Tag: Language learning

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

French (and Spanish) at Stirling students in their second year and in their final year were recently given the opportunity to attend a meeting with a representative of the British Council to find out about their English Language Assistantship scheme. We have a great success rate with ELA applications at Stirling and, every year, 20-30 of our students end up being offered contracts to teach English across a range of schools and universities in the wider Francophone and Hispanophone worlds. One of last year’s French at Stirling graduates, David Vescio, applied for an ELA during his final year and has just sent us this account of the start of his year teaching in Colombia, as well as plenty of pictures to brighten up a rather grey mid-semester break…

“Panicking about what you are going to do after university? Don’t worry; I have graduated and I am still not sure… and lo and behold, I am alive and well!

teaching students
Teaching students

During my last year at university, I was trying to keep my options open so I applied for a PGDE in French and Spanish in Scotland as well as a teaching assistantship in Latin America through the British Council. I was lucky enough to be offered both and after careful consideration I decided to go with the latter and go to Colombia. Why opt for the less secure option when I could have studied for my postgrad in education, become a qualified teacher in a couple of years and found a stable job in Scotland? It’s simple: I just wasn’t ready.

 

Most of my fellow graduates still aren’t sure about what they want to do long-term and the secret to having a relatively stress-free last year as an undergrad is to keep your options open and have a back-up plan. Still stressing? Don’t worry, you have your dissertation to look forward to!

I would definitely encourage students to go away for a year after university with the British Council, especially if you are interested in travelling, teaching and languages. If you go off to teach for a year it doesn’t necessarily mean you will end up teaching for the rest of your life but it is an opportunity to gain experience doing a ¨real life¨ job in a relatively relaxed atmosphere while still having some freedom to travel as you will be working part-time.

bogota induction viewpoint
Bogota Induction

I was appointed to the Catholic University of Pereira, a relatively small town located in the coffee region of Colombia. Before leaving for Pereira, I attended an induction session in Bogota with all the other language assistants in Colombia which was a lot of fun as we were provided with free food and accommodation for 3 days. This was a really nice opportunity to meet everyone taking part in the programme as well as the language assistants from other countries such as France, Germany, India, etc. Language assistants are posted all over Colombia so it is a great opportunity to go travelling with them and visit this wonderful country and beyond!

 

When I got to Pereira, my tutor helped me find accommodation and the university staff have been really helpful! Although I definitely stick out like a sore thumb, Colombians are always welcoming and curious to know where I come from as well as what I am doing here. Lots of people have invited me to their homes for dinner and despite the bad reputation Colombia has had in recent years, I would definitely recommend it as a memorable place to visit.

botero plaza in medellin
Medellin

 

 

I have only been here for about 2 months and I don’t think I have ever travelled so much! Since I only work 18 hours a week, this leaves me plenty of time to explore the region and I have been to some pretty incredible places as you can see in the pictures. I have been to Bogota, Medellin, Salento, Guatape, Manizales, Cali and Bucaramanga so just imagine all the places I will have been to after spending a whole year here! People ask me if I miss my family and friends and of course I do, but there are so many new places to go, things to do and people to meet! So the good things definitely outweigh the bad. I am still, however, struggling with Irn Bru withdrawal symptoms…

cali grafiti
Cali

 

 

I think being a language assistant has really helped me become more adaptable. For example, I never expected to be asked to be teaching technical terms in industrial design classes, but I have managed to do so and I have even learnt a wee bit about industrial design in the process! I have had the opportunity to take part in an International Relations class every week where I talk to students about the differences between the U.K. and Great Britain and the different nations within the former as well as explaining to them the concepts of Scottish Independence and Brexit, but also the topics of multiculturalism and freedom of religion as well as less cheerful subjects such as terrorism and the Grenfell tower fire.

I have started up a conversation club for students and another for teachers where we discuss current local and global affairs and have also been recording a weekly radio show where I talk about my experience here in Pereira and compare it to life in Scotland. Believe it or not, quite a few people don’t know where or what Scotland is! But let’s be honest, how many people reading this right now actually know where Colombia is? One of my students even asked me last week what ¨I dinnae ken¨ meant because apparently they were watching a Scottish YouTuber… the joys of teaching!

radio show awkward selfie

With all of that, plus the hot weather (and despite the accompanying Scottish ¨tan¨) as well as the incredible variety of exotic fruits, I am really glad I decided to take a break from studying as, let’s face it, travelling is a form of education in itself.

