Another ‘life after graduation’ update today from one of our recent graduates, David, who completed his BA Hons in French and Spanish with us two years ago:
‘After graduating in 2017, I decided to go off to Latin America to not only discover a new culture but also try to gain some professional experience. Having lived in León, Spain for a full year during my Erasmus+ exchange, I’d met people from all over the world including quite a few who were from Mexico and Colombia. The Latin American Studies focus at the University of Stirling had also sparked my interest (shout out to Guillermo!) and so I took part in the language assistantship programme through the British Council. I was appointed to the Universidad Católica de Pereira in Colombia and I absolutely loved it! I taught English at the university but also organised many extra-curricular activities such as a weekly Conversation Club where students and teachers who were interested in learning more about Scottish and British culture could do so in a less formal setting. I even had my own podcast at the university’s radio station which was something I’d never expected to be doing! In addition, I had the opportunity to translate academic journals in collaboration with the psychology department at the university. Apart from these professional opportunities, I was able to travel to breath-taking places around Latin America and even met up with friends from Mexico, Peru and Ecuador I had met during my year abroad.
After this professionally challenging but wonderful year being part of a completely different culture, I decided I wanted to be closer to home but still keep discovering different cultures and enhance my language skills. I also wanted to be sure that teaching was definitely for me and so, through the British Council once again, I embarked on my next adventure in Catania, Sicily where I taught English in a secondary school. Having never spoken Italian before, I realised just how lucky I was to have studied other modern languages at university as this helped me to pick it up quickly. Although I am not fluent, I am now able to communicate fairly clearly and understand Italian! On the work front, teaching was not always easy but I grew attached to my colleagues and students who were always interested in what I had to offer (although they weren’t fans of Irn Bru!). I felt part of the community and I now realise how lucky I am to have had the chance to live beside the biggest active volcano in Europe (risky, I know!) in a city built from lava stone full of history and deliciously cheap pizza!
I have now started to study for my PGDE at the University of Glasgow. Despite the cold, I am very happy to be back in Scotland, enjoying the comforts I longed for while I was abroad such as Greggs coffee and tatty scones – as well as the open-mindedness of the Scots who are always so welcoming to people from other cultures and backgrounds. After obtaining my Diploma, I hope to be posted somewhere up north and discover more of Scotland. Although I am currently quite focused on teaching, I think it is important to keep one’s options open and I might consider taking up postgraduate research or maybe even further explore the idea of academic translation.’
Many, many thanks to David for this great update and we wish you all the very best for the PGDE – looking forward to updates as the months go by, too.
And following on from Andrea’s experiences in Spain, another great post – this time from Paige who has spent the past year working as an English Language Assistant and will be coming back into her 3rd year in a few weeks. Some excellent tips and advice here for students about to go away on assistantships this coming year or thinking about them further down the line:
‘By the time I come back to Scotland for my studies in September I will have lived in France for a year! This was something I had always wanted to do but I didn’t realise that University was an avenue to do it, especially in the middle of working towards your degree.
This year has been amazing! It has been such a quick year and I’m still not ready for it to end! To be honest it’s difficult to write about my year because it has been such a busy, full year. Full of new experiences, new friends, new places. I feel like I have spent the entire year out of my comfort zone, but it has been amazing! I have done so many things I never would have done before and it really helps you to grow as a person. That may sound clichéd but when you have to do so many things you perceive as scary – in a short space of time – eventually the scary things seem less scary, almost normal! And if nothing else, when facing another scary thing (like a job interview or starting a new job) you can look back, think of all the things you did that you never thought you could do and know that you can do this too.
I was assigned to the Académie de Créteil. I had never heard of Créteil but after a Google search I learned that it was very close to Paris and to be honest I was initially a little disappointed. I knew a lot of people wanted to be close to Paris, but I wasn’t one of them – I had already visited Paris on holiday and loved it but I really wanted to experience “real France” away from the touristy capital. The idea of being in a small town in France really appealed. However, as soon as you’re back in Paris it’s hard not to fall in love with the city all over again! I’ve really enjoyed discovering less well-known attractions and the non-touristy parts of Paris this year, but I also loved going up the towers of Notre Dame and I’m so glad I took every visitor up there before the tragic fire. I’m sure it will be repaired soon and I recommend that everyone go up the Notre Dame towers – it’s my favourite thing to do in Paris! Lots of attractions in Paris are free for under 26s (including the Notre Dame towers) so it’s a great excuse to see and do so much!
