Tag: French

From Stirling to Soissons: History, Travel and Bell Chimes

After Emily’s account of working as an Emergency Services Officer in the Australian desert, it’s back to Europe again with an update from Alex who graduated with a BA Hons in French and Maths last June:

‘Just even writing this, I cannot believe that it has already been eight months since I graduated from the University of Stirling. As much as I am missing seeing the Ochils and Wallace Monument every day, the last six months have been awesome. I am just over halfway through my British Council placement in France for the academic year 2019/20 and it has been fantastic. I was allocated to the Académie d’Amiens and more specifically, two high schools in the town of Soissons in the north-east of France.

2020 Mar Alex Soissons CathedralAlthough Soissons has a small population of 30,000, about two-thirds of the size of Stirling, there is just as much history to be found in this part of France. Under the reign of King Clovis I in the late 4th and early 5th Centuries, Soissons was under the rule of the Franks, after the Battle of Soissons in 486 AD. And when Clovis died in 511, it became the capital of what we know today as north-east France. All of this history can be discovered in the Musée de Soissons, which is just 2€ entry (bar the first Sunday of every month when it is free!). There are two abbeys and a cathedral all within walking distance of the centre of town. I live a two-minute walk away from the cathedral, in fact I can see it from my kitchen window! You never get tired of hearing the bell chimes every 15 minutes (from 8am to 10pm) and looking at this amazing piece of architecture.

I feel incredibly lucky with the allocation of my schools. One school is a 15-minute walk from my accommodation, whilst the other is just a 20-minute bus ride from the centre of town, and the buses are less than 1€ per ride. I work with four different teachers and they are all fantastic. Personally, I think it’s beneficial to see different styles of teaching and approaches to assessments and language learning. Sometimes I work in groups of between 4 and 8 students outside of the main class, or I will stay with the main teacher and we’ll work on an activity together. I have even had the opportunity of teaching full classes myself, particularly with presentations on Anglophone culture or certain points of grammar.

In both of my schools with the 14-15 year-old students (3èmes), we have been doing débats citoyens every week, debating a wide range of topics such as:

  • “Footballers deserve to earn the salary they receive”
  • “Capital punishment should be reinstated for the most serious of crimes”
  • “TV reality shows teach us about life”
  • “Art is necessary for the development of man”
  • “Teachers in the USA should be allowed to carry firearms in the event of a mass shooting”

This is a great way for the older students to become more confident and spontaneous at speaking in English. It also provides them additional cultural exposure to the Anglophone world that they might not see in class.

On top of my British Council contract, I managed to gain an hour a week through the Soissons Town Hall of doing English activities with primary school students in an after-school club. Although I prefer working with 11-16 year-olds, this has been a great opportunity for me to work with children between 8 and 11 years old, and discover the level of English children have before attending high school.

2020 Mar Alex Soissons AssistantsI have been very lucky in where I live too! I was offered accommodation by one of my teachers in a boarding school in the centre of Soissons. Turns out that I live with 6 other assistants, with all of us coming from different parts of the world; England, Northern Ireland, Spain, Mexico, the USA, and the Bahamas! We get on really well and they are a huge part of the reason why this experience has been so good. Having other people there with you every single day makes it so much easier, so I would suggest (if possible) new assistants try to live with other young people to make you feel more comfortable in your new surroundings.

And since I only work 13 hours a week (British Council – 12 hours, Soissons Town Hall – 1 hour), I have had a lot of time to travel. In fact, each académie in France will encourage you to “profitez de vos week-ends et voyagez!” Since October, I have so far been to (in France) Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg, Rennes, Amiens, Reims, Rouen and Saint Malo, and I will heading further south during the warmer months! I have also journeyed outside of France to both Belgium, to the cities of Brussels and Ghent, and the Netherlands, visiting Rotterdam. Therefore, I would advise the same to anyone thinking of doing an assistantship: take advantage of your weekends and 2-week half-term breaks and travel across France and the rest of Europe! I would recommend buying either a SNCF Carte Jeune or a Carte Régionale (for each Département in France), which gets you 30% and 50% off rail fares respectively. Flixbus is also an absolute gem if you’re looking to travel cheaply!

2020 Mar Alex Strasbourg

So, where does this leave me after this experience? I have decided after this experience that I would like to become a secondary school teacher and am in the process of applying for my teaching qualification. Whether I teach in England, Scotland or elsewhere, who knows! All I know is that I want to make a difference to students’ lives, and the British Council experience certainly does that.’

Many, many thanks to Alex for this great update and best of luck with the interviews for teacher training that are coming up! We look forward to hearing how the rest of your time in Soissons goes.

