Tag: Erasmus

10 Years On: ‘I know that my future holds many more adventures!’

There is something particularly pleasing about being able to start a new month on the blog with a post in praise of studying languages and spending time abroad. It’s pleasing at the best of times but, given the challenges posed in the context of the current global pandemic, there’s something especially good about it so, without further ado, an update from Louise, who graduated with a BA Hons in French a decade ago:

‘Studying French at the University of Stirling was more than the achievement of a degree. For me, going to university itself was a massive challenge, not only academically, but perhaps even more so, mentally and socially. Having moved to Stirling from Inverness, I had no option but to make a conscious effort to make friends in my new home environment. I gained a lot of confidence and enjoyment from my university experience and in particular, through my participation in team sports (field hockey and ultimate frisbee).

Not only is the University set within an attractive campus, with a host of great sports facilities and a top-of-the-range library, but the degree programmes are dynamic and inclusive. I found the University tutors and lecturers to be extremely creative and supportive, providing us with diverse and captivating course content throughout the degree programme.

2020 June Louise Walker Pic I ToursAs a languages student, I was extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to live in France twice during my degree – firstly as a British Council English Language Assistant in Valenciennes during a gap year between 2nd and 3rd year; and secondly on an Erasmus Programme semester abroad at a university in Tours in the second half of 3rd year.

Living abroad has played a huge part in my life – not only allowing me to develop my language and communication skills, learning about local customs and traditions, understanding the French administration systems, exploring the surrounding areas and travelling further afield, but it has also made me become more open-minded, forced me to adapt to and perform in different environments and cultures and overcome challenges which I faced (including one or two cultural faux pas). I also had the pleasure of meeting so many amazing people who helped me to feel more integrated and of whom I will forever have fond memories. My advice would be, if you have the chance to work or study abroad, take the plunge and try to gain as much as possible from the opportunity.

2020 June Louise Walker Pic II MerzigHaving thoroughly enjoyed my time as an English Language Assistant, I continued on the educational and languages career path after graduation. I lived and taught English in a school in Germany on the British Council Comenius Programme for 10 months. On my return, I studied a PGDE in French Secondary Teaching at Glasgow University and following this, I took two TEFL courses (one online and one face-to-face). Following the completion of my studies, I decided to apply for a position within Macleod and MacCallum law firm, where I worked as a Property Assistant for 5 years.

My experiences at University and working and living abroad have provided me with the skills and experience that I can use in my day-to-day work and life in general. I have more confidence when speaking with clients and networking with other professionals, dealing with a wide range of clients with different cultural backgrounds and needs and using my languages where a language barrier exists between clients and colleagues.

In the most recent chapter of my life, I am living with my partner in Aberdeen, having only moved here at the end of February, just weeks before COVID-19 lockdown was imposed in the UK. I have started my new job with Peterkins law firm as a Property Sales Negotiator and am currently “working from home” due to lockdown restrictions. Thanks to my previous experience of working with people from a variety of different backgrounds and cultures, I feel that I have already managed to establish strong working relationships with my new team members after only a short time. I am really enjoying my new role.

2020 June Louise Walker Pic III Balmoral

I believe that my collective experiences of living and working in different cities, both in the UK and abroad, have provided me with the confidence, open-mindedness and adaptability required to be able to settle into my new home in the Granite City. It also goes without saying that the people closest to me, both in Aberdeen and in Inverness, have been incredibly supportive throughout this transition from Inverness to Aberdeen and I cannot thank them enough. I may have stopped living out of a suitcase, but I know that my future holds many more adventures – at home and away. There is still so much of the world to discover!

À la prochaine fois!’

Many, many thanks to Louise for this brilliant post and congratulations on the new job! We look forward to further updates over the years ahead and wish you all the best for your new life in Aberdeen, and for new adventures beyond.