The two collèges I was assigned to were in two different suburbs outside Paris. I decided to look for accommodation in both towns rather than in Paris – accommodation in Paris is very expensive, as are the suburbs around Paris, although they are slightly less so. I found shared accommodation (colocation) in one of the towns close to both of my collèges and I highly recommend considering this – it can be really nice living with people when you’re in a new country and don’t know anyone. It’s also a great way to practice your French. Wherever you are assigned to in France I recommend using the appartager site to search for accommodation.
I really enjoyed working as an English Language Assistant in my two collèges. Working as an English Language Assistant sometimes involves working in class with the teacher, working with small groups or taking half the class (up to 12 students). It was such a great experience and has made me realise that I would like to pursue the possibility of teaching English as a foreign language in France. I had always wanted to be an English teacher (I began University studying English and Education) but I wasn’t sure if teaching English as a foreign language appealed or if I would rather teach English literature in Scotland. I think working as an English Language Assistant can give you a taste of what teaching is like and help you decide if it’s something you would like to do. Thankfully I still want to go into teaching – working in the collèges didn’t put me off! Of course, it could be challenging at times, especially at the start when you were trying to get to grips with the job, and it felt as though I was just getting the hang of it near the end!
I also embraced the opportunity to take part in the SCILT programme ‘Language Linking, Global Thinking’ which links a high school in Scotland with a Language Assistant. The main purpose is to encourage students to continue studying a language. As an assistant this involves sharing your experiences of living abroad through blogs, postcards, photos etc., as well as anything you learn about such as National holidays and answering any questions the class have for you. I loved responding to the student’s questions, and I enjoyed writing the blog posts as it forces you to research and learn things you otherwise would not.
I remember just before I left for France, one of the SCILT course leaders gave us the following advice: to say yes to every invitation we received unless we thought it would put us in any danger. I decided to follow this advice because although I’m a naturally shy person, I wanted to make the most of this amazing opportunity to spend a year abroad. As a result, I made so many friends of mixed ages and had so many fantastic days out and great experiences.
I found that people really make an effort to invite you to spend time with them when they find out you’re on a year abroad but there are also lots of things you can do too to meet people! My mentor teacher at one of the collèges was great – she really looked after me and invited me to so many soirées where I met other people who also invited me to spend time with them! It was a great way to meet people and spend an evening speaking French. There is also the option to go to Meetups, Franglish (a conversation exchange programme, where Native French speakers are paired with Native English speakers to converse and improve their target language), French classes and there are so many other options too! I went to Franglish and met some lovely French people that I later met up with outside of Franglish. They also introduced me to their friends, so I met even more people! I also went for some evening French lessons while I was in Paris which can be another good way to meet people and make friends.
Before I came out to France, I wasn’t able to speak much French at all, but my French has improved over the year! I always feel so proud of myself after I spend a day or an evening communicating in French with French-speakers even though my accent still makes me cringe – I need to work on that!
Spending this year abroad has also made me realise that you can go abroad with very little money in the bank as long as you have a job to go to. It’s very encouraging to know that travelling or living abroad for a year is not limited to the wealthy. This year has also made the whole experience of living abroad seem less scary and unachievable. I have learned that people are the same everywhere, no matter what country they live in or language they speak. I would definitely love to live in France in the future, but after having this experience of living abroad for a year I am now very open to the option of spending 6 months to a year teaching English in Japan or China at the end of my degree.
I’ll be very sad to leave France when I have to come back for my studies but I’m so thankful to have had this amazing experience and I highly recommend it!’
Many, many thanks to Paige for a fantastic post and we’re looking forward to seeing you back in Stirling in a few weeks!