So, to all fourth year students who may be reading this blog piece, remember to enjoy your last year at university and to keep your options open.”

Many, many thanks to David for finding the time to send us this post and we’d echo his advice – of course – about keeping open all the options a languages degree offers!!

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Semester in Quebec: Ice fishing, underground tunnels and independence

Last Thursday’s get-together for our Year 3 and 4 students and our HNU Translation and Interpreting class was a chance for them to exchange thoughts and tips on Study Abroad as our finalists (across all degree programmes) settle back in here and our 3rd years get ready for their own departures next semester. With that in mind, it seemed like a good time to get an account of Semester Abroad from one of our students who has returned from furthest afield. Rachel Talbot – who is just starting her final year in French and Journalism – spent her Spring semester at our partner Laval University in Quebec, partly thanks to funding from Santander which is vital to our students who opt for non-EU (so non-Erasmus) locations. As you’ll see in the account that follows, there’s much more to Study Abroad than just an opportunity to see what another University system is like:

‘From 5th January until 1st May 2017 I had the opportunity to study at Laval University in Quebec City. I had never been to the Americas before and flying from Scotland to Iceland onto Toronto and then Quebec was a huge journey in itself. I had heard Quebec City described as s a ‘Piece of Europe in North America’. Unlike the grid like road maps and blocked buildings of most North American cities, Quebec has an ‘Old Town’ and small, winding cobbled streets and architecture which makes it a gem in the North.

2017 Rachel Talbot Château Montmorency pic
Château Montmorency

I attended the FLE Language School at Laval University which meant I had 16 hours a week. I enjoyed having that much contact time and the course, especially my public speaking class, boosted my confidence greatly speaking French and aided my advancement in the language massively.

At Laval University there is a huge international community (I didn’t meet a single fellow British citizen while I was there!) and it was incredible to meet students from all round the world. Everyone was so open and friendly on their Study Abroad experience that I was lucky enough to have a good group of friends from the very first day!

2017 Rachel Talbot Ice Hotel
Ice Hotel

Not only did the Language school organise my classes but they organised activities at least three times a week, every week. With FLE I was lucky enough to visit the Quebec Parliament, the “Cabane de sucre”, (a traditional French-Canadian restaurant where everything was smothered in Maple Syrup!), the incredible Ice Hotel and many other brilliant landmarks.

 

Living in Quebec is definitely not for the faint-hearted, with the temps reaching -25c! At first we found it bizarre to have to leave for a night out with full snow boots and a ski jacket. However, our university was connected by tunnels so you could go to the gym, class, even the pub without stepping a foot outside. This took some getting used to but added to the experience. Despite the cold, to see everything blanketed in snow was a beautiful sight.

2017 Rachel Talbot Underground Tunnels
Inside the underground tunnels
2017 Rachel Talbot Falls of Montmorency
Montmorency Falls

With the amount of snow there were lots of opportunities to try out new winter activities such as skiing, dog sledding, ice skating and ice fishing. We managed to do all these activities at discounted prices through the university – you could basically try a new sport weekly. We also became massive Ice Hockey fans and had the chance to watch the local team play many times – a massive highlight for us all! I did try my hand at skiing in Vermont and despite thinking I was a natural, I managed to break my collar bone on the second day. Having to be tobogganed down the hill and treated in an American Hospital has become a good story to tell – but definitely sabotaged my budding Ice Hockey Career!

 

I lived in Quebec for 4 months and during that time my friends and I managed to do a lot of travelling. As Quebec is positioned very well in North America we took the chance to visit to New York, Boston and Vermont. This was something I had always dreamed of doing and I couldn’t have achieved if I had chosen to stay in Europe. Buses were cheap and we had a week off for Spring Break so it was fantastic to see some of the States as well as Canada.

