From one Fiona (our colleague, Fiona Barclay) to another… Fiona Mears, who graduated a few years back, and who has kept us posted on her travels and teaching career at regular intervals (here and here and here!). Fiona is now back in the UK and about to embark on a new stage in that teaching career:
‘Back in April 2017, my contract at the Université de Franche-Comté where I’d been teaching English for the previous two years came to an end. Since graduating in 2012, I’d been living year by year, predominantly seeking out work which would allow me, first, to stay in France and, second, continue building on my teaching experience. Having lived in France for four years in total, though, I felt it was time to head back to Scotland and, to the great joy of my parents, give the whole ‘settling down’ thing I’d been determinedly avoiding a go!
I’d decided to swap teaching English in France for teaching French in Scotland and had been accepted onto the PGDE Modern Languages course at the University of Glasgow. And what a year it’s been! When people say the PGDE is full-on, they’re not exaggerating. Attending classes at university turned out to be the most relaxing part of the whole course. It came as no surprise that placements were tough: you have to hit the ground running, learn fast and develop a thick skin pretty swiftly. Fortunately, I was very lucky with the mentors and other colleagues I worked with, all of whom were welcoming, supportive and, most importantly, human. We all had our good and bad days, not just me. What I hadn’t expected was that holidays would largely be devoted to writing assignments, which was a shock to the system after the holidays I got in France! At the end of the day though, the hard work and effort everyone put in just made qualifying in June all the more rewarding.
I haven’t ruled out moving back to France or indeed trying out life in another country, but for now I’m enjoying being back in Scotland and can’t wait to start my probation year in August.’
Many thanks to Fiona for this update, congratulations on the PGDE and good luck with the probation year! We look forward to more tales!
Every now and then, over the past few years since the blog started, I’ve been really pleased to be able to post updates (here, for example, and here) from Susan who graduated in 2011 with a BA(Hons) in French and Spanish. Since then, I think I can safely say that I’ve really never been able to guess where the next update would come from so it’s been fun waiting to see this time and we’re certainly not disappointed by the result…:
‘I was in Spain last time I blogged and I am now in Guatemala after three months in Japan, so yes a blog update is needed.
In Japan, I was teaching at a University in Noda which is an hour north of Tokyo, mainly focusing on communication and presentation skills. With three of my students, we worked on a presentation of a business idea for the Hult Prize and they won an all expenses paid trip to the US for the next round.
Now, though, I’m actually teaching English at the school where I did my six months residency requirement for my degree, with a UK-based charity called Education for the Children. The plan was to only volunteer for two months and return to Japan. However, they were struggling to find a teacher for the upper grades, so I am here in a paid role until October. This is by far the most challenging job ever. The children are all from the slum areas and often their chaotic home lives can lead to discipline and behaviour issues in the classroom. So, planning to get back to the tranquillity of Japan in January, via Mombasa for the Children’s Home 20th anniversary party in November.’
Many thanks, indeed, to Susan for this latest update and we’re delighted to see the travelling (and the language teaching) continues, and that the Children’s Home is going strong! And, of course, we’re looking forward to more updates in the future.
It’s hard to guess where responses will come in from when you send out an email to try and contact graduates from previous years of study. This time round, my inbox has been filled with messages from the UK, France, Finland, Guatemala and now Australia thanks to this post from Yasmin who graduated in 2014 with a BA(Hons) in French and Spanish:
‘It’s hard to believe I graduated 4 years ago today. Most of my final year at university was spent stressing out about what I was going to do once I finished at Stirling. Don’t get me wrong, I was also focused on passing and actually making it to graduation without having a breakdown from the workload but the looming thought of “what next?” was really making me panic.
Back in 2011-12, I took a year out from university and was an English Language Assistant in the North East of France. I was pushed so far out of my comfort zone but I had the best time despite living in a small village with barely any English speakers. As a result, I decided to apply to be an assistant again in my final year to buy some time as I 100% was not ready to go into anything corporate or to make the move to London for career opportunities after Stirling.
To my surprise they accepted my application so off I went to work near Lyon as a Language Assistant in three primary schools. It was entirely different from my first experience as an assistant but I made the mistake of making a comparison between both experiences when I should have gone in with more of an open mind. Lessons learnt! Although I enjoyed myself throughout the year, it was almost ruined by this constant panic of not knowing what to do and feeling extremely lost! The amount of times I Googled “quarter life crisis” to justify how I was feeling probably took up most of my time that year! Throughout the year I was applying for jobs all over the UK thinking that corporate was what I was supposed to do. I secured 2 or 3 Skype interviews but my heart was never in it and the interviewer could definitely see the lack of enthusiasm.