Term has finished now in Stirling but there’s still lots going on, in particular with our two days of events for secondary school pupils next week (more on that later!). It’s also a good point in the year to catch up with tales from current students finishing off time abroad and graduates whose post-graduation paths have taken them in unexpected directions like Brett who has just sent us this great post and who graduated in French and Spanish this time last year: ‘
‘If you’re a languages student on the cusp of graduating, you’re probably at the infamous crossroads: translation or teaching. I’ve stared down that path before too, but I just couldn’t bring myself to walk it. I’ve done translation work, and I like it, but I’m not ready to commit to specializing in any field just yet. I’m also quite sure that I don’t want to be a teacher in the UK either. So what does that leave me with? After working for TAPIF (via British Council) in France, and having the time of my life on Erasmus in Seville, I wanted more from language learning before diving into the pool of post-grad uncertainty.
As if Fourth Year isn’t hard enough (specially with studying two foreign languages), I decided to also study introductory Japanese ‘for fun’. If you’re questioning my sanity, you’re right to do so. On Thursdays I used to have a two-hour Spanish class, a two-hour French class, another two hours of Spanish and then two hours of Japanese from 6-8pm. There was method to the madness, however. I’d always been interested in Japan as a teenager, and even at the age of fourteen I knew I wanted to live and work there. I’d heard of the JET (Japanese Exchange and Teaching) Programme, but I had pushed it to the back of my mind, thinking there was no way I’d be eligible to go with basically no Japanese ability. But one day, during our weekly 2-hour Japanese class, representatives from the Programme came to Stirling University. It didn’t take long for me to make up my mind.
I started the application process. That in itself was a journey. Doctors’ appointments, trips to the Consulate in Edinburgh, and mountains of paperwork awaited me (I thought I’d had it bad in France). It paid off though, as I was notified in May that I’d been accepted. But in the afterglow of being successfully hired I was asked the same few questions.
“Urm, why are you going to Japan?”
“Don’t you think it’s a waste after studying Spanish and French?”
I just gave a smile and said “it’ll be an adventure!” But the truth is I didn’t know what I was doing. Why invest so much time, money, and energy into something if you’re not going to utilize it? I pushed those thoughts aside as I got on the plane and endured the 18-hour flight to Tokyo. But the thoughts didn’t leave my mind during the 3-day orientation. It seemed everyone had studied Japanese, or had at least been to Japan before. Even though I had successfully gone through the same application and hiring process as everyone else, imposter syndrome started to creep in.
After the orientation, I flew to my final destination: Tottori City in Tottori Prefecture. Tottori Prefecture lies in Western Japan, and is very inaka (rural). It’s the least populated prefecture, with a rough total of 570,570 inhabitants. Starbucks finally made its debut in Tottori in 2015 (I’m using that as a measurement of ruralness). Other measurements of inaka-ness include; being surrounded by rice paddies, having to pay with exact change on the bus, and always hearing the hum of the cicadas wherever you go. As for weather, it’s hot and humid (around 35 degrees Celsius) in the summer and below freezing in winter.
My job is an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) at a high-level academic Senior High School. You may have some preconceived ideas about Japanese students.
“They must be so polite!”
“They’re amazing at English!”
“They’re so clever!”
Of course, they are, in part. On the whole my students are lovely to work with. They always say “hello” in the corridors, they give me sweets or presents when they come back from holidays, and they often come to chat to me in the staff room. At my high school, every student wants to go to university, so learning English is important for them. This makes my job easier, because it means they try hard to begin with (a welcome change from my situation in France). Outside the classroom, I try to involve myself in cultural activities. I joined my school’s ikebana (flower arranging) club. I’ve also experienced tea ceremonies and attempted Japanese calligraphy.
Maybe you’re thinking, well that’s great, but you’ve not used your skills in Spanish and French. Au contraire. Being a Language Assistant in France gave me my first insight into teaching English as a foreign language. On top of that, my Erasmus semester gave me the courage to speak to people in a foreign language, without the safety net of English to catch me. You might have already experienced these things in Spanish and French-speaking countries, but it can be daunting when your new country doesn’t even use the same alphabet. Thankfully, I also have very kind teachers and colleagues to help me when I’m struggling.
