Tag: Sciences Po

A Semester in Paris: An impossible adventure that really happened

In just under a fortnight, our Autumn semester begins and we’ll once again be welcoming a new intake of Year 1 students and welcoming back all our returning students. Among the latter will be our 2018-19 finalists most of whom have just spent a semester on Study Abroad, like Stefano who studies International Politics and French and who has sent us this blog post about his semester in Paris:

2018 Intropido Pic I‘Looking back at the last six months feels already like waking up from an incredible, fast-paced, marvellous dream, recalling all the things that happened, hanging onto each moment, not to forget a single memory of what still seems like an impossible adventure.

Yet it has been possible. And yes, it did really happen!

I remember the excitement of getting accepted into SciencesPo Paris, one of the world’s leading universities for political science and international relations, as well as the thrill of living for one semester in the Ville Lumière. When I left for Paris I could not expect how great this period abroad would be. So, let me now tell you some of the highlights of studying at this institution at the very heart of France.

First things first. Whenever going to a new study destination, collecting as much information as possible represents a vital part of process, especially in terms of housing and living arrangements; luckily for language students at Stirling, the French and Spanish Departments organise an informal get-together each year for all those past-present-and-future cohorts of students involved in the compulsory semester in a French- or Spanish-speaking country with the aim of making new friends and connections with those who are going, or have just been, to the same foreign university; my personal advice to all interested language students out there? Just GO along!

In my experience, that was literally the moment when I first met a nice group of Parisian students who I later befriended. Spoiler alert: as well as new remarkable international friendships, I ended up renting a studio at one of my Parisian friends’ place without whom I would have had a totally different French experience.

Another point which is worth mentioning, I guess, is the money side of the story to be considered well before applying for unis abroad. In case you were wondering… yes, Paris is hugely expensive. It is nonetheless fair to say that going to a renowned, private  Grande Ecole as part of a language Stirling degree can be a once in a lifetime experience not to miss.

All sorted then: we are ready to fly to Paris.

2018 Intropido Pic IIIInternational students like me had the chance to attend a week-long orientation programme of activities, classes and socials to familiarise ourselves with SciencesPo’s environment and, most importantly, methodology. Once again, I would highly recommend it to anyone thinking of going to SciencesPo for one semester; leaving aside the scavenger hunt around Paris (where you can have lots of fun and get lost in the capital at the same time), the extra 250€ fee is totally worth it. Among other things, this initial programme allowed me and my international course-mates to enjoy some of most remarkable highlights of Paris, to gain some useful tips and skills for the semester ahead and to deliver our very first diplomatic presentations in French surrounded by the beautiful paintings of the Sorbonne’s lecture theatres.

If you are an art lover, then Paris is the city for you! A part from the fact that most of French museums and galleries are totally free of charge for European students under the age of 25, studying at SciencesPo can make your art-addiction even more irresistible; conveniently located in the heart of Paris, SciencesPo is just 5 minutes walk away from the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries and 10 minutes away from the Jardin de Luxembourg where you can easily go to enjoy the sun, read a book or just take a break with your friends in between classes.

2018 Intropido Pic IV

Needless to say, art and culture are not the only attractions for those who study at SciencesPo Paris. This Grande Ecole offers an incredible and almost overwhelming number of opportunities to foster one’s interests in political sciences, law and economics, both from an academic and social perspective. It might sound commonplace, but studying abroad is really all about challenging yourself to get the most out of this unique experience and SciencesPo does give students the instruments and possibilities to do so. If being immersed in a new culture, as well as language, is not enough for you, then I would strongly advise you to consider taking some (if not all) courses in French to live a first-hand experience of the Parisian style of teaching. Moreover, I found the equivalent of our clubs and societies extremely fascinating and engaging. Let me give you some example; from the very first weeks of uni I managed to get involved in associations like SciencesPo Nations Unies, Junior Diplomatic Initiative France, SciencesPo Refugee Help, etc. Just to give you an idea of why I got so excited about these societies, I had the amazing opportunity to attend workshops and classes on the functioning of the UN to prepare ourselves as delegates to the Model United Nations and, most importantly, to participate into meetings and round-tables on current issues with Diplomats at the Embassies of Norway, Belgium, Greece and Canada.