2020 French Finalists and their plans

Following on from Mira’s reflections on life as a Public Service Interpreter, the second of today’s blog posts give us our traditional annual opportunity to get a sense of the hopes and plans of this year’s French at Stirling finalists. To say it has been a difficult few months for them would be a tremendous understatement but, first, like the French at Stirling teaching team, they made the rapid adjustment from classes on campus to online learning. And now, despite the extremely challenging backdrop, many of them have taken the time to reply to a request for reflections on their plans for life after graduation.

We’ve been putting a similar post together for a few years now (see 2019’s here, 2018’s here…) and we were all a little anxious about asking the same questions in the current circumstances but, having spent the past few days reading through the replies, looking at the photos of their travels, reading the good wishes that also came in their messages, I can honestly say this has been an unexpectedly uplifting experience. So, with no further ado, and in no particular order, here goes:

2020 May Finalists Mairi Eiffel TowerMairi, who will be graduating with a BA Hons in French and Spanish, is planning to embark on postgraduate study next year, either with an MSc in Gender Studies at the University of Strathclyde or at the University of Stirling: ‘When I started 4th year I thought I would have been going into a graduate job after I finished my degree but due to the impact of Covid-19, it has been really difficult to find work. I have always wanted to do a postgrad in Gender Studies but I had thought it would be a few years down the line after some time in the working world. But things rarely happen in the order we expect them to. Here’s to the future and whatever it brings.’

Eilidh, who has just completed a BA Hons in International Management with European Languages and Society, attended a 2-day assessment centre in London back in February, following which: ‘I was successful in my application for the commercial, sales and management graduate programme for Bakkavor. The company is an international food manufacturer, supplying meals, desserts and snacks to all major retailers in the UK and overseas. The programme lasts for 2 years, where I will be promoted to a manager after the programme is completed. Despite the job not being directly related to French, I fully intend keeping up with the language, and encouraging the company to work with a French bakery company so I can get back to France!’

2020 May Finalists Kirstie I

As for Martina, who has completed a BA Hons in French and Spanish, ‘as a final year student during the Coronavirus pandemic, I find myself ending my undergraduate studies in some of the most unexpected circumstances in Stirling University’s history. I started my Joint Honours in French and Spanish in 2015 and spent a gap year between the second and third year of my degree working as an English Language Assistant with the British Council in a small ski town called Briançon, in the French Alps. After this incredible experience I was also fortunate enough to spend a semester living in Seville, Spain. Both these experiences greatly helped me develop my proficiency in these languages as well as my confidence overall.

2020 May Finalists Martina Skiing BriançonAs I have been learning Spanish for almost 11 years, I have always felt very passionate about this language and, as such, I decided to apply for a place on the Masters by Research in Hispanic Studies course at the University of Edinburgh. After producing two pieces of research work at undergraduate level, I am now hoping to develop my skills and hope to be accepted on this course to work on the topic of Latin American and Caribbean feminisms. I have also applied to their prestigious Literatures, Languages and Cultures Masters Scholarship, awarded to 4 outstanding students undertaking a Masters Programme within this division. I also applied for a second scholarship, the Muriel Smith Scholarship. I am now waiting for an update on these applications, but I am very hopeful for what the future holds for me! While I may not have ended my undergraduate studies the same way previous students have, I still had an enjoyable, albeit stressful, year and I am very proud of everything I have accomplished.’

2020 May Finalists Caitlin Strasbourg

Stephanie, another soon-to-be BA Hons French and Spanish graduate, is also clear that Covid-19 is having an impact on her plans but in a different way: ‘As is the case for a lot of people, my plans are in a sort of limbo at the moment. I have accepted a position, though, with the JET Programme as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Japan. The scheduled departure date is in September, but obviously I’m not sure if it’ll actually go ahead as planned, and what will happen if it can’t go ahead as planned… Despite the uncertainty, I am excited about the prospect of living and working abroad for a while. The JET Programme allows me to have that break from studying that I want whilst also affording me the opportunity to discover a new country and learn a new language.  As far as longer term goals go, I am looking into getting into teaching. Right now, I’m leaning towards primary teaching but I’m not yet ruling out secondary. The ALT position will give me some valuable experience in a classroom which is something that I’m lacking at the moment.’

