It’s graduation week at Stirling and, from all of French at Stirling, hearty congratulations and good wishes to all our students! More to follow soon but, for just now, congratulations and we wish all of you all the very best for the future.
And a special mention to today’s honorary graduate, Lilian Thuram, who was recognised for his contribution to football and for his commitment to education against racism.
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!
Many of the articles on this blog over the past months and years have given an overview of what our undergraduate students go on to do after graduation and we’re hoping to continue that particular stream of posts in the weeks ahead. For just now, though, a slightly different perspective, in the shape of this article from Martin who completed his PhD with us, under the supervision of Bill Marshall and Cristina Johnston, a few years ago now, working on language and French and Francophone rap:
‘Since the end of my PhD in June 2016, I have focused primarily on teaching and publishing my PhD research. Although my main area of study was French at university, I started working full-time as a Dutch and English teacher in a Belgian secondary school in September 2016 because of the shortage of such teachers. My Bachelor’s degree in Translation and Interpreting combined with my time spent in Flanders (for my Master’s degree) and Scotland made me a very sought-after candidate for such vacancies.
Of course, I would have preferred to teach French right away, ideally in a high school or a university (both types of higher education in Belgium), but there are many French teachers on the job market. Even with a PhD, it is hard to stand out when applying for a vacancy. This was made even more complicated by the introduction of a new law regulating the degrees needed to teach in secondary schools. Since September 2016, it has become mandatory to possess a teaching degree from a university (called agrégation). Without this degree, it is hard to find a teaching position, you get paid less, anyone with a teaching degree, even fresh out of university, will be prioritised over you regardless of your years of service, and it is impossible (actually illegal) to get a permanent contract.
As I had been made aware of this upcoming legislative change, I enrolled in a French teaching degree at the Université catholique de Louvain in September 2016, right after my PhD. This course normally takes one year to complete, but I took it over two years while working full-time. It is only worth 30 credits on paper but takes a lot of time and effort and represents many more credits in practice. In fact, if you take it within a Master’s degree, you are allowed to take a 6-credit ‘empty course’ as compensation because they do realise that it would be too hard otherwise. Unfortunately, they do not offer such a privilege to people who only follow the teaching part of the degree. Things were made even more difficult by my father’s passing away in October 2016. Despite all of this, I somehow managed to finish the degree with the highest distinction (18/20 average) while having a second daughter and publishing 5 articles based on chapters from my thesis. My hair was thinning before and now I am completely bald… Go figure!
This new degree has created opportunities for me. It allowed me to start working part-time as a French teacher in a secondary school last September while continuing to teach English to ‘immersion’ classes (with students who have certain courses in English despite being in a French-speaking school). Next school year, I am very likely to work as a French teacher full-time. My goal is to do this for a few years and to eventually find a more fulfilling position in a Belgian high school or maybe university if I get the right opportunity. A big reform is about to take place with regards to teaching degrees, which means that high schools and universities will be looking for new teachers. The director of the French teaching degree at the Université catholique de Louvain told me that he will get in touch with me then, as I impressed him during my studies. I’ve had interviews with other high school directors who told me that my profile would be very interesting then. I do enjoy teaching in secondary schools, but students can be unruly and the school programs uninspiring at times. Furthermore, it does not make long-term sense, in my opinion, as my PhD is not valued at all (nor even taken into consideration).
In any case, we will see what the future has in store for me! I will make sure to let the University of Stirling know. In the meantime, you can read some of my publications on non-standard vocabulary in Francophone rap if you want to: in French here, and in English here, here, here and here!’
Many, many thanks to Martin for having found the time among so many other commitments to write this blog post for us and we look forward to hearing how things work out in the next academic year, and send you our best wishes!
And what better way to round off today’s blog catch-up than with a lovely post by our former student Stephanie who graduated a few years back in French and Spanish:
‘It’s been nearly three years since I graduated from the University of Stirling. I remember the stress of finding work and final exams looming. If only someone had told me to stop worrying and just enjoy spending time with friends on the beautiful campus.
When I left Stirling, I spent an incredible few months working as an English Language Assistant with the British Council just outside of Paris. Aedín, one of my lecturers, had told me “Take these fantastic opportunities while you’re young- they didn’t exist when I was in University!” Teaching with the British Council was indeed fantastic, and having not taken a placement during my studies, it was amazing to be able to go when I finished. Whilst I was there, I did some translation for the school where I worked, and this led to me doing a Master’s in translation and interpreting – this time at the University of Surrey. I loved this course, and although it was challenging, I would recommend studying translation and interpreting to anyone who has done a language degree, because these are transferable skills which can take you anywhere!