If diplomacy is not your cup of tea, don’t worry; SciencesPo offers a wide range of other societies and they periodically organise socials and events for all sorts of interests, from the Trial of Lord Voldemort to the Drinking Mate Society.

To conclude, my semester at SciencesPo has been one of the highlights of my degree for so many reasons that it is almost difficult to list them all in a single blog post. The friends I met there from, quite literally, all over the world and the memories I made there will be something I will cherish forever and I am deeply grateful to Stirling for having made this semester abroad possible. It has really been an adventure, from learning how to get your head around the Parisian transportation system to the challenging and yet amazingly fascinating courses at SciencesPo. I have come back from Paris with a better awareness of myself, my academic and research interests and of the world we all inhabit; to all the students out there who might consider whether SciencesPo is the destination for you, trust me, it is all going to be worthy if you feel ready to get the most out of it.’

Many, many thanks to Stefano for the great post and we look forward to hearing Semester Abroad tales from all our returning students in a couple of weeks.

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‘A couple of paragraphs about Paris, Parisians and how to (not) be like them’

In a month and a half or so, our new academic year starts and among those coming (back) to Stirling will be the 20-odd students returning after their compulsory Semester Abroad in France or another French-speaking country. We have a very wide range of partners across France, as well as in Morocco, Switzerland and Quebec, and we’re always very pleased to be able to post reports on the Semester Abroad from those about to embark on their final year with us. From the Spring 2018 French Semester Abroad group, we’re starting things off with this post from Nicolas who spent his semester at Sciences Po in Paris, as part of his degree in International Management and Intercultural Studies: 

My semester abroad in Paris was amazing. It is a beautiful, vibrant and unique city. I don’t know another place like it.

2018 Nicolas Masdorp Pic IBeing in Paris for four full months gave me the opportunity to not just run through the standard tourist programme, but to dive in head first and learn to appreciate one of the original big cities. To me, Paris has become special. Wherever you go, the city feels alive and it will to you, too. It is a mix of past glory, current main stage French cultural and political theatre and future opportunities and struggles. When you take your time, and go to visit the historically-relevant sights, you gain an understanding of the grandeur and the heavy historical significance, and not only because every second building seems to have solid gold ornaments on it. For better or for worse, Paris is the centre of most of the francophone world’s current affairs: Government, parliament, media, high-society, low(-er) society, music and much more besides. It is a city that has seen much change in the past and, in my opinion, will see even more in the future. Paris is so much deeper than what you can see on the surface. Dig a bit and even those of you with the highest of expectations will never be disappointed.

2018 Nicolas Masdorp Pic V

Having been to Paris several times before on holiday, I felt like I had seen most of what the city had to offer. I was mistaken. Badly. My tip: there is nothing like going for a two-hour walk through a city, even if it is because you forgot to take change for your metro ticket back home. And get lost. Walk, sit and take your time. On holiday, you do the sightseeing. You sit in a ‘Parisian’ café and drink a cappuccino to feel more ‘Parisian’ while you look at (and possibly offer your kind thoughts on) passers-by. Maybe you try to become more like the locals yourself. I don’t feel any more ‘Parisian’ now than I did when I got there in January, despite trying, a little. I saw Paris for four months like the outsider I am now and always will be.

It’s a bit like when you feel like you’ve found your new all-time favourite song while, in the same moment, you realise you’ll probably never be able to sing it like the artist does yourself (at least not in front of other people). I learnt to enjoy and appreciate Paris despite not feeling like I’d ever be a Parisian myself.

I was trying to find an analogy for this feeling for ages and yes, this is the best I could come up with. Sorry.

