Tag: Quality of Life

Support for the British Council

Not only was that last blog post from Louise well-timed because it made for a great start to the month but its timing was also particularly good because it coincides with a campaign in support of the work of the British Council and gives us an opportunity to lend our support to that campaign.

And, for a change, I’m going to write this one in my own voice (Cristina Johnston, that is, with some help from colleagues and links to other posts along the way!). Every year, at Stirling, both in French and in Spanish we encourage as many of our students as possible to apply for British Council English Language Assistantships, whether between the end of the 2nd year and their return into 3rd year or as finalists thinking about opportunities that are open to them after graduation. Some of our students apply for assistantships because they are studying French and/or Spanish with Education and the ELA is a great way to fulfil the language residence requirement for school-level language teaching. However, many other students also apply, across a range of subject backgrounds and combinations and often without any specific intention of going into teaching after they graduate. Rather, for many of the students, this is a paid opportunity to spend time living and working in another country, in another language environment and they seize the opportunity to travel, meet new people and adapt to new environments.

As with any job – and we do always remind the students that they are in paid employment, with the responsibilities that brings, and that the application process is not a foregone conclusion – unfortunately not everyone has an overwhelmingly positive experience and we try to support students through any difficulties as far as possible. However, in many, many instances, a year as an ELA becomes a key turning point in a student’s life, whether in terms of their career plans or in their personal lives. They may not always notice the changes but, when they come back and rejoin us for their Year 3 and 4 classes, we notice the differences in them, in their confidence, in their openness, not to mention the excitement and enthusiasm with which they recount their year when they come back to Stirling. And the same goes for the finalists who undertake ELAs after they leave Stirling.

For many of us teaching in French at Stirling, the enthusiasm is not only great to see in our students but it also serves as a reminder to us of our own experiences of English Language Assistantships, whether as something we’ve undertaken ourselves or as we remember assistants in our own schools. My own year as an ELA came in 1995-96 when I was lucky enough to get an assistantship at the Lycée Marie Curie in Strasbourg. I’d spent time living in France before and was lucky enough to have travelled and spent time elsewhere in Europe, too, but I didn’t know Strasbourg or Alsace, other than via a very short school trip years before. When I think back, lots of things stand out. I remember nervously turning up in the staffroom on my first day, opening my little locker and finding that a colleague-to-be had left me a jar of home-made jam as a welcome present. I remember some truly awful conversation sessions I tried to deliver with no real sense of how on earth to get the pupils to actually talk to me and then the sense of satisfaction, as the weeks progressed, at kind of figuring it out. I remember my flat there – a tiny studio right, just outside the old town, opposite a fantastic pâtisserie.

Mainly, though, what stands out is one particular group of pupils who were in terminale and doing the European Bac, with extra English classes during the week, as well as History and Geography lessons in English. I spent more time in class with them than any other group and was invited to accompany them on a school trip to Northern Ireland, among other things, and have very positive memories of their enthusiasm for languages and for learning which, in turn, I associate with the opportunities offered via the British Council assistantship scheme.

Other colleagues at Stirling have similarly positive experiences and memories. Hannah Grayson, for example, first came across British Council assistants in 6th form: ‘I benefitted from 1:1 sessions with both a French and German language assistant at my school. Our German language assistant was so enthusiastic that she persuaded me to enter a British Council competition, producing a leaflet all about the benefits of the language assistantship programme. We ended up winning and I was awarded my certificate at the top of Canada Square in Canary Wharf by none other than Sir Trevor McDonald! 

After those dizzying heights, my own language assistantship took me to Laval in Mayenne for 9 months of teaching in two collèges. I had wanted to be in Montpellier teaching lycée but it turned out to be one of the best years of my life. I lived with people from all around the world, travelled across France, and got the bug for teaching that still excites me over a decade later. When on my first day, the girl at the front of the class queue looked at me disdainfully and said, “I (h)ate English,” my naïve optimism was somewhat crushed, but the year turned out to be a wonderful experience and I am still in touch with the friends I made that year.’