2017 Rachel Talbot Spring Break
Spring Break in New York and Boston

We found the Quebec people warm and friendly. The history of Quebec and how it was founded and formed interested me hugely and I decided to do a comparison project for my coursework examining how Scotland and Quebec have both bid for independence in the past. I managed to gain a huge insight into Quebec and its culture through this research. It was definitely an amazing experience which came at the right time during my four years of University as it has only motivated me to master this fascinating language even more. I would never have had such a perfect chance to visit North America either while still studying towards my degree. For this I am so thankful to the University and I look forward to visiting Quebec again soon!’

2017 Rachel Talbot Skating

Many thanks to Rachel for taking the time to send us this great post and we look forward to more tales from Quebec from future Study Abroad students!

2017 Rachel Talbot Quebec Ice Carnival
The Quebec Ice Festival

 

Strasbourg Summer School Tales

Back in June, a small group of our students were lucky enough to be able to attend the annual Summer School organised by our partners at the Ecole de Management in Strasbourg, an opportunity that gave them a chance to spend time in a beautiful city but also to benefit from fantastic classes and visits to European institutions and much else besides. Nick, Paloma and Stefano are now all back in Stirling and they’ve each sent their own take on the experiences in Strasbourg.

2017 Oct Strasbourg Stefano Pic IFor Stefano, ‘one of the most thrilling aspects of our Summer School was the possibility to go on business trips to the European Institutions that are located in Strasbourg. Within our first ten days there, our group was invited to visit the Council of Europe, the continent’s oldest political organisation, founded in 1949. It was exciting to experience such an institutional and international atmosphere! Once we got there through the beautiful surroundings of Strasbourg’s diplomatic area, we managed to explore the building with its famous Hemicycle and we also got the chance to attend a conference on “The role of the Council of Europe in the European Political Architecture”. It is perhaps worth mentioning some key facts about this vital institution in Europe. The Council itself groups together 47 countries, including 21 countries from Central Eastern Europe and it currently has one more application from Monaco. Moreover, the Council has granted “observer status” to 5 external countries (US, Canada, the Holy See, Mexico and Japan). Broadly speaking, the Council is distinct from the European Union, but no member state has ever been part of the Union without joining the Council of Europe in the first place.’

2017 Oct Strasbourg Stefano Pic II
Stefano, Paloma and another Stirling student, Annika, visiting from her internship in Germany

 

Stefano also points out that the EU’s motto (United in diversity) fits very well with their entire programme of classes and visits: ‘ As a group of 30 students from, almost literally, all over the world, we had first-hand experience of how so many different countries can work within European Institutions. For instance, just one week after our visit to the Council of Europe we got the chance to explore the European Parliament, the only directed body of the EU. Most importantly, we were lucky enough to attend real sessions and debates of the Parliament over the following week; throughout these experiences we got a strong sense of how the Parliament elaborates community laws and how strongly its relations are intertwined with those of the European Commission and the Council of Ministers.’

2017 Sept Strasbourg Paloma Pic IFrom Paloma’s perspective, the cultural, geographical and linguistic aspects of the month in France were as important as the access to elements of the structures of the EU. ‘Strasbourg is a mixture of two cultures, French and German, perfectly balanced. Generally, the French were friendly and easy to talk to (as long as you were trying to speak in French…), however body language and gestures were required if our French wasn’t enough. Also, a large proportion of the older generations spoke German (or the alsacien dialect).

It is an adorable city, the perfect size, not too big, not too small. Sightseeing in Strasbourg was hence relatively easy: from the cathedral and la Petite France to the Parc de l’Orangerie (a mini zoo) a few blocks away from the school and the Place Kléber with the main shopping area. The first Sunday of the month gives you free access to some cultural spots, so we took advantage and visited a few museums, the cathedral tower and its astronomical clock.

As Strasbourg is located very centrally, we could easily travel around to Nancy, Colmar, Obernai, and even Zurich and Karlsruhe. However, its central location and its position as the seat of many EU institutions means that living expenses are quite high, so we took the tram line to Kehl in Germany to do our weekly groceries.