2018 Nicolas Masdorp Pic III

I’m really not sure you can go to Paris and become a local. Maybe by living there for twenty years. Maybe not. To a certain degree, I believe the citizens of France’s capital are born, not made. I had four months to become totally French and city-slicker cool, but didn’t. The latter part was maybe more down to me than to the city. What I have learnt, in retrospect, was that I will not be like the people of Paris. I feel like I understand them and their home now, though. And both of them are exceedingly special and close to my heart. Weird and wonderful. In a good way, probably.

One thing I also learnt, though, was to not be one of the infamously obnoxious, selfie-posing, in-your-face tourists. I will try to take that with me, wherever I go next. And here’s an insider tip for my fellow German tourists: Please do not continue to actively reinforce the sandals with socks stereotype. You are not doing yourself and, crucially, the rest of us any favours.

2018 Nicolas Masdorp Pic IVOverall I would recommend spending time in Paris to everybody, if they have the opportunity. In my mind, there is nothing like it. Paris can be incredibly rewarding, if you put in the time, energy and patience to understand it. It is the centre of most things French and will most likely remain to be so for the foreseeable future. Like I said before, I don’t think becoming a local, if that is what you want, will be your choice. My last tip: Don’t try. Be curious, inquisitive and energetic when you explore this great city. And don’t forget the sandals with socks thing, either.’

Many thanks to Nicolas for the great blog post and pictures. We hope you enjoy the rest of the Summer and look forward to seeing you back in Stirling in September.

‘Talking to and learning from as many people as possible’

And finally, in today’s flurry of blog posts, Amy, another member of this year’s graduating cohort has sent this article looking back over what her degree has allowed her to do but also where it might take her in the years ahead:

‘I studied BA Hons Politics and French and going to University was the best decision of my life. University has provided a wealth of opportunities that would not have been afforded to me had I not gone. During my undergrad, I travelled to Tanzania to climb the highest free-standing mountain in the world – Mt Kilimanjaro. I then spent a year teaching in Blois, Loire Valley; a semester in Paris studying at Sciences Po and two summers managing staff and kids in a French campsite in the Ardèche, Rhône Valley. The experience and the cultural awareness that these opportunities provided were invaluable and they sparked within me an immense curiosity about people, the world and myself.

University is a melting pot of people from all over the world and a fantastic opportunity like no other to learn from people who have had different experiences from you. If you are like me and want to travel and see the world, then University is a great place to start. Gaining cultural awareness is far more than bag-packing in every country that your summer job can afford, it’s about talking to and learning from as many people as possible, wherever you are.

2018 Amy McIntyre Bill's last class May18My advice to future Stirling students: talk to your tutors and your lecturers. They’re people and there’s not the same hierarchy that may have existed between you and your teachers at school. University is a collective learning environment and both you and your lecturers have something to learn from one another.

Go to the cinema screenings that the French department want you to attend. Go to their mixers and free wine events. Go and talk to the local school kids about your study abroad experience. Sign up to be a Module Representative and, of course, offer to write a piece for Cristina’s blog. These actions of engagement are understandably daunting as a first year, but push yourself to do it.

University is more than studying; It’s more than reading books. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t advise attempting your degree without doing the aforementioned, but I can’t emphasize the importance of other factors at University enough. My advice to future students of Stirling: Get involved. Take advantage of every opportunity that interests you. Join a club or 5, hold weekly stalls in the Atrium and meet like-minded people and people who challenge your views alike.

2018 Amy McIntyre Logie Protest May18During my time at Stirling University I was Co-Convenor of the Socialist Society, Secretary for Stirling Students for Scottish Independence and I co-led Stirling Students in Support of the UCU Pension Strike protest movement which led to a 14-day Occupation of Logie Lecture Theatre.

My time in France

I took a gap year to participate in the British Council English Language Assistantship (ELA) Scheme in the Loire Valley, France. On reflection, I can honestly say I learned just as much from my kids as they learned from me. The simplicity, honesty and innocence of young people’s minds is interesting, inspiring and refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, prepare yourself for insults that are not intended as insults: “Amy, your nose is cool, it reminds me of a witch”. Thanks Pierre, you’ll have to excuse me as I’ve made plans to cry in the toilet…

2018 Amy McIntyre Pic May18

Tip to future language assistants: Get to know your ELA friends but don’t spend too much time with them. They are a great comfort to you when you are abroad but are inevitably a hindrance to your French language progression if you spend too much time alone with English-speakers.