At this point I had nothing to lose but felt like I needed to buy more time, and the assistantship seemed so easy that I decided to apply for a 3rd time. Despite already being an assistant twice before, I was convinced my application would get rejected or I would be put on a waiting list. Lo and behold, my application was accepted for the 3rd time in a high school in Lourdes and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The colleagues that I worked with there were extremely welcoming and accommodating and went above and beyond to make me feel at home. I tried skiing for the first time, I accompanied my students to Ireland for a week, I met a great group of French people as well as English people and generally had the best time there. By sheer luck I got to live at the school which allowed me to save quite a lot of money and, without giving it much thought I booked a one-way flight to Vietnam. If I could have I would have happily lived in Lourdes or the surrounding area. The South West is 100% the most underrated area in France!
After spending the summer at home, I left for Vietnam where I travelled and met so many other travellers; I was almost never alone despite heading there solo. I then flew to Myanmar where I spent a further 3 weeks backpacking before I boarded my flight for Australia. At the moment, I’m on a working holiday visa which allows me to stay and work here for a year with the option of completing 88 days of regional/farm work to secure a 2nd year working visa. I’ve spent the last 16 months living in Australia and I cannot emphasise how great it’s been so far. I’ve spent some time in a few South East Asian countries in between but have based myself around various locations in Australia. I was worried I’d lose my level of French and Spanish but have met so many international travellers that I have been able to practice every so often.
I’m still not quite sure what I’m doing career wise but I’ve never been happier. I am however getting to the stage where I’d like to settle in one location and, if it’s possible, potentially reside here in Australia.
Everything has worked out so far with some hiccups and road bumps along the way but I definitely have no regrets about going travelling. And I don’t think I would have caught the travel bug without the opportunities given by Stirling University. The assistantship that I did first time round changed my perspective of living in a different country and has probably changed my life (hope that doesn’t sound too cliché).
I’ve no idea where I’ll be in 5 years’ time but I’m not worried either!’
Many, many thanks to Yasmin for the great blog post and we wish you all the very best for life in Australia – keep us posted!
Among all these updates on students past and present, time for a couple of staff-related blog posts, the first of which comes from our Language Coordinator and Study Abroad Advisor, Jean-Michel DesJacques:
‘I am very grateful to the International Office to have funded my trip to Tours in order to pay a long overdue visit to one of our partners in the Loire Valley. I was lucky enough to be able to meet with Solène Loiseau from their Bureau International, and then with the Co-Director of the LEA programme, Joëlle Popineau. I would like to thank them both for having taken the time to speak to me as Study Abroad Advisor here at the University of Stirling.
It is self-evident but somewhat understated that meeting people de visu and spending some time with them is what helps create a strong and lasting bond between institutions. We don’t have many opportunities for spontaneous exchanges and it was very refreshing to be able to go beyond the usual email niceties and urgent queries.
Inevitably, in spite of all the positive things we had to say about our exchange of students (and hopefully staff soon), the conversation had to revolve around Brexit. I was surprised to hear that there seems to be a lot more anxiety on the French side that there was on ours. I was also very sorry to hear that some programmes had their compulsory semester abroad component in the UK cancelled due to the financial uncertainties that Brexit has created: Erasmus grants are vital to students and the risk, a financial one, was deemed too big to take a leap of faith into the unknown. Interestingly enough, new English-speaking destinations were being sought, rather successfully it seems: the Netherlands in particular and Scandinavia to a lesser extent.
As for Tours itself, well, I am not sure where to start: if you are a bit of a gourmet, you are more likely to find happiness wandering on the old Place Plumereau rather than the Pathfoot building. Without necessarily going for a Gargantuan feast (yes, François Rabelais is from nearby Chinon), you could find yourself in a nice bistro for a delightful plat du jour.
There is certainly plenty to do and see and it would be best to let you discover it for yourselves.’
Thanks to Jean-Michel for making the visit and finding time to send us the blog post (and for the great pics!). And we look forward to continuing our exchange with Tours over the years ahead.
