our current students. This time, it’s the turn of Alex who is coming to the end of his compulsory Semester Abroad which he has spent in Aix-en-Provence (among other places…):

‘I did a blog post over a year ago about my first 18 months at the University of Stirling and I said that I would probably be writing another blog post about my semester abroad. So here it is!

From the beginning of my research, I knew I wanted to go the south of France for my semester abroad. It was an area of France I’d never been to and the partner institutions there had a great selection of modules to choose from. So when I discovered that the French department at Stirling decided to allocate me to Aix-Marseille Université, I was beyond excited. And after a lot of decision making over modules and a stressful application, I made the journey to the small city of Aix-en-Provence in mid-January.

The first full day after arriving was truly extraordinary. After a welcome meeting in the morning at the university, I spent the afternoon taking in the sites and scenery. I was not to be disappointed as with its stunning architecture, narrow shopping streets and bustling market squares, I knew that Aix was going to be a great place for the next few months. I spent most of the first week investigating the cafes and restaurants, so unsurprisingly a lot of wine was consumed in the process.

2018 Alex Janes Cours Mirabeau Aix
Market Day in Aix

Considering that the campus I was on was solely dedicated to Arts, Languages and Humanities subjects, the university had a vast array of modules. One module recommended to the Erasmus students was “Les études comparées des sociétés européennes contemporaines”, which covered modern history in European countries such as Great Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Russia. The most peculiar but interesting module I took was “L’introduction de l’étude des mondes arabe et musulman”, which gave an insight into the Arab and Muslim worlds. This module covered population statistics, languages, the Quran and the Caliphate empires. I had learnt about French culture before but had never taken a module like this before. I was totally fascinated by how much I learnt in the 12 weeks of teaching, even learning a few basic Arab characters and Algerian words.

2018 Alex Janes Tour eiffelTo make the most of my time abroad, I went on several trips to discover other parts of the country. After just a 3-hour journey on the TGV, I went for the first time (ever!) to Paris to reunite with some friends from university. Over the course of the 3 days I was there, I managed to visit a host of landmarks including the Eiffel Tower, Arc d’Triomphe, Notre Dame, Le Louvre, Sacré-Cœur and the Pantheon. I reunited with more friends in Bordeaux, which is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. The lively shopping streets, strolling along the river and of course, the beautiful wine, were the highlights of that weekend.

2018 Alex Janes Gorges du Verdon
Gorges du Verdon

An organised coach excursion took myself and a group of Erasmus students into the Alps of Provence. Following the winding roads in the mountains, we explored quaint villages with glorious view points and the Gorges du Verdon, which is the largest gorge in the world by distance. And after finishing my exams, I spent a weekend in Nice absorbing the gorgeous sunshine and mid 20-degree heat. Nice has everything you could need for a weekend away with a wonderful beach, intriguing museums and wonderful green spaces. A 20-minute train ride away was Monaco, where my eyes were opened to the world of money, flash cars and business men in suits. As well as these longer trips, I took shorter day trips to Marseille, La Ciotat, Barrage du Bimont and Les Îles de Frioul, all within an hours travel from Aix-en-Provence.

2018 Alex Janes Maja Jack Thomas EJ Montagne Saint VictoireBiggest achievement would have to be climbing Montagne Saint Victoire, the mountain famously depicted in much of Paul Cezanne’s artwork and seen easily from Aix. Standing at around 1000m in altitude (2.5 times higher than the height of Dumyat), it was a challenging climb to say the least but felt so satisfying once you reached the top.

Overall, my semester abroad has most definitely been a positive experience. It was a massive culture change and different way of living, but I soon got used to it. I would urge anyone who is thinking about doing a semester or year abroad or has any opportunity to live abroad, to go for it. I feel very privileged that I have been given this opportunity to enrich my student and life experience as a whole, considering the uncertainty hanging over Brexit and the future of exchanges. If I had any advice, it would to be immerse yourself as much as possible with the natives and locals. They are the people who can have the greatest influence on your time abroad, especially when it comes to enhancing your language skills.

And who knows, maybe there will be a graduation blog post?!’

Many, many thanks to Alex for taking the time to send us this post and for so kindly volunteering to write another!! In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your Summer and we look forward to welcoming you back in September.

From Stirling to Colombia: ‘Travelling is a form of education’

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, 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!

teaching students
Teaching students

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.

bogota induction viewpoint
Bogota Induction

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.

botero plaza in medellin
Medellin

 

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…

cali grafiti
Cali

 

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!

radio show awkward selfie

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!!