Nina Parish’s experience also spans her own school days and time as an assistant while at University: ‘At school, we were lucky to have French and German assistants – I can remember the German assistant in particular being so helpful when we were studying for A-level. Having access to someone closer to our age was just brilliant.

I was an English assistant on my year abroad in Marseille – I think it has to be the best year of my life – still now – many years later! I worked in two collèges (and lived free of charge in one) and the English teachers were so welcoming – they really made me feel part of the team. I returned to Provence once I graduated studying for a Maîtrise and DEA at the university in Aix-en-Provence. It’s here in an Art History class that I discovered Henri Michaux – and the rest is history!’

This year has, of course, been more challenging than most for our students who were away as assistants when Covid-19 hit but, whether as students or staff, we are clear about the importance of the benefits that can come thanks to English Language Assistantships, in particular, but also more widely in terms of the work carried out by the British Council. If you want to find out more about the campaign of support, please do read the information available on the UCML’s website here, and add your voice to the statements of support.

And if you want to read about our students’ and graduates’ experiences of British Council assistantships, there are loads of examples on the blog but you could start here or here or here!

2020 French Finalists and their plans

Following on from Mira’s reflections on life as a Public Service Interpreter, the second of today’s blog posts give us our traditional annual opportunity to get a sense of the hopes and plans of this year’s French at Stirling finalists. To say it has been a difficult few months for them would be a tremendous understatement but, first, like the French at Stirling teaching team, they made the rapid adjustment from classes on campus to online learning. And now, despite the extremely challenging backdrop, many of them have taken the time to reply to a request for reflections on their plans for life after graduation.

We’ve been putting a similar post together for a few years now (see 2019’s here, 2018’s here…) and we were all a little anxious about asking the same questions in the current circumstances but, having spent the past few days reading through the replies, looking at the photos of their travels, reading the good wishes that also came in their messages, I can honestly say this has been an unexpectedly uplifting experience. So, with no further ado, and in no particular order, here goes:

2020 May Finalists Mairi Eiffel TowerMairi, who will be graduating with a BA Hons in French and Spanish, is planning to embark on postgraduate study next year, either with an MSc in Gender Studies at the University of Strathclyde or at the University of Stirling: ‘When I started 4th year I thought I would have been going into a graduate job after I finished my degree but due to the impact of Covid-19, it has been really difficult to find work. I have always wanted to do a postgrad in Gender Studies but I had thought it would be a few years down the line after some time in the working world. But things rarely happen in the order we expect them to. Here’s to the future and whatever it brings.’

Eilidh, who has just completed a BA Hons in International Management with European Languages and Society, attended a 2-day assessment centre in London back in February, following which: ‘I was successful in my application for the commercial, sales and management graduate programme for Bakkavor. The company is an international food manufacturer, supplying meals, desserts and snacks to all major retailers in the UK and overseas. The programme lasts for 2 years, where I will be promoted to a manager after the programme is completed. Despite the job not being directly related to French, I fully intend keeping up with the language, and encouraging the company to work with a French bakery company so I can get back to France!’

2020 May Finalists Kirstie I

As for Martina, who has completed a BA Hons in French and Spanish, ‘as a final year student during the Coronavirus pandemic, I find myself ending my undergraduate studies in some of the most unexpected circumstances in Stirling University’s history. I started my Joint Honours in French and Spanish in 2015 and spent a gap year between the second and third year of my degree working as an English Language Assistant with the British Council in a small ski town called Briançon, in the French Alps. After this incredible experience I was also fortunate enough to spend a semester living in Seville, Spain. Both these experiences greatly helped me develop my proficiency in these languages as well as my confidence overall.