Like Stephanie, Laura, who has just finished her BA Hons in English Studies and French, also has travel plans for the coming year: ‘My plans for September are going to Finland for a Master’s degree. I have received three offers from three Finnish universities of Masters’ programmes in educational sciences based on teaching languages as a foreign language. I have not chosen yet which one I will specifically choose but I am sure I will spend my next two years in Finland.’

2020 May Finalists Evelyn La Piscine RoubaixIn some cases, the impact of the current situation is such that original plans are having to be rethought as is the case for Evelyn who is graduating with Single Honours French: ‘I don’t actually have any post-graduation plans as yet. Coronavirus has thrown a bit of a spanner in my job hunting as well as my hopes of getting some work experience this summer. I am hoping to go into publishing or copyediting but unfortunately, work experience opportunities are currently fairly thin on the ground at the moment. As such, I am using this time to brush up on skills that will come in handy when looking for a job in this sector. I have also set up a blog to review the books that I am reading during lockdown, so I’m throwing myself into that at the moment as well as keeping the job search active!’

2020 May Finalists Evelyn Vieille Bourse Lille

Another of our Single Honours French finalists, Rhiannon, finds herself in a similar position: ‘My final year didn’t quite go as I had planned, and I feel like I’ve not really had the chance to say goodbye to my time at Stirling University. However, I have had some of the most amazing times there and met some of my best friends. I plan to go to university much closer to home in Glasgow to do a post-grad but I’m still a bit unsure what I want to do. I’m a bit undecided between doing translation (which is what I’ve always originally wanted to do) or doing something completely different. I’m currently interested in doing Gender Studies at Strathclyde but again I am still quite undecided. I’m also extremely interested in doing something related to history or museum-related as I love learning all about the past.  The future is so undecided and scary right now so I am using these months of lockdown to have a really hard think about where it is I would like to go.’

2020 May Finalists Caitlin ReimsAs for Caitlin: ‘After four years studying BA Hons in French and Spanish, I made the decision this year to apply for PGDE primary teaching in order to pursue a career as a primary teacher. I have just recently accepted my place at the University of Aberdeen on this course. This career is what I have always wanted to do, and so I am delighted and excited to have been offered a place. I am also looking forward to moving to and discovering both a new city and a new university. The experience I obtained working as an English Language Assistant in France between my 2nd and 3rd year at University helped me to realise that this was what I wanted to do.’

The teaching route takes many forms and, like Caitlin and Stephanie, other finalists are also planning a year (and possibly more) than involves language teaching in different forms and different places. For Lily, who completed her BA Hons in English Studies and French with us: ‘My plan for the coming year – if all returns to some semblance of normal – is to work in Spain as an English Language Assistant with the British Council so that I can get my Spanish up to a similar level of fluency as my French. Still figuring out what comes after that!’

2020 May Finalists Caitlin View from Sedan Castle

Jack, who is graduating with a BA Hons in French with Spanish and Education, is also taking a teaching-related route in the first instance: ‘Everything changed very quickly as the countdown to graduation approached. Lockdown for me, like everyone else, changed all my plans and added to the uncertainty of what I would do once I finished my degree. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, it has been really nice spending time with my family, going on a daily bike run and having time to read for pleasure regularly. In the spirit of the times we live in, I begin work next week teaching Chinese children English online. I have already started my ESL training and it’s already evident that my degree is coming in handy.

I’m still looking for something more permanent starting later in the year, and I’ve applied for many different jobs so fingers crossed. It’s proving particularly challenging this year as the jobs market has suffered greatly. Living in Dumfries and Galloway where there are few job opportunities at the best of times I’m looking further afield, so who knows where I’ll end up.’