I was lucky enough to be placed in a Super Global High School. What does that mean? Our school takes part in international projects (mainly focused on social and environmental issues). We also have students partake in international exchange programmes. Right now, we have an Argentine exchange student who doesn’t speak much English or Japanese. So, I’ve been proactively helping her, translating any information she doesn’t understand and speaking to her in Spanish when she’s struggling. I guess that’s a job that couldn’t be done if I hadn’t studied Spanish at university.
On top of all of this, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to some amazing places that I otherwise would never have been to. I’ve also made my TV debut on both small local stations and prime time nation-wide programmes. Who would have thought?
Living in Japan has given me the chance to reunite with two other Stirling University alumni: Daisuke and Atsushi. They helped tutor me in Japanese and gave me some great advice before I left the UK. If I hadn’t studied languages at Stirling Uni, I would never have met two great friends and developed a support network before I even arrived in Japan.
The obvious thing to mention is the challenge of learning the Japanese language. It’s different in almost every way to English, Spanish and French. Forget the patterns of “Subject, Verb, Object” and noun/adjective placement. I’ve had to unlearn the knowledge I acquired over the last ten years and treat this as something completely new. On top of that, there are three writing systems used in Japanese! Yes, three! Although it’s been a slow process, I feel like I’ve made some small progress in the (almost) year that I’ve been here. In July I’m taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and aiming for N5 level (the equivalent of A1/2 in the CEFR exams).
I’m still not sure what the future holds, but I know I’m going to be in Japan until at least August 2020. After that, I still haven’t made up my mind. I’m torn between staying in Japan, moving to South Korea or travelling around South America. I guess the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this experience is that there is no one way to do things. So, if you’re standing at a crossroads and you can’t decide which route to take, why don’t you forge your own path?’
Many, many thanks to Brett for this fantastic post – we’re delighted that JET and Japan are working out so well for you and look forward to more updates over the months ahead. Do keep in touch!
Having finally pulled together the information passed on by this year’s French at Stirling finalists, I thought I’d also try to catch up with last year’s graduates whose plans looked something like this! One year on, here’s what’s been happening, hopefully with some additions to come over the weeks ahead (if you happen to be reading this as a 2017 French at Stirling graduate, please do drop me an email)…
Emily, who graduated with Single Honours in French, is still aiming for a career in firefighting and a return to Australia. She’s currently working as a waitress/bartender but has passed her full bike license and has a car test booked for next week. After that, she still needs to get an HGV license and a first aid certificate before November, at which point she will ‘be moving back to Australia to pursue the whole firefighting thing.’ Although French isn’t an obvious component of Emily’s career plans, she does feel that her degree gave her ‘a lot of skills and experiences that will serve me well no matter what, and I’m especially glad I got another language out of it. I am sure it will make me a stronger candidate when I apply as a firefighter, and indeed most other jobs.’
Mareike, who was off to start an MSc in Nutrition and Behaviour at Bournemouth, having completed her Psychology and a European Language degree with us, has just finished her exams and has the dissertation left to write over the Summer. After that, she has been looking at ‘a couple of doctoral programmes in Berlin, trying to get back into more brain-related research. Something that combines nutrition and the brain would definitely be my first choice. Otherwise, I am also considering making use of my newly acquired nutrition knowledge in a company developing online nutrition courses.’
This time last year, Luise was about to graduate in French and Spanish, and had been accepted as an English Language Assistant in Colombia. She went off to Colombia last summer, so that did actually work out and was a great experience: ‘I taught English at a public secondary school and everything was very different from what I know of European education. ‘My’ kids were noisy, musical and very curious – and so were my Colombian fellow teachers. There generally was a lot of singing and dancing going on. My description of pretty much every aspect over there would be: different. Everything is different. Heat and humidity, great coffee, life-threatening traffic, slums and extreme poverty, music and dancing, men whistling or calling on the street whenever they like a woman’s looks, delicious greasy food, getting lost in the jungle, colourful houses and traditional music, and, from my German point of view, a general lack of efficiency paired with a general abundance of ‘Lebensfreude’. It was great!’ Luise is now back in Scotland, working at Deanston Distillery and saving up for her driver’s licence and Masters.