2020 May Finalists Martina Skiing BriançonAs I have been learning Spanish for almost 11 years, I have always felt very passionate about this language and, as such, I decided to apply for a place on the Masters by Research in Hispanic Studies course at the University of Edinburgh. After producing two pieces of research work at undergraduate level, I am now hoping to develop my skills and hope to be accepted on this course to work on the topic of Latin American and Caribbean feminisms. I have also applied to their prestigious Literatures, Languages and Cultures Masters Scholarship, awarded to 4 outstanding students undertaking a Masters Programme within this division. I also applied for a second scholarship, the Muriel Smith Scholarship. I am now waiting for an update on these applications, but I am very hopeful for what the future holds for me! While I may not have ended my undergraduate studies the same way previous students have, I still had an enjoyable, albeit stressful, year and I am very proud of everything I have accomplished.’

2020 May Finalists Caitlin Strasbourg

Stephanie, another soon-to-be BA Hons French and Spanish graduate, is also clear that Covid-19 is having an impact on her plans but in a different way: ‘As is the case for a lot of people, my plans are in a sort of limbo at the moment. I have accepted a position, though, with the JET Programme as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Japan. The scheduled departure date is in September, but obviously I’m not sure if it’ll actually go ahead as planned, and what will happen if it can’t go ahead as planned… Despite the uncertainty, I am excited about the prospect of living and working abroad for a while. The JET Programme allows me to have that break from studying that I want whilst also affording me the opportunity to discover a new country and learn a new language.  As far as longer term goals go, I am looking into getting into teaching. Right now, I’m leaning towards primary teaching but I’m not yet ruling out secondary. The ALT position will give me some valuable experience in a classroom which is something that I’m lacking at the moment.’

Like Stephanie, Laura, who has just finished her BA Hons in English Studies and French, also has travel plans for the coming year: ‘My plans for September are going to Finland for a Master’s degree. I have received three offers from three Finnish universities of Masters’ programmes in educational sciences based on teaching languages as a foreign language. I have not chosen yet which one I will specifically choose but I am sure I will spend my next two years in Finland.’

2020 May Finalists Evelyn La Piscine RoubaixIn some cases, the impact of the current situation is such that original plans are having to be rethought as is the case for Evelyn who is graduating with Single Honours French: ‘I don’t actually have any post-graduation plans as yet. Coronavirus has thrown a bit of a spanner in my job hunting as well as my hopes of getting some work experience this summer. I am hoping to go into publishing or copyediting but unfortunately, work experience opportunities are currently fairly thin on the ground at the moment. As such, I am using this time to brush up on skills that will come in handy when looking for a job in this sector. I have also set up a blog to review the books that I am reading during lockdown, so I’m throwing myself into that at the moment as well as keeping the job search active!’

2020 May Finalists Evelyn Vieille Bourse Lille

Another of our Single Honours French finalists, Rhiannon, finds herself in a similar position: ‘My final year didn’t quite go as I had planned, and I feel like I’ve not really had the chance to say goodbye to my time at Stirling University. However, I have had some of the most amazing times there and met some of my best friends. I plan to go to university much closer to home in Glasgow to do a post-grad but I’m still a bit unsure what I want to do. I’m a bit undecided between doing translation (which is what I’ve always originally wanted to do) or doing something completely different. I’m currently interested in doing Gender Studies at Strathclyde but again I am still quite undecided. I’m also extremely interested in doing something related to history or museum-related as I love learning all about the past.  The future is so undecided and scary right now so I am using these months of lockdown to have a really hard think about where it is I would like to go.’

2020 May Finalists Caitlin ReimsAs for Caitlin: ‘After four years studying BA Hons in French and Spanish, I made the decision this year to apply for PGDE primary teaching in order to pursue a career as a primary teacher. I have just recently accepted my place at the University of Aberdeen on this course. This career is what I have always wanted to do, and so I am delighted and excited to have been offered a place. I am also looking forward to moving to and discovering both a new city and a new university. The experience I obtained working as an English Language Assistant in France between my 2nd and 3rd year at University helped me to realise that this was what I wanted to do.’

The teaching route takes many forms and, like Caitlin and Stephanie, other finalists are also planning a year (and possibly more) than involves language teaching in different forms and different places. For Lily, who completed her BA Hons in English Studies and French with us: ‘My plan for the coming year – if all returns to some semblance of normal – is to work in Spain as an English Language Assistant with the British Council so that I can get my Spanish up to a similar level of fluency as my French. Still figuring out what comes after that!’

