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.
Better late than never… Somehow, in the flurry of excitement and activity around end of term and graduation, we managed to forget to post this back at the start of the Summer:
French at Stirling were delighted to be recommended for excellence in teaching innovation at the University’s Learning and Teaching Celebration. The recommendation acknowledged the work done by the French at Stirling team through the informal conversation sessions we have been running for our students, led by visiting French-speaking exchange students, and overseen by the language team and Programme Director. It also highlighted the work that goes into maintaining this blog as a means of giving a space to our students and colleagues to talk about a wide range of activities related to French at Stirling. So, a huge thank you, firstly, to all those who’ve been involved with the conversation sessions over the past few years and, secondly, to all of those who have contributed articles, photos and ideas to the blog since it started back in 2013 – please do keep them coming!
Congratulations, too, to our colleagues in Spanish and Latin American Studies, Dr Inés Ordiz, María Sánchez and Dr Peter Baker, who were recognised with a Teaching Impact Award at the same event.
A few weeks from the start of the new academic year seems a good point to breathe some life into the French at Stirling blog which has gone a little quiet over the summer months. Our Bridging Materials are up and running for students joining us on our Semester 1 Advanced French module and we’re all looking forward to welcoming a new intake of students to both the Advanced and Beginners’ streams in mid-September.
It’ll also be good to catch up with all our returning students and to hear tales from those who’ll be back in Stirling after a year on a British Council English Language Assistantship (whether in France or elsewhere) or who’ve been away for their compulsory Semester Abroad at one of our numerous partner institutions. As we wait to welcome people back in person, we’re delighted to be able to post a couple of articles by students coming back from time abroad, starting with this post by Andrea who’ll be heading into her final year in Stirling in the Autumn:
‘Having recently returned from a semester abroad in Spain, third year has ended as the most challenging but also the most fun year so far in my degree. The language side of my International Management and Intercultural Studies course changed a bit, as the language learning focused more on learning a set of new skills like translation and essay writing rather than the division of classes like previous years. The skills previously developed in year one and two were now brought together for the writing and speaking classes rather than being separately focused on as before. Most of the classes were more unilingual than before (except of course for when we focused on translation) which was helpful to push me more towards thinking in French and Spanish, rather than thinking about these languages in English.
The change in the teaching was the followed by my semester abroad on Erasmus. I went to the Seville in Spain, and was and still am a bit worried that my French got a bit left behind as I made the best of the opportunity to improve my Spanish in a native environment. However, I did not completely leave behind my French studies, I signed up for a French module in Spain. It certainly was a very different experience learning French in Spanish. On one hand, it was a bit confusing to be learning a foreign language in another foreign language but on the other hand, it helped to clarify some of differences and similarities between the two languages. It has on occasion been challenging to separate the two languages in my head, but having someone fluent in both languages clarify some of the differences and similarities helped to box away the two languages separately in my mind. Also, it was a good experience to listen to other language speakers struggle with French pronunciation and it made me feel less self-conscious about my struggles with my accent when speaking French. Depending on our native languages we all struggle with trying to acquire a less foreign sounding accent in the languages we speak. So, for any of the students also learning both French and Spanish I recommend taking up a module in your other language when you go on your study abroad, it certainly widened my language experience.
I cannot recommend study abroad enough either. It was a fantastic opportunity to live the language, experience a different education system and culture, and meet new people. At first, it can seem like a daunting idea to pack your bags and go somewhere new alone, whether you’ve done it before or not, but it has been a great confidence boost to find my feet in completely new and unfamiliar surroundings once again. From my experience it’s good to be prepared for a long paperwork trail, start looking for accommodation early, and once your abroad to try as much as possible to make some native speaker friends (the culture clash really improved my language skills, too).’
Many, many thanks to Andrea for the great blog post and we’re looking forward to seeing you back in Stirling in a few weeks.