In my third year, I studied at Sciences Po, Paris. I found that Politics in France is very different to the UK in terms of grassroots movements, protests and youth engagement with politics. Manifestations are as common as croissants in Paris and I was amazed at the crowds of youngsters who were politically active.

2018 Amy McIntyre Eiffel Tower May18

What motivates people to act the way they do? How do political institutions and societal factors impact their behaviour? And ultimately, how can we unite people, despite their perceived differences to come together and form a better society? These are questions that are ever-evolving and I suspect they will occupy my mind for the rest of my life, whatever avenue I choose to go down.

For the moment, I am fascinated by examining policies in different countries and finding out what works and what doesn’t. To change society for the better, I believe we need better policies at the heart of it. I hope to do a Msc in Public Policy and Management this year at the University of Glasgow. Ultimately, I want to make a positive contribution to the world, no matter how big or small that will be.’

Many, many thanks to Amy for this fantastic post and for the great tips for future students. We wish you all the very best for the MSc and the future beyond! And, of course, we would encourage as many as possible of our current (and former) students who might be reading this to take Amy’s advice and get in touch about future blog posts…

30 years of Erasmus: Scottish Parliament celebrations

2017 Erasmus Plus LogoThere’s no teaching this week at Stirling but that doesn’t mean everything stops and our Language Coordinator, Jean-Michel DesJacques, along with his Spanish counter-part Jose Ferreira-Cayuela, Fiona Buckland from our International Office and a few of our students have been at Holyrood to represent the University at a celebration of 30 years of the Erasmus programme. Dozens of our students – across French and Spanish – benefit from our involvement in the Erasmus programme every year, spending a semester at one of our extensive range of Erasmus partners that stretches from Caen in Northern France to Granada in Southern Spain.

As Fiona Buckland explains, ‘the Higher Education Institutes of Scotland held a joint celebration at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 24 October to celebrate 30 years of the Erasmus Programme. Students from the University of Stirling were invited to attend and contribute an article to a brochure for the event and be filmed for a video explaining what Erasmus means to them.

2017 Erasmus at 30 Group Photo Oct17

Erin Cawley who is doing a BA in International Management with European Languages and Society (and spent a semester at the Universidad de Santander), Suzanne Buiter, who is in the final year of her BA in International Management with European Languages and Society (and spent her Semester Abroad at the Universidad de Navarra) and Alex Sorlei, who has just started the final year of a BA International Politics and Languages (with a Semester Abroad at Sciences Po, Paris) attended the event with Jean-Michel DesJacques and Jose Ferreira-Cayuela. Speakers included the Deputy First Minister John Swinney, Alan Smith Director (Erasmus Bureau of the European Commission [1987-92]) and student participants.’

2017 Erasmus at 30 JM and JFC Oct17For Jose and Jean-Michel, the event was an important way to mark the role that Erasmus plays within languages degrees both for staff and students. As Jose puts it, ‘the event was a reflection of what Erasmus+ is all about: meeting people from all over Europe, exchanging ideas and experiences and a great opportunity to taste food/drink from different places. The setting was also great and the presence of very important figures of the Scottish Government proved that exchanges with Europe are a priority for Scotland in the future. Whether we still call it Erasmus+ or something else, is a different issue.’ Similarly, for Jean-Michel, the sense of community that Erasmus creates is crucial: ‘It was great to be amongst friends for the 30-year anniversary of the launch of the Erasmus programme. I felt a bit jealous at the wealth of opportunities young students – in fact young people in general – have to go abroad. For a short while, we managed to forget the uncertainty of it all and decided to celebrate one of the greatest schemes to come out of the European institutions.’

Thanks to Fiona, Jean-Michel and Jose for their contributions (and photos!) and to Erasmus+ for helping our students over the years. Many, many tales of Erasmus+ experiences to be found among the pages of this blog!