Rebecca, who graduated in Single Honours French, was also successful in her application to work as an English Language Assistant and is reaching the end of her year in Quebec. She has had a great year teaching English and says ‘it has been great to see such a massive improvement in my students’ English. I took a role in our school’s immersion activities which included 3 weeks of hosting students from across BC and from Maddawaska, Maine – even better, I was given the opportunity to travel to these places too. I’ve had so many fun experiences out here. I spent Christmas with other monitors in a lakeside chalet (complete with our personal frozen lake for skating), watched many hockey games, got lost in fjords, been whale watching, been in the audience of Silence On Joue (Québec TV Game Show), done some apple picking on Isle d’Orleans, and tried so many different activities with my school. My French has improved so much and I really love my job. I am even going back for a second year with my school. I am home for the summer then back in September for another 6 months of the Québecois Winter. I am planning to come back to Scotland next year to do my Masters in Translaton and TESOL at Stirling, however all may change in a year’s time!’
And Michaela, who graduated in French and Law, has been working as a Legal Analyst at Ashurst LLP in Glasgow for the past 6 months or so: ‘The job is obviously in the legal sector but my degree in French has enabled me to get involved in some interesting workstreams in the office. This has involved translating legislation of African francophone countries (which did not have English translations readily available online) as part of a pro bono research project and picking up ad hoc translation tasks for French-related projects from our Luxembourg office. I’ve found my French skills have enabled me to contribute to the team at work and I’ve really enjoyed having the opportunity to keep using them.’
Many thanks, of course, to our graduates for getting back in touch and giving us these updates. We’re delighted to hear that things are going well and continue to wish you all the best! And to look forward to further updates!
Next week (hopefully under sunny skies) our finalists will become our graduates so we thought now was a good time to give you an idea of what soon-to-be Languages graduates’ plans look like. With thanks to everyone who took the time to get back to me on this and to those whose plans have already featured in longer blog posts and, of course, with congratulations to you all, here goes (with photos courtesy of the students!):
A number of this year’s finalists have plans that include – at least for the short-term – teaching in one shape or another. Fergus, who’ll be graduating in English and French, has applied to spend a year working in France as an English Language Assistant and Brett, who’ll be graduating in French and Spanish, is off to Japan where he has been accepted to teach English on the JET programme. Alexia, whose degree is Single Honours French, will be starting teacher training in the Autumn on Glasgow’s PGDE Secondary French course, a career path she had always intended to pursue and Calum, studied French and Politics at Stirling, is also considering the teaching route but with an eye on the possibility of translation work, too. In the first instance, after temporary employment this Summer, he’ll be shadowing teachers in his local school to see whether teaching really is the career for him.
He’s not the only one to be considering those particular options together – Nicole, who studied French and Spanish with us, is also embarking on a postgraduate programme, combining the translation and teaching routes: ‘After spending the majority of fourth year thinking about what I’d like to do after graduating from Stirling, it looks like I won’t be saying goodbye just yet. I’ll be returning to Stirling in September to study a Masters in Translation studies with TESOL. After doing the translation theory module during Semester 7, I realised that translation was something I was genuinely interested in and having the opportunity to do it along with TESOL at Stirling seems like the perfect opportunity. The option to choose TESOL appeals to me because I realised just how in-demand the English language is during my time in France and Spain. I’m hoping that this course will give me the chance to work either at home in Scotland or spend more time abroad in the future. Whatever happens, I’m happy to be returning to Stirling to study something which will hopefully give me plenty of options in years to come.’