It has been a busy few weeks for French at Stirling from the success of our taster days for secondary schools all the way to graduation last week via some unexpected challenges in the shape of flooding in our building. All of that has taken precedence over keeping up with the blog for a little while but, as many of us head off in different directions for holidays before coming back to prepare for the new academic year, we wanted to just post a few updates starting with congratulations to the recipients of this year’s prizes for French at Stirling.
A number of awards have been made this year, recognising outstanding performances across the board by students on degrees involving French. Amy, who is at the end of Year 1 of our Professional Primary Education degree, with a specialism in Modern Languages, is the recipient of our prize for the best Year 1 performance in the Beginners’ stream for French. The prize for best Year 1 performance in the non-Beginners’ stream was awarded to Mihaela who is studying for our BA Honours programme in International Management with European Languages and Society.
The prize for best performance in Year 2 has two joint recipients this year. Like Amy, Marc is also on our Professional Primary Education programme, specialising in Modern Languages. For him, ‘having this opportunity to study the language to such a high level alongside my main degree is extremely beneficial to my future career. Having never been to France before, the department structures French studies in such a way which enables me to not only learn the language, but also the historical and cultural context of France and the French empire which is something I’ve found particularly interesting.’ Marc’s co-recipient of the Year 2 award is Victoria who is studying International Politics and Languages with us and will be off for Semester Abroad in the Spring next year. Victoria moved to Stirling from Germany for her degree and, before moving, says that she couldn’t have imagined ‘the possibilities my studies would bring about but I must say that I am really happy to be given the opportunity to learn French in such an international environment. I am aiming to spend my spring semester next year in Morocco and am thankful for all the support the French faculty has given me so far in order for this to be made possible.’
As always, competition was fierce for our Simone de Beauvoir prize which is awarded to the final year student with the strongest performance across their French modules but this year’s recipient is Bethany who has just completed her BA Hons in International Management with European Languages and Society. Bethany was also the very deserving winner of our final year Translation prize and she kindly took the time to send some thoughts on her time at Stirling:
‘Studying Advanced French and Francophone cultures at University enabled me to gain a more profound and realistic understanding of French identity and cultural issues that I had witnessed first-hand in France itself. It was just incredible to discuss current challenges with a rational step back from the social situation and critically analyse what is occurring in society today. I realised that French studies was deeply aligned with my interests as studying felt seamless and effortless. The tutors constantly deepened my interest and made me engaged with the topics raised, making me want to learn more, grow more and gain more from the University experience. Walking though the French corridor in Pathfoot always filled me with butterflies in the pit of my stomach, anticipating the next lesson or debate. I felt it provided me with a bold emotional attachment that united me back to France throughout my time at University and made me desire to return to my adoptive country and undertake future studies to generate change to overcome some of the negative issues that France is tackling. Winning two Prizes for French filled me with an immense feeling of pride, recognition and gratitude towards all my lecturers and tutors who I cannot thank enough.’
Congratulations, too, to Natalie, who has also just graduated in International Management, having studied both French and Spanish throughout, and who was the recipient of the equivalent final year prize for her work in Spanish. Natalie was ‘overjoyed to have received the Jose Blanco White Prize for Spanish. It has been a wonderful way to end what has been a fantastic four years at Stirling. As well as studying Spanish, I have enjoyed learning about French and Francophone cultures through exploring literary texts, films and engaging in fascinating discussions. I believe that my passion for the French culture and language was enhanced by the support and commitment of all the tutors who work incredibly hard to promote languages within the University.’ A particular highlight for Natalie was the opportunity to work as a Student Ambassador for Languages to promote French and Spanish in local secondary schools and during our Open and Applicant Days: ‘I feel proud to be part of a team who play a fundamental role in inspiring our young people to learn foreign languages. Another of my highlights would definitely have to be my semester abroad in Strasbourg which I spent at EM Strasbourg Business School: a fantastic opportunity to use my French skills in real-life situations and to become more confident in my abilities. I feel extremely proud to have been part of a wonderful faculty and I am incredibly thankful to all of the tutors who have helped me along the way!’