2017 Erasmus at 30 Cake Oct17

Welcome to our Erasmus Students!

Not all the French and Francophone exchange students who come to Stirling from our network of partners take modules run by the French at Stirling team but we’re always really pleased to welcome them to Stirling and will be inviting them along to a range of events over the course of the semester.

This year, at last count, we have 24 exchange students coming from 11 different French Universities, business schools and grandes écoles with whom we have long-standing partnerships: the Universités de Limoges, Aix-Marseille, Clermont Auvergne, Lorraine and Perpignan, the IUT de Sceaux (Paris Sud), Sciences Po, the Ecoles de Management of Strasbourg and Normandie, ESSEC in the outskirts of Paris and the Université Catholique de l’Ouest. We’re looking forward to getting to know these students over the course of their time at Stirling and, this year, we’re particularly pleased to be giving some of them a chance to led informal conversation sessions with our Stirling-based students.

Who knows? We may even be able to convince a few of them to write blog posts about their time in Scotland…

“French is a global language”: from whisky tasting in Belgium to language teaching in Portugal

And, following on from Beth Young’s article, tales from another of our graduates, John McCallum who completed his BA Hons in International Politics and Languages in 2012 and whose language skills have seen him crisscrossing Europe for work ever since.

“My first role after graduating from the University of Stirling in 2012 in French and International Politics was as a sales and marketing executive with a whisky distillery, Springbank, in my hometown of Campbeltown, Argyll. During that year I had the chance to travel in Europe and work several times in francophone Belgium, visiting French-speaking stockists and taking whisky tastings in French. It was a great experience to be able to talk about your town and a local industry to people in their own mother tongue.

Using French in a professional situation can be different than just practising socially, especially when there is industry-specific vocabulary to learn to help you do the job better, and more time pressure on you to deliver it. On completing my studies I felt at a really strong level, though, and that is testament to the range of material we studied and the opportunity for conversation on various topics while in a classroom setting at Stirling.

Another reason for having the confidence to speak in the language was having spent a semester abroad in Paris, an unforgettable experience. As well as having the opportunity to attend Sciences Po, the popular pathway for some of France’s past and present political elites, I joined a football club and spent my Sunday afternoons in various banlieue towns in the Val de Marne area, learning a different style of football and what can only be described as ‘français des vestiaires’ on a thrice-weekly basis. I would echo another 2012 graduate Jonny Terrell’s post in saying I wish it could’ve been for the whole year!

But at Stirling too I always felt that my degree drew on great expertise in both languages and politics departments. I consistently had the support I needed and met lots of great people when studying there, from not only Scotland but from an international background.

After time spent working in newspaper reporting in Argyll, the odd weekend stint as a purser on a passenger RIB from Campbeltown to Ireland, and working with another distillery on the isle of Islay for a year under a French parent company, I have had lots of opportunities to use my language skills, both in the workplace and when simply wanting to make conversation and practise everyday French.

For the past six months I have been working as an English-language teacher in Braga, in the north of Portugal. I am working on improving my Portuguese, and although it is a complex language itself with tough grammar and pronunciation, I would like to try becoming a lusophone too, even when back living in Scotland. However, French is a popular lingua franca here given the immense movement of people and familial links established between the countries during the past 60 years and has saved me a few times when the other person in the conversation hasn’t had a word of English!

It shows that learning a global language like French can have practical uses much more diverse than you originally imagined. I would thoroughly recommend Stirling as a place to learn the language.”

Many thanks – obrigado! – to John for sending this article and we look forward to finding out where your languages will take you next!

Languages as huge, intricate puzzles

Another account of life since graduating from Stirling. This time from Mira Waligora who, like Saara, also graduated in French in 2014 and who, since graduation, has gone on to develop a career as an interpreter but who was very pleased to get a chance to reflect on ‘the Stirling bubble’:

“This summer it will be two full years since my graduation, I can hardly believe it, and even less so the fact that it’s been nearly 6 years since I’ve started University, now that’s crazy!