2020 May Finalists Kirstie II BilbaoAnd Kirstie, a BA Hons French and Spanish finalist, is planning to move to Belgium and ‘Brussels specifically. I’m going to teach English, either as a language assistant with the British Council or with another language school, and I’ll also to continue to work on my travel blog. Brussels is a great hub in Europe and I plan to do a lot of travelling around the continent in the coming years!’

Last but not least for the moment, Jack, who has also completed a BA Hons in French and Spanish, reflects that: ‘Near-future planning has become more difficult amidst the current uncertainty in the world, but I am now looking to focus on my backpack business, Cancha, as well as advancing my tennis career. This does not come without challenges. Lockdown has hindered my tennis training routine for quite some time now, and the fact that national borders continue to close and flights are sparse paints a bleak picture for the professional sport scene. However, I am confident that the world will return to normal and, when it does, I want to make sure I am as prepared as possible to take full advantage of this. The same goes for Cancha: buying backpacks for travel and sports is almost certainly not on people’s minds at the moment, but I am using this ‘down-time’ to make more subtle changes in the company, such as refining our message, and the ways in which our company can both endure this episode whilst also giving back to the community and the environment.

Although many graduate students at Stirling are unsure of their next steps, especially during this world crisis (which has stopped almost everyone in their tracks), there are ways in which each one of us can improve and make progress in our ambitions, albeit in an untraditional way.’

We’re always grateful to our finalists for sharing their plans and hopes with us as they reach the end of their degrees but this year, it would be fair to say that we are particularly appreciative of the thoughtful, helpful and positive responses. Many, many thanks to you all, not to mention congratulations on having reached the end of your degrees! And, of course, we wish you all the very, very best for the months and years ahead and hope that you will keep in touch with us in the future.

(And, as ever, if you’re a French at Stirling finalist reading this and wanting to add your contribution, please do just send me an email (cristina.johnston@stir.ac.uk) and I will very happily update the post!)

From Tour-Guiding and TEFL to International Marketing: ‘Language Skills and Cultural Knowledge’

2020 Feb Kitti MarseilleTime for another great update from one of our former students – after Paul’s tales of financial crime analysis, this time, we’re delighted to have news from Kitti who graduated just over two years ago:

‘My name is Kitti and I studied French and Global Cinema and Culture between 2013 and 2017. I really enjoyed my time at Stirling, I met some wonderful people, I learnt so much and I had a lot of fun. I spent a semester in the South of France studying at Aix-Marseille University. I was having a hard time with the accent, so I promised myself I would move back to a different part of France once I graduated.

2020 Feb Kitti Bordeaux TourShortly after graduating I moved to Bordeaux. I loved this gorgeous city from the moment I arrived. Everyone was kind and welcoming and I found the accent much more understandable. I started working on the reception of a youth hostel, and soon a local tour company hired me as one of their guides. I enjoyed every minute spent tour guiding. I learnt so many interesting things about the city and I met a lot of different people. I spent six months in Bordeaux, after which I returned to Scotland and started thinking of going into French teaching, even though I wasn’t 100% sure it was for me.

I completed my application, but I already had a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate, so I thought why not make some use of it and gain some experience before starting the PGDE course. I applied for a few TEFL jobs and I landed in a role in Madrid, Spain. I worked in two schools, a nursery and a so called ‘business vocational school’, which is similar to colleges in Scotland. I loved both of these jobs. However, I started giving evening classes for teenagers in a language school, which I didn’t enjoy as much. I found working with teenagers much harder than working with any other age group, and I started asking myself if teaching French in high schools is really the right path for me.

2020 Feb Kitti Cadiz

After returning to Scotland five months ago, instead of going for the PGDE, I decided to give myself a little more time to figure out what I really wanted to do. Since I have teaching experience, I got a job in a primary school, where I support children with learning difficulties. In the meantime, I kept wondering and asking myself what should my next step in life be. I do love working with children but I felt like there might be a more suitable path for me, so I kept searching for career options.