2020 May Finalists Caitlin View from Sedan Castle

Jack, who is graduating with a BA Hons in French with Spanish and Education, is also taking a teaching-related route in the first instance: ‘Everything changed very quickly as the countdown to graduation approached. Lockdown for me, like everyone else, changed all my plans and added to the uncertainty of what I would do once I finished my degree. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, it has been really nice spending time with my family, going on a daily bike run and having time to read for pleasure regularly. In the spirit of the times we live in, I begin work next week teaching Chinese children English online. I have already started my ESL training and it’s already evident that my degree is coming in handy.

I’m still looking for something more permanent starting later in the year, and I’ve applied for many different jobs so fingers crossed. It’s proving particularly challenging this year as the jobs market has suffered greatly. Living in Dumfries and Galloway where there are few job opportunities at the best of times I’m looking further afield, so who knows where I’ll end up.’

2020 May Finalists Kirstie II BilbaoAnd Kirstie, a BA Hons French and Spanish finalist, is planning to move to Belgium and ‘Brussels specifically. I’m going to teach English, either as a language assistant with the British Council or with another language school, and I’ll also to continue to work on my travel blog. Brussels is a great hub in Europe and I plan to do a lot of travelling around the continent in the coming years!’

Last but not least for the moment, Jack, who has also completed a BA Hons in French and Spanish, reflects that: ‘Near-future planning has become more difficult amidst the current uncertainty in the world, but I am now looking to focus on my backpack business, Cancha, as well as advancing my tennis career. This does not come without challenges. Lockdown has hindered my tennis training routine for quite some time now, and the fact that national borders continue to close and flights are sparse paints a bleak picture for the professional sport scene. However, I am confident that the world will return to normal and, when it does, I want to make sure I am as prepared as possible to take full advantage of this. The same goes for Cancha: buying backpacks for travel and sports is almost certainly not on people’s minds at the moment, but I am using this ‘down-time’ to make more subtle changes in the company, such as refining our message, and the ways in which our company can both endure this episode whilst also giving back to the community and the environment.

Although many graduate students at Stirling are unsure of their next steps, especially during this world crisis (which has stopped almost everyone in their tracks), there are ways in which each one of us can improve and make progress in our ambitions, albeit in an untraditional way.’

We’re always grateful to our finalists for sharing their plans and hopes with us as they reach the end of their degrees but this year, it would be fair to say that we are particularly appreciative of the thoughtful, helpful and positive responses. Many, many thanks to you all, not to mention congratulations on having reached the end of your degrees! And, of course, we wish you all the very, very best for the months and years ahead and hope that you will keep in touch with us in the future.

(And, as ever, if you’re a French at Stirling finalist reading this and wanting to add your contribution, please do just send me an email (cristina.johnston@stir.ac.uk) and I will very happily update the post!)

Unlocking future chapters

And, as promised, following Artie’s blog post, it’s over to Julian who graduated a few years ago in French and Law and whose career so far has involved a good deal of travel which gives us a great excuse to include some pictures…:

2020 Apr Julian San Diego‘When I moved to Germany, almost four years ago I didn’t really have a plan. After years of moving countries (from Scotland, to studying abroad in Vancouver and Paris), coming “home” felt necessary, provided, I didn’t know what would follow. All I knew was what I had to offer, I had the keys, I just had to find the right door.

I used to take growing up trilingual for granted and it wasn’t until I came to Stirling to study French, that I really began to fathom the true power of language. That in this cosmopolitan world, the power to understand and be understood is the greatest currency that counts. And by the end of my studies in Stirling, I felt by all means wealthy.

2020 Apr Julian Great Wall of China

When the time came to pick a career, like many graduates, I was overwhelmed. I felt myself stumped by the idea of finding a job that not only fulfilled me, but where I could also hone the language skill-set acquired from my Stirling degree. In Munich, after much pondering, I found the perfect path at the time: I became a flight attendant.