2017 Sept Strasbourg Paloma Pic II
Stefano, Paloma and Nick

 

Local cuisine included tarte flambée (dough bread covered with cheese, crème fraiche, onion and bacon), baeckeoffe (casserole with vegetables, pork, beef and lamb cooked slowly in white wine), kouglof (bread-cake that is displayed in the window of every bakery in Strasbourg) and lots of white wine. Local farmers’ markets in the street parallel to our accommodation every Saturday had everything from yogurt, fruit and vegetables, bread, flowers, to second-hand clothes and pots and pans. The boulangerie was a few blocks away from the school; in the morning you could see the French queueing for the bread of the day.

On the 21st of June, we experienced La Fête de la Musique. Once a year, the city transforms into an “open concert” with music for all tastes. A different band plays in every corner downtown Strasbourg. For us (as Paloma is of Mexican origin), some of the highlights of the night were an Ecuadorian duo and a Brazilian party.’

And finally, from Nick’s point of view, it was the mix of classroom-based learning and extra-curricular activities that really stands out: ‘During my month in Strasbourg all students had a significant number of classes alongside the social activities most of us took part in outside of the curriculum. The classes were divided into several different subjects: European Integration, French Language and Business, which included Marketing, HRM and other topics.

Most classes were quite intense and well-structured. They were also very interesting and engaging (for the most part) with the only downside being the teaching rooms which did not have air conditioning or any real ventilation. It can get very hot in France during summer…

Some of the courses included some very cool field trips, such as a visit to the Europa Park, which was supposedly related to the business part of the course. It wasn’t really, as we spent most of the day on awesome rides (or queueing for them), but unsurprisingly nobody complained about that.

I feel it is maybe important to let future participants of summer school know that the amount of class in hours per week is significantly more than most of us will be used to from UK universities. This, however, is no issue at all, as self-study time is kept at a minimum and most classes are very informative and highly enjoyable, with lecturers from all over the world (Ireland, the US, Poland, France, etc.).

I can personally say that I genuinely learned a lot about the EU, European culture and French language during my stay in Strasbourg. I loved the outside activities and the group we were in was amazing and very international. The lecturers were entertaining, clever and left us all with an unexpectedly large amount of knowledge. I would recommend Strasbourg summer school to anyone at any educational level and from any background based on my experience this past summer.’

Many thanks, indeed, to Nick, Paloma and Stefano for sharing their experiences and their photos from the Summer School. Having also had the pleasure of visiting colleagues at EMS in September, it’s particularly nice to be able to confirm that it really is a great place to send time so thanks to the students and to colleagues at EMS for having made us all feel welcome!

Language Ambassadors at Cathkin High

2017 Oct Dodds Downey Limoges PicFollowing on from the general update on French news, a great, positive account of a Student Language Ambassadors’ visit to Cathkin High School by two of our final year students – Nicole Downey and Catherine Dodds, both of whom were at the Université de Limoges last semester on Erasmus Study Abroad – a couple of weeks ago. We’re looking forward to continuing to send our students out to act as ambassadors for language learning and I’m hoping to have a blog post about another visit to Wallace High in Stirling before the end of the week. In the meantime, though, over to Nicole and Catherine:

‘We believe that Student Language Ambassadors are a key factor in language learning. It is essential to encourage young people to continue learning languages and to inform them of their future prospects and opportunities. Recently, we visited Cathkin High School in Cambuslang during their modern languages week to give a presentation and discuss our experiences, both at Stirling and abroad.

2017 Oct Dodds Downey Limoges
Limoges

 

We found that the students appreciated the opportunity to speak to other young people, who aren’t a great deal older than them and in particular were inspired by our experiences abroad. Although not all of the students wanted to continue learning languages in higher education, it was still useful for them as they were able to speak to us about the university process and life at university.

It was satisfying for us to see that the pupils were very engaged by the evidence that learning languages does actually provide you with amazing experiences, which would otherwise not be possible without studying languages.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time as Student Ambassadors and would love to have this opportunity again.’

Many thanks to Catherine and Nicole for this blog post, and for having taken the time to go along to talk to the pupils at Cathkin High School. And thanks to pupils and staff there for their warm welcome.