Translation also beckons for a number of other finalists: Emilie, a Single Honours French student, will be starting the Translation Masters programme at Glasgow University in the Autumn and Anna, who’ll also be graduating in Single Honours French, is also applying for Masters programmes in Translation and Interpreting. In the meantime, her plans include temporary work as a receptionist and also practising her translating skills. Things are still quite open but, as Anna says, ‘no idea where I will end up but if I don’t do a Masters, I hope to work in France for a bit and then apply for jobs in London where I can use French.’ Lucy, who graduates in French and Spanish and who wrote more about her studies and her plans here, will be starting her MSc in Business Translation and Interpreting at Strathclyde in a few months. And Emma, who will graduate with Single Honours French, is currently working hard to save up for her Masters in Translation, ‘destination TBC but currently narrowed down to Bath and Surrey. I am also enjoying the break from education while I can with trips to Budapest, Spain and France planned for later in the year. With my Masters, I hope to go into translation for an important global organisation and, in the short term, I would like to become a reviser and then a translation project manager. Although I am very focused on a career in translation, I want to have a bit of fun first and plan to travel Asia and perhaps also Canada on completion of my studies. Longer term, I would like to get back into education and become a primary school teacher (if they’re still teaching languages at primary school by the time I’ve had children of my own) but plans change over time so I guess we’ll have to wait and see!’
Postgraduate study is also on the horizon for Jeanne, soon-to-be a graduate in International Management with European Languages and Society and planning an MLitt in Transnational Cultures at the University of Aberdeen (more about her plans here!); Amy, who has just completed her degree in French and Politics and is off to do an MSc in Public Policy and Management (more about Amy’s time at Stirling here) and Rebecca, who’ll be graduating from the same programme as Jeanne, and who is embarking on a Masters in European Business in Fribourg, Switzerland. In the meantime, Rebecca will be working at the Montreux Jazz Festival and summer camps with children and, in the long run, hopes to find a job in marketing in Switzerland: ‘Having a language as part of your degree is an obvious positive for employers and life skills in general, so it goes without saying I am grateful for everything the French department has done for me.’ And Anna, who will graduate in French and Spanish, has just accepted an offer ‘to study the MLitt in Publishing at the University of Stirling. Publishing is something I have wanted to do since a very young age and I am happy I decided to go back to Stirling and continue my studies there. In the future, I would love to work in The Rights Department selling rights onto foreign book markets and vice versa. That way, I would hopefully be able to use my undergraduate degree in French and Spanish.’
Chelsea, who studied Psychology and a European Language with us, and who sent a blog post a few weeks back, is applying for care apprenticeships, in the hope of working with vulnerable adults and children. Jean, whose degree is Single Honours French, has applied for a temporary job developing policy at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency where she used to work. This could lead on to something else but, if not, then next winter she plans to teach skiing in Scotland while working towards my next ski instructor qualification. Rachel, who will graduate in French and Journalism in a few days, is putting her French to good use working for a heritage company at Edinburgh Castle where visitors come from all over, including – of course – France and French-speaking Canada, in particular. And Alex, who studied International Politics and Languages with us, is continuing work in his restaurant Napizza. Business is booming, plans are afoot for an Edinburgh branch and, in the meantime, Alex has built a small oven, put it on a three-wheel van and is ‘planning to go around events and spread a pizza happiness’!!
I can’t really think of a better note on which to end this particular post! Thanks again to all our finalists for their hard work this year (and throughout their degrees) and for passing on all this information (more to be added as emails come in). We wish you all the very best for the future and look forward to updates on your progress in the weeks, months and years ahead. Keep in touch!
As you’ll have gathered from this blog, a good number of our students opt to apply for English Language Assistantships every year, whether between their 2nd and 3rd years or as graduates. For the past few years, some of our ELA students have also participated in SCILT’s ‘Language Linking, Global Thinking’ scheme during their year as assistants and we thought it’d be good to get a sense of what this actually involves – from the perspective of the students involved – so here goes, with thanks to Laura who has just finished her time as an assistant and will be coming back to Stirling in the Autumn:
‘I am a Primary Education student at Stirling. I came to university straight from school. However, I had always wanted more life experience before beginning teaching. This was one of my main motivations for applying to work for the British Council. Teaching within the central belt of Scotland makes classrooms greatly diverse spaces with many nationalities, languages, experiences and backgrounds. Living abroad would not only enable me to better encourage modern language teaching, but also relate more to the experiences of many of my students in my future career.