Having finally pulled together the information passed on by this year’s French at Stirling finalists, I thought I’d also try to catch up with last year’s graduates whose plans looked something like this! One year on, here’s what’s been happening, hopefully with some additions to come over the weeks ahead (if you happen to be reading this as a 2017 French at Stirling graduate, please do drop me an email)…
Emily, who graduated with Single Honours in French, is still aiming for a career in firefighting and a return to Australia. She’s currently working as a waitress/bartender but has passed her full bike license and has a car test booked for next week. After that, she still needs to get an HGV license and a first aid certificate before November, at which point she will ‘be moving back to Australia to pursue the whole firefighting thing.’ Although French isn’t an obvious component of Emily’s career plans, she does feel that her degree gave her ‘a lot of skills and experiences that will serve me well no matter what, and I’m especially glad I got another language out of it. I am sure it will make me a stronger candidate when I apply as a firefighter, and indeed most other jobs.’
Mareike, who was off to start an MSc in Nutrition and Behaviour at Bournemouth, having completed her Psychology and a European Language degree with us, has just finished her exams and has the dissertation left to write over the Summer. After that, she has been looking at ‘a couple of doctoral programmes in Berlin, trying to get back into more brain-related research. Something that combines nutrition and the brain would definitely be my first choice. Otherwise, I am also considering making use of my newly acquired nutrition knowledge in a company developing online nutrition courses.’
This time last year, Luise was about to graduate in French and Spanish, and had been accepted as an English Language Assistant in Colombia. She went off to Colombia last summer, so that did actually work out and was a great experience: ‘I taught English at a public secondary school and everything was very different from what I know of European education. ‘My’ kids were noisy, musical and very curious – and so were my Colombian fellow teachers. There generally was a lot of singing and dancing going on. My description of pretty much every aspect over there would be: different. Everything is different. Heat and humidity, great coffee, life-threatening traffic, slums and extreme poverty, music and dancing, men whistling or calling on the street whenever they like a woman’s looks, delicious greasy food, getting lost in the jungle, colourful houses and traditional music, and, from my German point of view, a general lack of efficiency paired with a general abundance of ‘Lebensfreude’. It was great!’ Luise is now back in Scotland, working at Deanston Distillery and saving up for her driver’s licence and Masters.
Rebecca, who graduated in Single Honours French, was also successful in her application to work as an English Language Assistant and is reaching the end of her year in Quebec. She has had a great year teaching English and says ‘it has been great to see such a massive improvement in my students’ English. I took a role in our school’s immersion activities which included 3 weeks of hosting students from across BC and from Maddawaska, Maine – even better, I was given the opportunity to travel to these places too. I’ve had so many fun experiences out here. I spent Christmas with other monitors in a lakeside chalet (complete with our personal frozen lake for skating), watched many hockey games, got lost in fjords, been whale watching, been in the audience of Silence On Joue (Québec TV Game Show), done some apple picking on Isle d’Orleans, and tried so many different activities with my school. My French has improved so much and I really love my job. I am even going back for a second year with my school. I am home for the summer then back in September for another 6 months of the Québecois Winter. I am planning to come back to Scotland next year to do my Masters in Translaton and TESOL at Stirling, however all may change in a year’s time!’
And Michaela, who graduated in French and Law, has been working as a Legal Analyst at Ashurst LLP in Glasgow for the past 6 months or so: ‘The job is obviously in the legal sector but my degree in French has enabled me to get involved in some interesting workstreams in the office. This has involved translating legislation of African francophone countries (which did not have English translations readily available online) as part of a pro bono research project and picking up ad hoc translation tasks for French-related projects from our Luxembourg office. I’ve found my French skills have enabled me to contribute to the team at work and I’ve really enjoyed having the opportunity to keep using them.’
Many thanks, of course, to our graduates for getting back in touch and giving us these updates. We’re delighted to hear that things are going well and continue to wish you all the best! And to look forward to further updates!
Next week (hopefully under sunny skies) our finalists will become our graduates so we thought now was a good time to give you an idea of what soon-to-be Languages graduates’ plans look like. With thanks to everyone who took the time to get back to me on this and to those whose plans have already featured in longer blog posts and, of course, with congratulations to you all, here goes (with photos courtesy of the students!):
A number of this year’s finalists have plans that include – at least for the short-term – teaching in one shape or another. Fergus, who’ll be graduating in English and French, has applied to spend a year working in France as an English Language Assistant and Brett, who’ll be graduating in French and Spanish, is off to Japan where he has been accepted to teach English on the JET programme. Alexia, whose degree is Single Honours French, will be starting teacher training in the Autumn on Glasgow’s PGDE Secondary French course, a career path she had always intended to pursue and Calum, studied French and Politics at Stirling, is also considering the teaching route but with an eye on the possibility of translation work, too. In the first instance, after temporary employment this Summer, he’ll be shadowing teachers in his local school to see whether teaching really is the career for him.