2020 Apr Julian Cape TownAfter studying, this has been the most rewarding decision I’ve made. I’ve spent three years now jet setting around the globe, seeing and exploring the world in a way that would have never been possible without my language skills acquired during my time at Stirling. And although I am beginning to feel that it is time to diversify and seek a career change, these past three years have felt like hitting the jackpot because I was able to unlock life experiences I never could have imagined.

I started writing this post just before it became evident what dimensions the Covid-19 outbreak would take and the effect this might have on our lives, health and possibly even careers. My time in the skies could be coming to a quicker end than I ever wished or expected. Like many, I am now confined to my flat, hoping that we somehow overcome this pandemic. I wish everyone from the French department, past and present, all the best and good health in these unsettling times. I am sure that our studies at Stirling will keep unlocking future chapters in our lives!’

Many, many thanks to Julian for this great update – we really hope that everything falls into place swiftly and positively and, in the meantime, stay well and stay safe!

A journey into the wonders of French

Two blog posts for the price of one today! Both the authors – Artie first, then Julian – are very much caught up in the current Covid-context so there are some thoughts here on the immediate impacts that is having on the lives of recent(-ish) Languages graduates. However, both have also been kind enough to reflect on their lives and career paths since graduation, with plenty of food for thought for anyone reading this and wondering where a degree involving a language might lead them… First, it’s Artie’s turn:

‘My journey into the wonders (and confusions at the many same-sound endings) of French language learning began with my studies at the University of Stirling in September 2012 with a degree in French and Spanish. I began the degree with a beginner’s knowledge of French (and by beginner’s, I mean absolutely zero French know-how, I still remember learning the phrase “Je suis de Doncaster” in one of my first classes…).

By graduation in 2016 I had vastly improved my knowledge of both French language and culture, with some of my French writing assessments equalling, and even surpassing my Spanish writing. I graduated with a First-Class honour’s degree and this became the foundation which I have since used to explore multiple career avenues.

Through the University of Stirling, I was able to complete a year as an English Language Assistant with the British Council in Tenerife upon graduating. I had two potential career paths I was interested in following, teaching or translation, and this allowed me the opportunity to trial run one. My professors at the University of Stirling also helped me apply for a scholarship to fund a research project while working with the British Council, an opportunity I surely wouldn’t have had otherwise. While I enjoyed my time immensely as an English Language Assistant and was offered to stay a further year, I ultimately decided to return to academia, and began a Masters in Translation Studies at the University of Glasgow.

I continued with my original language pair, French and Spanish, while attending advanced translation and translation theory classes. Here, I was able to build on practices already learned in my Undergraduate course adding further translation theory, fully confident, not only in my ability to state where I’m from, but also pay attention to nuances within the French language, differences between French and English writing styles, becoming ever more confident in my own writing abilities and stylistic choices as a translator.

After completing my Master’s in Translation Studies at the University of Glasgow, I started work as a Videogames Localisation Quality Assurance Tester, a really rather long title for what I actually did – play video games and make sure translations are error free and feel made for the target audience. It has been an excellent graduate role where I mainly work with likeminded people of a similar age group, in a fairly relaxed multicultural office environment with plenty of opportunities to practice my speaking skills (not that I ever feel like I do this enough). After beginning work as a Tester, I then combined my testing experience with my background in teaching and began training any new starts that came into the company. Following on from this, I moved onto Project Coordinating where I began coordinating the testers, as opposed to directly testing the videogames myself. Through this role, I further developed managerial, timekeeping, organisational and communication skills – all of which are highly coveted in the world of translation where Project Coordinators are always needed.

And so, we have arrived my present situation! I, like most everyone else, am currently at home, self-isolating, faced with the current global circumstances but, oddly enough, it is a time when we are all most connected, checking in with each other, doing those little things that have been neglected on our to-do list (like… say… writing an article for a blog) and where language skills are just as important as ever. Most recently I had the opportunity to translate a UN document from French into English as a volunteer while staying at home, interview for a potential role in Bordeaux, and I’m using this time to attempt to build up a freelance client base in the hopes of maybe, hopefully (fingers and toes crossed!) being able to translate as a Freelancer by the end of the year. And let’s not forget the most taxing at home activity of all – watching an abundance of French films and series as a vital means of continuing my exposure to the language, it’s a hard job but someone has to do it!