Recently I was accepted to study for a Masters at Edinburgh Napier University. The course is called International Marketing with Tourism and Events and it starts in September. I am over the moon and cannot wait for it to start. All modules sound as if they had been tailored to my interests. When I first read about the course, I couldn’t believe how perfect it all sounded. The year is split into three trimesters, two will take place in Edinburgh while the third one in Nice at IPAG Business School. I am most excited about studying festival management, as I hope one day I can work on film and music festivals. I am equally looking forward to working in settings where I can use my language skills and cultural knowledge. In the end I am happy I decided to take my time to figure out what I truly wanted, I am certain it will pay off. I just hope I will find the southern French accent easier to understand this time round.’

Many, many thanks to Kitti for finding the time to send us through this post and photos. We wish you all the best for the Masters next year and look forward to updates over the months and years ahead.

‘A degree in French is hugely valued by employers’

It’s been a little while since we’ve had a chance to post some updates from former French at Scotland students but it’s great to get that started again with news from Paul who graduated with us nearly a decade ago. Last time we checked in with him, Paul had just started working as a Financial Crime Analyst in London and was enjoying the opportunities for travel and languages that career was opening up for him:

‘I studied French with Spanish at Stirling University between 2007 and 2011 which now feels like a lifetime ago. It’s a time I look back on with extreme fondness having had the opportunity to study abroad, indulge in my passion for foreign languages and cultures, make lifelong friends and even met my partner who I am still with to this day.

2020 Feb Paul London

After graduating I jumped around a few jobs in customer service and sales in Glasgow before finding myself on the rather unusual career path of counter financial crime within the banking industry, initially at a consultancy in London. Financial Crime work essentially involves making sure that banks are doing everything they can to prevent money laundering, terrorist financing, bribery & corruption and tax evasion, as well as making sure banks adhere to sanctions legislation set by governments. I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel a lot in my short career including a six-month stint in Paris on a large project which gave me the opportunity to dust off my French language skills and work with people from across the globe.

After a brief stint working for the Scottish Government helping to deliver the new Scottish National Investment Bank, I’m now working for a global investment bank in their Edinburgh office working with various teams across Europe. My role is to make sure that the processes in place for identifying and reporting suspicious activity are robust and that colleagues across the bank are sufficiently trained to detect this type of activity. This involves daily communication with colleagues across various countries and time zones and frequently gives me the chance to use my language skills.

A degree in French has not only given me the perfect excuse for annual weekends away in France (just back from Toulouse which is well worth the visit) but I have found it to be hugely valued by employers who are increasingly working in an international setting and are placing more importance on communication skills. This has most certainly not been the career path I had originally envisioned for myself, but it has been hugely rewarding and has given me several opportunities to travel and use my degree in ways I wouldn’t have thought of.’

2020 Feb Paul Toulouse

Many, many thanks to Paul for finding the time to send through this blog post – it’s great to hear from you and to see that your career (and travels) are still going so well, and we look forward to more updates over the years ahead.

And on a related note, if you want to read more about the need for Languages graduates post-Brexit, there are interesting articles here and here and here (and many other places besides!).

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: ‘My future isn’t limited to one country and one way of life’

The last of today’s blog posts also comes from Lily (author of the excellent Study Abroad advice posted earlier!) and is a great way to see how that very practical advice actually plays out over the course of a semester:

2019 Dec Lily UCO Campus

‘I spent the 2019 Spring semester at l’Université Catholique de l’Ouest in Angers, France. Studying at a French university was a fantastic experience which allowed me to learn about a new facet of francophone culture – French student life.

2019 Dec Lily Notre DameMy ERASMUS semester was a tremendously liberating experience as I was allowed to study any subject I wanted to as long as it was taught in French – everything from Japanese to art to photography to theatre. Most importantly, Stirling University prioritized my language development in grading my semester abroad, so I didn’t feel too pressured to do brilliantly in subjects I had never studied before. I was able to experiment, make mistakes, and learn from them. Taking art classes was a particular joy for me, as my French classmates were quick to welcome me and offer help where needed. They were endlessly accepting of my inexperience too – I hadn’t touched a paintbrush in years when I walked into my first class!