Other students from my year in Stirling have gone on to teach abroad, gained PGCEs, travelled the world as Flight Attendants, worked as translators and much more. Learning languages can open many doors, but even if you choose a career where you don’t use them directly, they will continue to be invaluable when travelling and meeting new people.’
Many thanks, indeed, to Stephanie for sending us this post and we wish you all the very best for the future – keep us posted on where life takes you!
As ever, with the end of the academic year, we like to get a sense of what plans our finalists have for life after graduation at the end of June – it’s becoming something of a tradition. And, as ever, those plans are diverse and varied so, with many, many thanks to all those who contributed (and to those who have promised additions to this post as and when their final assessments are over…), here’s a taste of what lies ahead for them:
Greig, who has been studying for a BA Hons in French with us, has been saving to go travelling over the past year with the intention of going to south-east Asia at some point in the near future for 6 months to a year. Over the summer he’ll be ‘working for a wealth-management company (Succession) doing data-entry and reviews just to help add to my travel-funds and then after summer I intend on applying to work as a chalet host in the Alps in France for a ski-season. After that I hope to have saved up enough money to begin my travels and, as cliché-d as it sounds, do a bit of soul-searching and find out what I want to do with my life.’
Like Greig, Samantha, who will be graduating in French and Spanish, is ultimately very much hoping to become a translator. However, she hopes to spend ‘at least a year saving up for a backpacking trip around Europe in Spring-Summer 2020 before either starting a Masters in French translation or doing a translation internship and eventually gaining enough experience to become a freelance translator in French, but also maybe in Spanish and Italian. I’m not sure when I’ll officially have a career as a translator but it’s definitely my end goal and has been my dream since I was 6 years old.’
Paloma is on our International Management and Intercultural Studies programme that we run in conjunction with the Ecole de Management in Strasbourg and, having completed her Stirling modules and a semester of Study Abroad in Rabat, she’s off to Alsace in the Autumn for the Master Grande Ecole. As she says ‘Back in 2017, I had the chance to take part in a Summer School in Strasbourg, and I fell in love with the city. After finishing up my bachelors in Stirling (where did time go?), I am excited to go back and study a masters at EM Strasbourg starting in September. I am looking forward to being at the heart of Europe in a buzzing, historic, and multilingual city filled with European institutions.’
Another of our International Management and Intercultural Studies students, Annika, has just started a Summer-long network and research internship with the UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) based in Bonn, with a pretty fantastic view from her office windows. Core to her role will be to assist in the planning and preparation phase of the 2019 UNEVOC TVET Leadership Programme in Bonn later this year, including logistical support, preparation of communication, PR and programme materials. Thanks to her language skills, she’s also been asked to work with the Communications and Capacity Building Team there. And then in September, she’ll be hopping over the border to Strasbourg to start her MGE year.
As for Alex, who has been studying French and Maths at Stirling, as he says: ‘Like many 4th year students, I am yet to decide what field of work I’d like to go into. Despite this, I have applied for the British Council placement to become an English Language Assistant in France for roughly 8 months. This opportunity will give me good experience in teaching, especially if I decide to become a teacher, whilst further improving my level of French. I have received confirmation that I am likely to get a place and am awaiting allocation of my destined region, which I should know by the end of June.’
Among the plans of other finalists are more intentions to travel far and wide, as well as offers for Master’s programmes in everything from International Political Economy to Peace Studies. To all our finalists from this year, we send our very best wishes and look forward to learning where life will take you – keep in touch!
One of the combinations that hasn’t featured as often here is Psychology with a European Language, a programme that enables students to combine modules in Psychology with modules in either French or Spanish, so it was particularly good to hear from one of our recent graduates, Luisa, who completed precisely this programme a few years back:
‘After graduating, I went on to do an MSc in Health Psychology at Stirling, as I was torn between what to continue with. I’d say the biggest overlap between the two areas (French and Psychology) was that I used a psychological approach called Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis for my French dissertation and it was one of my highest grades that year. It was the first time I had combined the two subjects but it worked well. I also had to write a Psychology dissertation that was due about a week after the French one: definitely a good test of time management and pressure having to write both at the same time.
I have taken a year to work in retail and I am now applying for jobs related to Psychology. However, I have also looked into jobs relating to French, as I had been told by a fellow 2016 French graduate that an organisation in Stirling was advertising translation jobs. I have always enjoyed the prospect of having more options because of having a joint degree. I still try and use French whenever I can and I hope to re-integrate it into my life in the near future.’
Many thanks to Luisa for sending us this blog post and we wish you all the best with the job applications, whichever route they take you down.