I do hope everyone is keeping safe in these tricky times and remember enjoy your time at the University of Stirling while you can, it’ll be over before you know it!’

Many, many thanks to Artie for taking the time to send us this fantastic blog post – I, for one, have learned things about the role of translation in gaming that I certainly didn’t know before! We hope all goes well with the client-base-building and we look forward to more updates in the future. In the meantime, stay well and stay safe.

Don’t forget about transferable skills!

As promised, whenever possible, the French at Stirling blog will continue posting articles, by current and former students, as well as by members of the French at Stirling team, over the coming weeks and months. And so it’s great to have received a lovely update from Charlotte, who graduated a couple of years ago in French and Journalism Studies:

2020 Mar Charlotte Blog‘Since graduating back in 2017, I have gone back and forth in my mind, probably a million times, about what I wanted to do once university was over. I started out working as a Project Manager for a translation company in London. This was a great experience, especially as a fresh new graduate who didn’t have a true understanding of what a 9 – 5 desk job entailed. I feel as if this place gave me the best possible start to working life – I had responsibility and the job pushed me into making some really tough decisions quite early on in my career. The skills I picked up from my time there have been invaluable.

However, after a year and a half, I decided that the world of translation was not for me. Although, I really do recommend a job in translation Project Management, especially for languages students who may think that teaching is not for them. During my time in this role I was also given the opportunity to be a Quality Manager (proofreading and editing translations from French into English), further improving my French language skills. So, this is definitely a career worth looking into as a languages graduate. As a MFL student, it can be difficult to know where to turn once university is over. Leaving translation project management behind was a daunting prospect, but I knew that a career change was needed – I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next.

Having spoken to friends who also studied languages, it is easy to forget all the transferable skills which we acquire through our studies – other than being able to speak another language. However, I soon realised that the skills I had developed during my time studying French at University of Stirling had prepared me for a great variety of job roles and positions. I now work in a completely different sector – working as a Communications Executive for a PR agency whose clients are in the hospitality industry, working for some really cool brands, bars, pubs and stores. Like myself, many of my colleagues have not studied PR, however, their love for communication and words has somehow brought them to where they are.

I believe that it is important to realise that a degree in languages can take you anywhere. It can help you land a variety of different job roles, and in my case, it helped me change career. Good luck to all past, present and future students – I hope all you find happiness in your careers and that the skills you learn from studying languages helps you get there!’

Many thanks to Charlotte for sending through this article. We wish you all the very best in your new career and look forward to future updates. And to Charlotte, and all our blog readers and visitors, stay safe and stay well.

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!

‘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!).

Life as a French at Stirling graduate: Translation and walking tours of Bordeaux

A little over a year ago, the 2017 French at Stirling graduates and staff were enjoying a celebratory drink and speculating about plans for life after graduation. At that point, Kitti, who graduated in French and Global Cinema, wasn’t quite sure where life would take her, other than towards France. And it turns out she was right:

‘I’m doing great, currently living in Bordeaux with my boyfriend and I work as a tour guide in English and Hungarian, and soon in French too. They want to train me because they think my French is good enough – I hope I do as well as they expect me to! We do walking tours around the city as well as different wine and food tasting tours. I love my job. I have a lot of fun working and I meet a lot of interesting people.

We are planning to stay in Bordeaux until the end of September for sure, then we are thinking of moving to Melbourne for the winter (well, to avoid the winter…), but we are not sure, we will see how things work out. For now, I’m working hard on my French and have made a lot of French friends. Luckily, everyone is very nice in Bordeaux and the city itself is stunning. If you ever visit let me know and I’ll take you on my tours for free!! So, for now I’m working on my French and I’m hoping to work with translators after the summer, either in an office or shadow and freelancer, because this is the field where I’d like to work and I have experience with interpreting (thanks to a job French at Stirling helped me find while still a student which provided me with jobs for a full year before I moved away to France) but I need more experience with translation. After that, I would like to set up my own business and work for myself.’