2016 Waligora campus picI came to Stirling, having chosen the university because of the attractive language courses it offered and the absolutely magical campus it occupied. Say what you want about big cities but no University in Scotland beats our campus. For me, Stirling was the perfect choice. Glasgow and Edinburgh are only a short train ride away, which is one of the best ways to relax and clear your head: listen to some music and watch the picturesque landscapes of Scotland pass you by.

I loved studying at Stirling. All of our French lecturers were wonderful, so very different but all so passionate about what they teach. Their excitement seeped through into the students. I am very fond of languages. Speaking four fluently, I am fascinated by how they work, like huge intricate puzzles. All with such different parts that fit together in such different ways. So, naturally I thoroughly enjoyed the grammar and translation classes. Having lived in France for a short while when younger I was somewhat familiar with French culture. The course however broadened my understanding of francophone cultures, through courses that explored the different parts of the world and history when French was spoken.

I found everyone in the French department to be very approachable and ready to help. Our lecturers, with their oceans of knowledge, were always ready to share it with us and advise us on the ideas we were exploring. I find this important because to a certain extent, having a department that is not helpful and lecturers you don’t feel comfortable with hinders studies.

Stirling offers some pretty attractive exchange programs and when it came time to choose where to go for my semester abroad, I decided it had to be Paris. We were free to study pretty much anything we wanted while abroad and I loved my courses at Sciences Po. I took “Philosophy of Friendship”, “Utopia” and “The cultural history of Europe” all en français bien sûr! I still have all my notes and books from these and I have no doubt I will be re-reading them. The teaching differed quite a lot from Stirling, I think because the dynamic between the students and the lecturers just wasn’t the same.

2016 Waligora Shakespeare and Co AprilI must speak quickly about Paris. I didn’t know what to expect. My exchange took place from January until June, only six short months. Yet within these I built a whole new life. I made some amazing friends, whom I still see regularly now. My experience was bohemian and artistic, full of cheap wine and fresh baguettes, photographer friends who’d take beautiful pictures and bookshops with captivating events. Having studied much about France and French culture, it felt surreal to walk around Place de la République, or visit the Grand Palais and just stare in adoration at the beautiful architecture, and think how many people passed through these places through the century. Spending half a year somewhere lets you discover the “hidden” gems of the city, when first visiting Paris you will go to the Jardin du Luxembourg or the Tuileries but it’s places like Parc des Buttes Chaumont, that truly stole my heart.

I really enjoyed the final year of university, maybe because of the independence in study and writing that we had. Writing the dissertation meant you chose an area of interest personal to you and just plunged into it. Sure it was stressful, you had to be driven, organised and generally on top of things, but doing the research, analysing the information and creating a report was very satisfying and rewarding.

My friends and I always talk about the “Stirlng Bubble”, nothing is far away and after a year you pretty much know everyone and everything. Which makes you feel at home, safe and cosy, and that’s something big cities can’t offer. On top of it all Stirling has some really interesting young talents, community initiatives and creative events. The Filth and Aztec music gigs remain some of the best ones I’ve been to.

My time at the University of Stirling has provided me with skills and experiences that have led me to where I am today. I live in Scotland and work as a Polish interpreter. I currently work with: local schools, social work offices, health centres, the police and even the courts. In fourth year we went to a multilingual debate at Heriot-Watt University. The debaters all spoke different languages and their conversation was possible due to the final year students of an interpreting course. It was my first time witnessing the mechanics of interpreting in action and I was fascinated. Throughout our language classes I had amassed the skills to work with language. We worked thoroughly on each text we translated for practice, exchanging ideas and methods. We would discuss the intricacies of the language and the many connections that words create between each other. What meaning these connections of words convey and how to transfer that meaning into a different language. Realising that sometimes it is absolutely crucial to know where the words come from and how they are used in contemporary society in order to fully grasp the subtle differences in meaning between individual words. Learning that often you can only become truly fluent in a language if you understand the culture of the people that speak it. That is exactly what the French Degree at the University of Stirling equipped me with.”

Many thanks to Mira for sending this blog post and all the best for the years ahead!