He’s not the only one to be considering those particular options together – Nicole, who studied French and Spanish with us, is also embarking on a postgraduate programme, combining the translation and teaching routes: ‘After spending the majority of fourth year thinking about what I’d like to do after graduating from Stirling, it looks like I won’t be saying goodbye just yet. I’ll be returning to Stirling in September to study a Masters in Translation studies with TESOL. After doing the translation theory module during Semester 7, I realised that translation was something I was genuinely interested in and having the opportunity to do it along with TESOL at Stirling seems like the perfect opportunity. The option to choose TESOL appeals to me because I realised just how in-demand the English language is during my time in France and Spain. I’m hoping that this course will give me the chance to work either at home in Scotland or spend more time abroad in the future. Whatever happens, I’m happy to be returning to Stirling to study something which will hopefully give me plenty of options in years to come.’
Translation also beckons for a number of other finalists: Emilie, a Single Honours French student, will be starting the Translation Masters programme at Glasgow University in the Autumn and Anna, who’ll also be graduating in Single Honours French, is also applying for Masters programmes in Translation and Interpreting. In the meantime, her plans include temporary work as a receptionist and also practising her translating skills. Things are still quite open but, as Anna says, ‘no idea where I will end up but if I don’t do a Masters, I hope to work in France for a bit and then apply for jobs in London where I can use French.’ Lucy, who graduates in French and Spanish and who wrote more about her studies and her plans here, will be starting her MSc in Business Translation and Interpreting at Strathclyde in a few months. And Emma, who will graduate with Single Honours French, is currently working hard to save up for her Masters in Translation, ‘destination TBC but currently narrowed down to Bath and Surrey. I am also enjoying the break from education while I can with trips to Budapest, Spain and France planned for later in the year. With my Masters, I hope to go into translation for an important global organisation and, in the short term, I would like to become a reviser and then a translation project manager. Although I am very focused on a career in translation, I want to have a bit of fun first and plan to travel Asia and perhaps also Canada on completion of my studies. Longer term, I would like to get back into education and become a primary school teacher (if they’re still teaching languages at primary school by the time I’ve had children of my own) but plans change over time so I guess we’ll have to wait and see!’
Postgraduate study is also on the horizon for Jeanne, soon-to-be a graduate in International Management with European Languages and Society and planning an MLitt in Transnational Cultures at the University of Aberdeen (more about her plans here!); Amy, who has just completed her degree in French and Politics and is off to do an MSc in Public Policy and Management (more about Amy’s time at Stirling here) and Rebecca, who’ll be graduating from the same programme as Jeanne, and who is embarking on a Masters in European Business in Fribourg, Switzerland. In the meantime, Rebecca will be working at the Montreux Jazz Festival and summer camps with children and, in the long run, hopes to find a job in marketing in Switzerland: ‘Having a language as part of your degree is an obvious positive for employers and life skills in general, so it goes without saying I am grateful for everything the French department has done for me.’ And Anna, who will graduate in French and Spanish, has just accepted an offer ‘to study the MLitt in Publishing at the University of Stirling. Publishing is something I have wanted to do since a very young age and I am happy I decided to go back to Stirling and continue my studies there. In the future, I would love to work in The Rights Department selling rights onto foreign book markets and vice versa. That way, I would hopefully be able to use my undergraduate degree in French and Spanish.’
Chelsea, who studied Psychology and a European Language with us, and who sent a blog post a few weeks back, is applying for care apprenticeships, in the hope of working with vulnerable adults and children. Jean, whose degree is Single Honours French, has applied for a temporary job developing policy at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency where she used to work. This could lead on to something else but, if not, then next winter she plans to teach skiing in Scotland while working towards my next ski instructor qualification. Rachel, who will graduate in French and Journalism in a few days, is putting her French to good use working for a heritage company at Edinburgh Castle where visitors come from all over, including – of course – France and French-speaking Canada, in particular. And Alex, who studied International Politics and Languages with us, is continuing work in his restaurant Napizza. Business is booming, plans are afoot for an Edinburgh branch and, in the meantime, Alex has built a small oven, put it on a three-wheel van and is ‘planning to go around events and spread a pizza happiness’!!
I can’t really think of a better note on which to end this particular post! Thanks again to all our finalists for their hard work this year (and throughout their degrees) and for passing on all this information (more to be added as emails come in). We wish you all the very best for the future and look forward to updates on your progress in the weeks, months and years ahead. Keep in touch!