And finally, congratulations to Stefano who has just graduated with his degree in International Politics and Languages and who was named one of the University’s Students of the Year in recognition of an outstanding contribution to the University over the past four years. In particular, Stefano has been recognised for his energy and commitment to helping others feel part of a welcoming, inclusive academic community.
As regular blog readers will know, this week the time had finally come for our Languages event for S5 and S6 pupils from schools from all across Scotland. On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, we welcomed a total of around 300 pupils to the Pathfoot Building and colleagues from French & Francophone Studies and Spanish & Latin American Studies led them through a day of mini lectures, culture and language classes, CPD sessions for the teachers and a series of presentations by current and former students, as well as our Faculty Employability Officer, on the benefits of time abroad as part of a degree (whether within Europe with Erasmus+ or well beyond), English Language Assistantships and the many, many doors that languages open up in the wider world beyond University.
After lunch, it was back into the classrooms for some written language and listening work, led by Jean-Michel DesJacques, Mathilde Mazau, Fraser McQueen and Cristina, Emeline and Aedín for French, and Jose Ferreira-Cayuela, along with Pete and Inés for Spanish. And while the pupils were hard at work in their culture and language classes, their teachers were being led through CPD activities focusing on feedback and assessment, as well as the challenges that arise in the transition from secondary to HE, by Emeline and Aedín. The CPD sessions also included an opportunity for the teachers to benefit from a guided tour of the AHRC-funded Experiences of Exile exhibition by Beatrice Ivey.
All the pupils and teachers were brought together for the final session which included presentations by a group of Languages graduates, as well as current students at different stages in their degrees, and our Employability Officer, Elaine Watson. They all spoke passionately about their experiences of Study Abroad, teaching English as a Language Assistant, travelling during time abroad, career paths they have embarked on or are considering as a result of having studied a language and, in the words of Meg, one of the speakers, the confidence that comes from knowing that ‘if you can navigate France through train, plane and University strikes, you can do anything!’
All in all, a great chance for us to get to talk to a fantastic group of pupils and teachers, and an opportunity for those pupils, in particular, to get a real taste of what University and Languages at University is like and where it can lead you. Many thanks to all those who came along, to all the colleagues who led sessions over the course of the two days, to the students and graduates who gave up their time (and sent photos!) to come and speak to our visitors, and to the Division of Literature and Languages and the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France for their support.
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!
Another very pleasant part of this whole blog catch-up thing is that it gives me a chance to pass on great news about successes for staff and students.
The University’s annual RATE teaching award ceremony took place at the end of last month so, firstly, congratulations to our Divisional colleague Bashir Saade who won this year’s prize for Excellence in Teaching in Arts and Humanities. It was fantastic to see a number of French at Stirling staff also being nominated for their hard work and commitment to teaching over this past academic year across a range of categories: Exceptional Student Support Award; Research Postgraduate Supervisor of the Year; Best Tutor; Fantastic Feedback and Excellence in Teaching in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities. And the feedback from the voters always makes us smile:
‘An inspirational teacher and one that I desire to be like myself’;
‘So passionate about her subject and creates an enjoyable atmosphere for learning. Where every student feels their opinion or interpretation is valid’;
‘Very constructive and friendly feedback that gave me the confidence to write essays with more ease’;
‘Most involved, best informed, best organised tutor and professor. Will always get back to you on time, will help with anything, always on time, always available for appointments.’
Thank you to all the students who voted for us – it really is very much appreciated by us all!
Eilidh – who is studying French with Spanish and Professional Education – will be working on a project exploring how a particular region balances its history and traditions against a desire to modernise and to exist within a changing world, with a particular focus on Lyon where she’ll be spending her year as a Language Assistant. Caitlin – who is on the same degree programme as Eilidh – is keen to explore the influence of Gothic art and architecture on the region around Montpellier where she’ll be working, also as a British Council Assistant. And Eszter – whose degree is in Spanish and Marketing – will be in Spain, on Semester Abroad, and examining feminism and the creative industries while studying at the University of Navarra-Pamplona. Congratulations to all three recipients of these competitive scholarships and we look forward to tales of your time abroad and the work you do with the Stevenson over the year ahead.