Over the summer last year, the Languages department at Stirling University made me aware of an additional project I could take part in during my post abroad. This was called “Language linking, global thinking” and it involves a partnership between a British Council language assistant and a primary school. Throughout my year abroad, I would remain in contact with Doune Primary through an online blogging forum.
Before beginning my post as a language assistant, I had only been to France twice. The first time was when I was 10 for a weekend in Paris with my family, and secondly a week skiing with my high school. This meant I had very little knowledge of what “normal” life would be like in France. I come from Edinburgh – a highly touristic, young, affluent city. This meant arriving in the northern region of France was a very different experience. I arrived alone, with very poor comprehension of informal French speaking leaving me feeling confused and isolated. I was an English language assistant in a very small village called Labeuvrière which was just outside of another town where I lived named Béthune. The history of the region is a difficult one and now it is left with a high unemployment rate and listed as the poorest region in France.
In Béthune, the level of English was extremely poor. I soon realised how much safety I had felt in university French classes knowing that everyone in the room would be able to help me with an English translation if it was needed. The first few months without this comfort blanket were a steep learning curve for me. Despite my initial fears, I now feel that living in Béthune gave me a more honest understanding of what it means to be in France today. Being far away from the more glamourous, touristic image of France was key in drastically improving my French and understanding for the challenges of 21st century French society.
I had never fully appreciated how much I relied on the subtleties of language to present myself and my personality. Specifically, how I use humour to make friends, and how I can unconsciously use tone to get across the subtleties of my meanings. I felt unfunny, unintelligent and personality-less in French. Even as my comprehension improved, I was still not feeling like me. This was a challenge I was unprepared for, but so important now in my appreciation of anyone I meet in Scotland who Is speaking English as an additional language. Now, I feel the key piece of advice I can give to anyone else venturing abroad to speak a second language is to prepare to feel unprepared. After January time I began to use different ways to get across meanings and make connections with people.
I was hugely lucky with my school. Being placed in a primary school was far more challenging on my French, but I had amazingly supportive teachers who were patient with my language development. As the English level in the school was very poor, this meant I wanted to make English fun and relevant to their lives. Throughout the year we created our own “Highland games”, drama pieces, baking and parties. The children loved learning about my home, family and country. English lessons were always about more than just the language, they were about making connections and thinking beyond the small perspective of the village. For the children in Labeuvrière, many had never been abroad, or left the region. (This was particularly eye opening to me as the Belgian border was less than 30 minutes away). The children’s exposure to a language assistant massively helped their awareness of what it means to live abroad, and what it means to make deeper, more worldly connections beyond the constraints of monolingualism. This extends their world view and what language learning can do for them from a cultural, lifelong perspective.
I truly think it that the Scottish education system is missing a great opportunity for children to develop their deeper cultural knowledge and understanding. This is why – when it is not possible to have language assistants from abroad – projects such as LLGT are so successful. A class being able to follow an assistant and their experiences is a means of getting across these important ideas. With Doune Primary School, I was able to write to them first hand showing my experiences visiting in person the WW1 trenches, the Vimy ridge. I was able to show them the photos I took on my tours around the Belgian Christmas markets. Perhaps, most interesting was when the children were able to see the comparisons between the hugely different French schools and resources. Once I had returned to Doune Primary, we debated and discussed together the similarities and differences between the education systems.
“Language and culture are the frameworks through which humans experience, communicate, and understand reality”.
A connection with a language assistant is a means of acknowledging the challenges which come from learning a second language and recognising cultural differences. However, crucially, it also acts as an opportunity to explore the many positives and life-changing impacts of travel, adventure and making greater human connections. It really is linking what we have in common, to a better, global way of thinking. Everyone can benefit from this.’