‘Studying French felt like unlocking a map’

What better way to end the week than with another update from one of our former students? This time, we’re particularly pleased to be able to post an article by Emily who graduated with a BA Hons in French almost three years ago now:

‘I always wanted to be a firefighter, and I knew I didn’t need a degree for that. I suppose I went to university because it was expected, and I hoped that if my career in emergency services fell flat it would give me some qualifications to land on. I chose French because it felt like code-breaking, or unlocking a huge chunk of the map that was otherwise inaccessible. I grew an awful lot because of the opportunities I had to travel, teach and immerse myself. I did not actively pursue French after I graduated, but I was extremely proud of becoming bilingual. It opened up ways of thinking and lines of communication and connection that could never have existed otherwise, even when I speak English now. My best friend and my partner are both French speakers too, and no matter where I go or what job I have, I’ve noticed francophones popping up everywhere, delighted to be able to have a conversation in their own language abroad.

I made it into emergency services in the end. I moved to Australia with my partner a year after graduation, and although I was not accepted into the government-endorsed firefighters or paramedics on the first application, I kept going. I acquired qualifications in drug testing, paramedic health care, and firefighting response and rescue. Anyone interested in emergency work can get those things, but the background of travel, language/communication skills and higher education was also very desirable to recruiters in that field. Almost immediately I was privately contracting my services in the desert as an Emergency Services Officer, responsible for leading my own response team in HAZMAT emergencies, road crash, bushfire, vertical and confined space rescues. I also tend to patients from the residential mining town in the medical centre, which can be intense as the nearest large hospitals are several hours away even by helicopter. It sounds like a lot, in reality most of the job is just admin, drug tests for miners, and keeping everything clean and ready to go. Because the location is so remote, my work is fly in/fly out, so I spend a lot of time away from home. But I am doing what I love, and on my off-swings I still shake cocktails and mud wrestle at the city’s best gay club, so the party never ends!’

Many, many thanks to Emily for finding the time to send us through this great blog post and we’re delighted to hear that things are working out so well for you!

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!).

Advanced Higher Workshops on Campus

2020 Feb Sheena Pic IAt the end of last year, French and Spanish at Stirling were delighted to get the chance to host a workshop for Advanced Higher pupils on campus, organised via SCILT (Scotland’s National Centre for Languages). Particular thanks to Sheena Bell of SCILT who helped to set this up and who has very kindly sent us through this blog post about the day’s events:

‘Every year, SCILT holds a series of workshops for Advanced Higher Modern Languages pupils to support them in completing the course and preparing for the exam. This year, for the first time, we held a workshop in the University of Stirling. This made it more accessible to pupils from Stirling, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire councils (and beyond!) and meant that they could attend more easily. We were delighted to have over 40 in attendance; pupils were able to hear tips and advice from experienced teachers and SQA markers, and work on strategies for developing their skills. It was all the more enjoyable because of the beautiful surroundings of the university! The event gave pupils the chance to have an experience of university at the same time as they were considering their UCAS applications, and they also benefitted from an introduction to Languages at Stirling from Peter Baker at the beginning of the workshop.

Many thanks from us at SCILT to Dr Baker for all his support and help with arrangements. We look forward to being back again next year.’

Thanks again to Sheena for taking the time to write this post and we’re also looking forward to welcoming more pupils this year!

2020 Feb Sheena Pic III

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!

Publication News: Handbook of French Politics and Culture

2020 Jan Publication Handbook cover NinaWe’re delighted to announce (albeit a little belatedly!) the publication of the new Routledge Handbook of French Politics and Culture which has, among its co-editors, French at Stirling’s own Nina Parish who has this to say about the volume:

‘I’m really delighted to announce the publication of The Routledge Handbook of French Politics and Culture. I’ve been working on this handbook for a number of years now with my colleagues, Marion Demossier (University of Southampton), David Lees (University of Warwick) and Aurelien Mondon (University of Bath). We wanted to provide a fresh look at some of the questions raised by modern and contemporary French politics and culture. Many of the chapters will help to understand what is happening with current strikes and protests in France about pension reform (eg. ‘La France dans la rue’ by Chris Reynolds, Nottingham Trent University). The handbook is divided into four sections: ‘Politics in Modern and Contemporary France’; ‘Identification and Belonging’; ‘Spaces of Political and Cultural Contestation’ and ‘Mediating Memories and Cultures’ (including my co-authored chapter with Eleanor Rowley on ‘Remembering the First World War in France: Historial de la Grande Guerre and Thiepval’ in this final section). It was difficult to know when to submit the final manuscript as it seemed as if the political and cultural shape of France was constantly changing. The final changes were requested of relevant authors following the ‘gilets jaunes’ phenomenon last autumn. Full details of the handbook, including a complete list of chapters and contributors, can be found here.

Many thanks to Nina for sending us through this blog post and, to all blog readers, Bonne Année from all in French at Stirling! And bonne lecture!