As well as integrating with French students, the international student body was a vibrant and wonderful group, and we all bonded over our confusion as we adapted to the French lifestyle. It was hard to feel homesick with so many other students in the same situation.

2019 Dec Lily Art Class

 

One of the advantages of l’UCO was its position in the Loire valley. The Loire valley is a beautiful region filled with chateaux and vineyards and plenty of towns within travelling distance to explore. The occasional weekend in Paris was an added bonus!

Studying in France was a totally unique experience which taught me so much, not just in terms of language and culture. After navigating life in another country, I feel totally prepared for any future challenges I might face back home. Living in France has opened up so many opportunities for me, and I no longer feel as though my future is limited to one country and one way of life. One thing is certain – France hasn’t seen the last of me!’

Once again, many thanks to Lily for the great article and pictures, and to our partners in Angers for offering such a warm welcome.

2019 Dec Lily Chateau d'Angers

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!

Translation and TESOL: ‘A whole world of new ideas and concepts’

As regular blog readers will know, alongside our wide range of undergraduate programmes, colleagues in French at Stirling also contribute to Literature and Languages’ postgraduate programmes in Translation Studies and it’s always great to see French graduates coming back to undertake postgrad work with us. Today’s update comes from Ewan, who has done just that and who is in the first semester of our MSc in Translation with TESOL:

2019 Walker Ewan Blog Update Pic I Nov19‘I graduated from Stirling in 2013 with a BA (Hons) in French and Religion. Following my graduation, I undertook a course in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), ultimately gaining a certificate for 120 hours of training.

Initially, I gained teaching experience in 1-1 sessions with adult learners in Edinburgh. These informal sessions were enough to help me build up a portfolio and establish my reputation. I worked with adults and students from a variety of nationalities, including French, Spanish and Polish.

2019 Walker Ewan Blog Update Pic II Nov19In 2016, I moved to Łomianki, near Warsaw in Poland to begin work as an extra-curricular English teacher in a secondary school. I was tasked with providing extra support to children who were struggling with English lessons, to help them ultimately catch up with their classmates. Whilst in Poland, I also worked as pastoral assistant to an English-Speaking church in Warsaw. The clergy in the church were Polish but were ministering to the international community in Warsaw, and therefore needed language support in their day-to-day ministry. It gave me the opportunity to learn about the incredible history of Poland, culminating in a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau, which continues to haunt me to this day.

In 2017, I moved to Tours, in France’s Loire Valley. This is where I had spent my Erasmus semester as an undergraduate so I was incredibly excited to return. In Tours, I spent 6 months teaching elementary school children (including a very competitive brother and sister). This was a challenge, as I’d never dealt with that age group before, but the experience of being back in Tours and exploring a city I loved so much cancelled out all my difficulties. I even took the plunge and tried escargots; something I hadn’t been brave enough to do during my Erasmus experience!

My ultimate aim has always been to undertake a Masters in TESOL, with a view to eventually owning my own language school. It’s a massive aim, but I’ve never been one to do things in half measures! And, so when the opportunity arose, I returned to Stirling in September of this year to undertake an MSc in Translation with TESOL. I chose this course because it combines both of my “specialist” subject areas. I get to study towards ultimately becoming a professional TEFL tutor, whilst also maintaining work in French (and dabbling in other languages). The course doesn’t limit my final career options; I can branch off and work in the field of translation after graduation (perhaps while I work to secure a teaching position).

It feels great being back in Stirling. I have fond memories of my time as an undergraduate, and really it feels like I’ve never left. There are only 4 of us studying translation this year so the classes are quite relaxed and we’ve all got to know each other really well, which I like. The course has been far more interesting than I could ever have imagined, too. Just like at undergraduate, my mind has been opened to a whole world of new ideas and concepts. And I love it!’