2017 Oct Dodds Downey Eiffel Tower

Strasbourg and more

Another week until the start of semester and these final few days before the new academic year are full of news to report. Usually, the bits of this blog that are written by me (Cristina Johnston) are written in Scotland but this post sees me making my way to Strasbourg where I’m headed for meetings with our colleagues at the Ecole de Management. We’ve had an exchange partnership with them for many years now and currently have a great Integrated Masters programme that we run with them in International Management and Intercultural Studies. As is the way with these things, most of the time that just means corresponding via email and it’s our students who benefit from being able to enjoy the delights of our respective institutions and cities. Every now and then, though, colleagues come from Strasbourg to Stirling or from Stirling to Strasbourg and that’s what I’m up to just now. A good day of meetings and discussions about possible future partnerships and teaching and research collaborations lies ahead, and I’m looking forward to getting a chance to see the EMS.

The added bonus – from my perspective, at least – is that I spent my own year abroad when I was an undergraduate as an English Language Assistant living and teaching in Strasbourg so it’s a city I used to know well. As those students who were away as ELAs last year make their way back to campus in Stirling, and some of those who are just starting on new adventures as assistants in places as far-flung as Colombia (watch this space for more…) send emails to say hello, it’s great to get a chance to reminisce on my own experiences as a Language Assistant. I taught at the Lycée Marie Curie in Strasbourg where – at the time, at least – they taught both the French Bac and the European Bac, meaning that one class of pupils in terminale had extra language tuition, History and Geography taught in English and an impressive openness to the possibilities that language learning opened up for them.

For me, it was a great first experience of teaching – I wasn’t much older than the pupils, they were (without exception) really keen to learn, and the school was incredibly supportive (of me and of their pupils). As well as the actual teaching, I was lucky enough to be asked to accompany that terminale class on a 10-day trip to Northern Ireland and was just generally made to feel part of the school community. I kept in touch with some of the pupils for a few years after I came back and, ever since then, have also kept in touch with one of the former English teachers from the school so this EMS trip will also give me a chance to catch up with her, having not actually seen her face-to-face in 20 years! All in all, a good trip lies ahead!

Enough about me, though… What other news? Well, Fiona Barclay and I had a great meeting last week with the ever-enthusiastic Grahame Reid of Stirling’s MacRobert cinema to talk about (fingers crossed) bringing some of this year’s French Film Festival films to Stirling again this year. All being well, November should be French cinema month at Stirling but more will follow on that once we get confirmation. French at Stirling has also been busy preparing workpacks for all the modules we’ll be running in the new semester and generally getting ourselves ready for all our new and returning students. And, at the end of this week, just before the focus shifts back more towards teaching, many of us will also be attending a Research Away Day led by Bill Marshall to discuss research plans and ideas with colleagues from Languages, Translation, Religion, English and Creative Writing. Oh yes, and our former PhD student Martin Verbeke has another article forthcoming: “Represent Your Origins: An Analysis of the Diatopic Determinants of Non-Standard Language Use in French Rap” has been accepted for publication by the International Journal of Francophone Studies!

A flurry of pre-semester activity! And pictures of Strasbourg will doubtless appear on the blog over the next week or so…

New Semester, New Oral Classes

Our new Languages for Employability module is not the only teaching innovation for this coming academic year. Last year, we launched fortnightly paired oral sessions for Year 3 and 4 students, led by our great Language team of Jean-Michel DesJacques, Brigitte Depret and Mathilde Mazau. Building on their success, we’re expanding this provision for the new year ahead.

This year, all our final year students will benefit from a weekly paired session, while our Year 3 students will continue to benefit from fortnightly sessions. The idea behind the sessions is partly to offer more scope for students to prepare for the format of oral assessments they encounter in the final two years but it’s also a means of giving our students a greater say in the topics they discuss since they are responsible for finding articles to talk about at each session.

For Year 1, 2 and 4 students, we’re also introducing weekly 30-minute conversation sessions to provide further opportunities to build fluency and confidence. These sessions will be led by incoming French exchange students from across our partner institutions, helping them to get to know their Stirling peers at the same time as they get a chance to develop their professional experience.