Many, many thanks to Kitti for the great blog post (and the invitation to a free tour of Bordeaux…) and we look forward to following your travels and your career over the months and years ahead.

Final year: ‘A mix of hard work, excitement and nostalgia’

The countdown to graduation (on Thursday for most of our students…) has started so it’s something of a scramble to get life-after-graduation posts up on the blog in time but a fun scramble! This time, it’s one of this year’s finalists, Alex who is about to graduate in International Politics and Modern Languages and who has sent a post reflecting, as he puts it, on the ‘past-future questions’ that arise as you reach the end of your studies:

2018 Alex Sorlei Pizza Maker June18‘What will you do next? That’s the million-dollar question that you get from friends, family and university professors. But for me the question to ask a student who has just finished his four years of study is a different one. My question for me would be: how were these four years for you?

Most of them would start by saying that the first year is the most exciting one because you meet lots of people from all around the world. A new world of opportunity and knowledge opens up for you and you learn things you would have never thought you would. Most of them will remember about “international dinners” where they would have twelve or more different nationalities who got together and each cooked a typical dish from their country. Some will remember signing up for all these sports clubs and societies and unfortunately not having time to attend activities for all of them. They will remember how hard it was to choose one over another.

Then they will remember how university life became something normal and how Freshers’ week was a time when the campus was off limits. Too crowded, too many Freshers. They will remember the dozen CVs they handed in and their first job as a waiter, cleaner or other roles.

After the first two years they will tell you that from the third year onwards studies will take over your social life. No more clubbing, limited sport, junk food and long nights in the library. Those who go on Erasmus will tell you that going abroad was their best ever experience. Some will say the contrary.

About the fourth year they will tell you that it’s a mix of hard work, excitement and nostalgia. All happening at the same time. You will reflect back to your first year and you will realise how much you have achieved and how mature you have become in so little time.

When you ask them what will they do next many will not know the answer straight away. For me the answer is that during my four years of university I managed to learn many things that will help me with my future plans. It’s not necessarily about the new language that I learned nor how international organisations work, but how to treat people, talk to people and, most importantly, to respect people. That will help me in my mission to bring Neapolitan pizza to as many people as I can and to change the view of those who consider pizza unhealthy and greasy.

I am studying to become a professional pizza chef as I want to be able to have the knowledge to teach as many people as I can to make their own pizza at home. I want to learn more about the ingredients, nutrition and the food industry in general. I believe this will be a very interesting and important matter in the future as more and more people realise the importance of good alimentation. Food waste is also very interesting and something that needs more focus on.

2018 Alex Sorlei Pizza Maker II June18After the Stirling opening, I’ve attracted lots of interest from investors and I am now opening a second location in Edinburgh. After this new opening I would like to open other two locations (still investor interest) but not more than that. I want to keep Napizza at four and not more locations. I don’t want to become a “monster business” like the big chains. I believe you should work for a standard of life where you can fully enjoy it. If you work too much you will get older and older and all you time will fade away. We live now, and we need to enjoy our life now, not in ten or fifteen years when who knows if we will still be able to enjoy it or not.

I am also building a three-wheel van with an oven on the back in order to attend events, shows or just parties. Moreover, I want Napizza to become socially responsible and I am always looking for charities to support and create events that will help the community that Napizza is in. I am also planning to create some urban gardens and grow vegetables either for Napizza or personal use. Finally, I hope I will be able to find the time and do some consulting for pizzerias as this is something that I like doing more and more every day.

My philosophy at the moment is to work 20% of my time and 80% to plan and enjoy life. I am all about making mistakes and learning from them but the mistake that I am afraid to make is to work for something that will never come. I live now, therefore I try to enjoy these moments NOW and not later.

For the future I hope to live by the 20/80% rule and enjoy more my moments of life.’

Many thanks to Alex for the great blog post and we wish you all the best for the future, both in terms of your business plans and the 20/80 rule!