As you’ll have gathered from this blog, a good number of our students opt to apply for English Language Assistantships every year, whether between their 2nd and 3rd years or as graduates. For the past few years, some of our ELA students have also participated in SCILT’s ‘Language Linking, Global Thinking’ scheme during their year as assistants and we thought it’d be good to get a sense of what this actually involves – from the perspective of the students involved – so here goes, with thanks to Laura who has just finished her time as an assistant and will be coming back to Stirling in the Autumn:
‘I am a Primary Education student at Stirling. I came to university straight from school. However, I had always wanted more life experience before beginning teaching. This was one of my main motivations for applying to work for the British Council. Teaching within the central belt of Scotland makes classrooms greatly diverse spaces with many nationalities, languages, experiences and backgrounds. Living abroad would not only enable me to better encourage modern language teaching, but also relate more to the experiences of many of my students in my future career.
Over the summer last year, the Languages department at Stirling University made me aware of an additional project I could take part in during my post abroad. This was called “Language linking, global thinking” and it involves a partnership between a British Council language assistant and a primary school. Throughout my year abroad, I would remain in contact with Doune Primary through an online blogging forum.
Before beginning my post as a language assistant, I had only been to France twice. The first time was when I was 10 for a weekend in Paris with my family, and secondly a week skiing with my high school. This meant I had very little knowledge of what “normal” life would be like in France. I come from Edinburgh – a highly touristic, young, affluent city. This meant arriving in the northern region of France was a very different experience. I arrived alone, with very poor comprehension of informal French speaking leaving me feeling confused and isolated. I was an English language assistant in a very small village called Labeuvrière which was just outside of another town where I lived named Béthune. The history of the region is a difficult one and now it is left with a high unemployment rate and listed as the poorest region in France.
In Béthune, the level of English was extremely poor. I soon realised how much safety I had felt in university French classes knowing that everyone in the room would be able to help me with an English translation if it was needed. The first few months without this comfort blanket were a steep learning curve for me. Despite my initial fears, I now feel that living in Béthune gave me a more honest understanding of what it means to be in France today. Being far away from the more glamourous, touristic image of France was key in drastically improving my French and understanding for the challenges of 21st century French society.
I had never fully appreciated how much I relied on the subtleties of language to present myself and my personality. Specifically, how I use humour to make friends, and how I can unconsciously use tone to get across the subtleties of my meanings. I felt unfunny, unintelligent and personality-less in French. Even as my comprehension improved, I was still not feeling like me. This was a challenge I was unprepared for, but so important now in my appreciation of anyone I meet in Scotland who Is speaking English as an additional language. Now, I feel the key piece of advice I can give to anyone else venturing abroad to speak a second language is to prepare to feel unprepared. After January time I began to use different ways to get across meanings and make connections with people.
I was hugely lucky with my school. Being placed in a primary school was far more challenging on my French, but I had amazingly supportive teachers who were patient with my language development. As the English level in the school was very poor, this meant I wanted to make English fun and relevant to their lives. Throughout the year we created our own “Highland games”, drama pieces, baking and parties. The children loved learning about my home, family and country. English lessons were always about more than just the language, they were about making connections and thinking beyond the small perspective of the village. For the children in Labeuvrière, many had never been abroad, or left the region. (This was particularly eye opening to me as the Belgian border was less than 30 minutes away). The children’s exposure to a language assistant massively helped their awareness of what it means to live abroad, and what it means to make deeper, more worldly connections beyond the constraints of monolingualism. This extends their world view and what language learning can do for them from a cultural, lifelong perspective.
I truly think it that the Scottish education system is missing a great opportunity for children to develop their deeper cultural knowledge and understanding. This is why – when it is not possible to have language assistants from abroad – projects such as LLGT are so successful. A class being able to follow an assistant and their experiences is a means of getting across these important ideas. With Doune Primary School, I was able to write to them first hand showing my experiences visiting in person the WW1 trenches, the Vimy ridge. I was able to show them the photos I took on my tours around the Belgian Christmas markets. Perhaps, most interesting was when the children were able to see the comparisons between the hugely different French schools and resources. Once I had returned to Doune Primary, we debated and discussed together the similarities and differences between the education systems.
“Language and culture are the frameworks through which humans experience, communicate, and understand reality”.
A connection with a language assistant is a means of acknowledging the challenges which come from learning a second language and recognising cultural differences. However, crucially, it also acts as an opportunity to explore the many positives and life-changing impacts of travel, adventure and making greater human connections. It really is linking what we have in common, to a better, global way of thinking. Everyone can benefit from this.’
Many, many thanks to Laura for taking the time to send us this blog post and we look forward to welcoming you back to Stirling in the Autumn.