Many, many thanks to Ewan for finding the time to send us this great update and we wish you all the best for the MSc and ultimately setting up your own language school.

School in the Sunshine

Time abroad features in many way across our degrees and is a crucial part of language learning at University. As you’ll know from previous posts, some of our students undertake English Language Assistantships, some spend a semester on Study Abroad (Erasmus or otherwise), some do both… For students doing both French and Spanish, the situation becomes a little more complex because language residence needs to be fulfilled for both languages. Many students opt to do this by undertaking an ELA in one language area and Erasmus in the other but this doesn’t always work for everyone, for all sorts of reasons.

In those cases, our students choose one language area for the Semester Abroad and have to fulfil our minimum residence for the other language. We try to be as flexible as we can and the basic position is that this means the student needs to spend at least 4 weeks in a country where that other language is spoken before they graduate (not necessarily in one 4-week block). Because this is for a shorter period, funding is not available and our students find all kinds of different ways of fulfilling this requirement. In the past, this has meant everything from language schools to working as an au pair or nanny to finding internships.

Eilidh, who has just started the final year of her BA Hons in International Management with European Languages and Society, is one such student who has just finished off the last portions of her time abroad and has sent through the following post about her experience:

2019 Wynd pic III‘Between January and April of this year I spent a semester abroad in Pamplona, Spain. After this amazing experience, I had one more week left in France to fulfil my time abroad and complete my essential time abroad for my degree. After spending three weeks last year in Bordeaux, I decided to go to the South East of France and spend a week in Marseille. A week in 30 degree heat in the south of France and it qualifies for my university degree…it’s a hard life being a language student.

I had researched in depth my choices for language schools in France and I found the Ecole Internationale de Marseille and an ideal AirBnb just ten minutes’ walk away so it sounded perfect. Adding a direct flight from Glasgow to Marseille (unlike my 3 flights and a train to Bordeaux) I signed myself up and headed off.

In my class, I had a Russian couple, a Brazilian transfer student and 2 professors. We were all of the same ability and on the Monday morning, the professor wrote my least favourite word on the board…SUBJUNCTIVE. I could have cried as I have spent many a seminar with my girls and Jean-Michel DesJacques complaining about the subjunctive. Why is it needed? Does it really matter? Apparently it is important, so the professeurs of the Marseille school soon realised they had a problem on their hands with me. However, after some intensive classes and thousands of worksheets, I can safely say I understand the subjunctive. Round of applause s’il vous plait.

2019 Wynd Marseille Pic IEveryday, after class, I would try and explore a part of the city or go somewhere new. However this was sometimes difficult due to the heat and the smell of fresh bread and pains au chocolat were a slight distraction. A particular highlight was going to sunbathe and do my homework (or in reality, read my book) in the palace gardens which overlooks the old port. It was so picturesque and a great way to unwind after a stressful class.

 

Another highlight of my trip away was my walk up to Notre Dame de la Garde. At the top of one of the hills in Marseille, there is a golden statue of the Virgin Mary. The locals say it is so she can watch over the boats coming in and out of the old port and grant them a safe passage. It looks spectacular from every angle and can be seen from all over Marseille. On my final day I decided to walk up and see the church for myself. I didn’t plan this entirely well as it is quite far and very hot. Nevertheless I soldiered on and it was totally worth it. It was beautiful and I would really recommend it if anyone travels to Marseille.

Overall I had an incredible experience and the school were very supportive. I am hoping to go back to Marseille again and enjoy some more sunshine and seafood!’

2019 Wynd Marseille Pic II

Many, many thanks to Eilidh for the great blog post – loads of ideas here for future students looking for ways to make the most of their time abroad – and we wish you all the best for this final year!

 

Colombia, Sicily, Glasgow: Keeping your options open

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.