Many, many thanks to Laura for taking the time to send us this blog post and we look forward to welcoming you back to Stirling in the Autumn.
In just a couple of weeks, this year’s French finalists will become this year’s French graduates so, first and foremost, congratulations to all concerned! There are a few more posts to come over the next little while that will give you a sense of the many different directions our soon-to-be graduates are planning on taking over the months ahead, starting with this post by Lucy who is about to graduate in French and Spanish:
‘As I write this, Stirling has just confirmed degree classifications for its graduating students and, while the wait was nerve-wracking, it gave me an opportunity to reflect upon and appreciate where I started this whole journey compared to now, five years later with degree in hand and moving on to the next challenge.
Before starting a B.A. (Hons) in French and Spanish, languages were something I was always good at in school (and more importantly something I really enjoyed) so naturally I drifted down the course of modern languages at uni. I say “drifted” because I never really knew where it would lead me or what to expect, both of the course and of myself.
Soon enough, after two years at Stirling, I was applying for a position as an English Language Assistant via the British Council which took me to a primary school in the north of Spain for ten months. Being absolutely honest here, it was the most difficult thing I have ever done (not least because the average age of my town was 86!). However, it was without a doubt the most rewarding and beneficial experience that I could ever have hoped for and I truly wouldn’t have changed a thing. It toughened me up (kids are apparently brutally honest about pointing out your acne), my self-confidence sky-rocketed, I could converse easily in Spanish and, most importantly, I learned the right way to make a perfect sangria!
In all seriousness, I was mentally and emotionally challenged throughout the whole experience but I know for certain that I would not be at the proficiency and confidence level I am now had I had a different experience. A quick word of advice for future Stirling students undertaking an assistantship in Spain: don’t even try to contend with Spanish bureaucracy – becoming its victim is part and parcel of the experience! Keep calm and have a vino.
My next challenge was Erasmus which I would eventually do in Tours, France. I spent five months at the Université François-Rabelais where I mostly studied translation classes and French language classes. I lived in noisy student halls and exclusively ate pasta and toasties and, speaking as someone who has always lived at home during term-time, I appreciated the opportunity to experience authentic student life!
Tours and its university was a great place for students and I highly recommend it. The teachers were extremely supportive and helpful for Erasmus students and their classes were genuinely very useful and engaging. There was also ample opportunity to meet and socialise with French students, several of whom I still keep in contact with today. They were all so friendly and really interested in us as people and in the Scottish culture (I encourage anyone to explain to a French person why a Highland cow looks the way it does, it really challenges your language skills!).
Aside from discussing our weird and wonderful creatures, I really enjoyed living in France and I truly gained invaluable experience in learning how to improvise and think on your feet linguistically. Studying French/Spanish as a fourth year student at Stirling is challenging and really encourages you to push yourself and your skills (as I’m sure is the case with any uni) so my advice is to get a head start and do as much of this as possible while you’re studying on Erasmus and say yes to every opportunity while you’re surrounded by the language. You’ll really feel the benefit on your return to uni, which leads me to my final nugget of wisdom for all language students that I only really started to understand in fourth year: having confidence and believing in yourself is half the battle to becoming fluent. The rest will come with hard work and perseverance.
As for my next step, I’ll be moving on to the University of Strathclyde to study an MSc in Business Translation and Interpreting. I was impressed by how flexible and broad their course structure is in terms of the areas of translation you can study and I’m looking forward to putting all my skills into practice in something I really enjoy doing. I’d eventually like to be an interpreter for the justice system, whether in Scotland or further afield, but it’s a good feeling to know that after all the hard work, my options are unlimited.
I don’t think it has really sunk in yet that my time here has come to an end. I have been given opportunities like no other by Stirling and I really feel that I personally have completely changed for the better. I’ve learned an incredible amount thanks to the excellent teaching staff in the French and Spanish departments so, finally, I’ll take this as my opportunity to thank them for all their support over the years. Merci/gracias!’
Many, many thanks to Lucy for the great blog post and we wish you all the very best for the MSc and life beyond!