When we asked last year’s finalists for advice they’d pass on to future students, many of them picked up on the importance of oral and aural classes, emphasising the importance of speaking up and not being afraid to make mistakes. This advice is echoed by our Language Assistants in the workpacks they prepare for oral classes: ‘The Spoken Language class is your best opportunity to improve your speaking skills. Of course, you will be confused at times, make mistakes many times (as we all do when we learn, whether it be a language or any other skill), but most importantly, your tutors will be there to support and guide you. We aim for this learning process to be a successful adventure, which means you have to be involved without holding back. Don’t be afraid, don’t be shy, and your language abilities will go from strength to strength. You will all learn from your own mistakes but also from each other’s in a relaxed atmosphere.’

With this in mind, we’re looking forward to feedback on the new oral formats from our current students!

“How I somehow got accepted to do a Master at Waseda University in Japan…”

As promised, following on from Charlotte’s post about life and work since graduating last month, another of our 2017 graduates, Julie Perruchon who just completed her BA Hons in French and English, has sent us an article about her plans for the next couple of years which will see her embarking on postgraduate studies in Japan:

“Like any other student, my final semester at the University of Stirling consisted mostly of essay writing, university applications and general agonizing about the future. I had decided that I was determined to go to Japan; either to do a Master, or as an English teacher at an ‘Eikawa’ (English Language Schools). I had done a lot of research, looking into the universities that offered Master courses in English, as my Japanese abilities only extend to surviving day–to-day life. To my mum’s chagrin, I stubbornly only applied to Universities and jobs in Japan. She might have been right in saying that it would have been sensible to apply to university in either Denmark or Scotland as well, but I happily ignored all common sense and threw myself into my preparations.

I can’t count the times I went to my tutors to ask them to write references for me (which I can’t thank them for enough), how many books I read about Japanese society and culture for my research plan, and how many excruciating hours I spent filling out an endless stack of forms. After being rejected three times (by the JET-Programme, ICU and the GABA Corporation), I got accepted to Waseda University’s Graduate School of International Culture and Communication Studies, where I will be studying under the study plan of Culture and Communication. To my (and my mother’s) huge relief! My directed research supervisor hails from a British University (and is in possession of a decidedly British name), so a little piece of the Isles will be waiting for me in the Far East. On the basis of my research plan, it has already been decided that I will write my Master thesis on the topic of ‘The Intellectual and Literary History of Japan’, focusing on how different societal traditional systems have affected the lives of Japanese youths living in urban areas. Quite a mouthful, and I cannot wait to get started.

Japan being seven hours ahead of Denmark, I could go online and check whether I had been accepted to Waseda quite early in the morning. I was almost certain that my application had been rejected, so it came as a huge surprise when I saw the tiny numbers on my laptop screen that represented my application number. And, as one does, I couldn’t sleep for excitement for the rest of the night and started planning my future venture in great detail (or as great detail as a sleep deprived brain can muster).

And then reality hit. I don’t know if anyone reading this has ever been to Japan, or lived there, but finding an apartment without a Japanese bank account or phone number is proving to be rather difficult (read: almost impossible). Thankfully, I have the invaluable help of Waseda’s International Office, and I’m sure (fingers crossed) that I’ll be able to find my own tiny 12 square feet apartment squashed away in some corner of Tokyo. In the situations where befuddling paperwork and the promise of earthquakes have me questioning my own sanity, I look back fondly on how easy it was to move between Scotland and Denmark. No visa, no Certificate of Eligibility, no huge language barriers, no earthquakes (yes, I am terrified), and only one hour’s time difference to my native country. Pure heaven.

2017 Julie Perruchon Japan Pic July17My hope is that two years in Japan will help me master the Japanese language, and bring me new challenges both in my personal and University life. Now that it’s sure that I am going over there, it seems quite surreal and I haven’t yet completely wrapped my head around the fact that in less than a month and a half, I will be walking beneath the neon lights of the Shinjuku district in Tokyo. It’s the complete opposite from small and idyllic Stirling, with the most beautiful campus in the world, and nature just around the corner. Japan, and Tokyo, is going to be the next big adventure, and I can’t wait to see where what this decision is going to bring me. It’s terrifying and exciting, and I am overjoyed that I got the chance to go there.

So really, all there is left to say is a huge thank-you to the University of Stirling and everyone there! Mille mercis.”

Many thanks to Julie for taking the time to write this blog post and we’re looking forward to tales of life (and language learning) in Japan over the next few years! Best wishes for the course!