Tag: Semester Abroad

Old dog, new tricks!

With the start of the new semester (and all good wishes to those enrolled on our wide range of French modules and programmes, and to our students off on Semester Abroad or working as Language Assistants…), it’s time to post a new profile of one of our French at Stirling graduates, Kerstin Rosée, who has sent us this great article:

2020 Jan Rosee EuroDisneyBonjour, mes amis! French has always been a part of my life, with a last name like mine, this is hardly a surprise. I knew how to spell out my last name to people before I could write it myself and I could confidently say accent aigu before ever attending a French class in my long history of attending French classes.

Language teaching in Germany (where I originally come from) used to be taken more seriously than in the UK. At least until the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland which put a new and enthusiastic emphasis on learning not one, but two foreign languages with many pupils now starting at primary school age. Going back to the 80s and 90s in Germany, English was introduced in 5th grade and in 7th grade you would pick another foreign language, usually a choice of either French or Latin. Why Latin? Well, in Germany to do any kind of degree in medicine, dentistry or veterinarian studies, you need at least your small Latinum (that’ll be 4 years of study) – makes sense if you consider that most of your textbooks will be full of Latin words. Since the thought of having to put down somebody’s pet guinea pig put me off veterinarian studies quite early, I decided to go for a more practical approach in studying French. Foreign holidays were beckoning and at that time I had already visited France with my family several times.

When the time came to pick a career and to think about what kind of training would be necessary, I found myself stumped by the idea that I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grow up. I still don’t, and I’m getting the feeling that I’ll probably be retired before I figure out what I’ll do with my life.  But… I was good at English and French and ended up at an academy training to become a trilingual executive secretary, adding Spanish to my portfolio en route.

Sadly, the job I took after leaving the academy was with an American organization and while my English improved my French and Spanish were neglected. I missed the golden opportunity to spend my holidays in French and Spanish-speaking countries and along the lines of ‘use it or lose it’, well, I lost it.

In my late 20s I relocated to Scotland and, being armed with a good grasp of the language and a willingness to delve into the local lingo (thank you, guy at the chippy, you were my trial of fire), I continued in my field of work but suddenly minus the trilingual aspect. Why? Mostly because many people speak English anyway and there were very few jobs for people with language skills in the Central Belt unless you wanted to settle in call centres. I tried, I escaped.

Having dabbled in part-time study for a while, I finally started a full-time course at the University of Stirling: Primary Education with Modern Languages. The course was brand new to the university at the time and we were the willing guinea pigs together with a cohort studying Primary Education and Environmental Science. I had just turned 38 when I started my degree at Stirling and my daughter had just joined P1. Great, I thought, we’ll learn together. To cut a long story short: I did not end up being a teacher. It turned out that I really didn’t like the classroom. Unlike my new just-from-school study buddies, I loved the semesters and hated the placements; I loved the languages but never really warmed to the pedagogy. For myself, the mix of classes, lectures and tutorial groups in French were a winning combination. Grammar: the necessary evil. Passé simple you say? Yeah sure, it rings a bell. Spoken language with Bernadette, the Spoken Language Tutor at the time: simply hilarious. Lectures and culture tutorials opened a whole new world to me. A word of warning though – reading, writing and talking about 2nd wave French feminism may come with strange side effects if you are an adult returner, for instance: flares of anger and bursting out into tears.

I graduated in 2012 and, thanks to my last-minute degree change, I was the only student to graduate with a BA in French on that day amidst a sea of Education students. I cannot thank the BEd Primary Education cohort enough for my round of applause when I entered the stage while everybody else in the room probably wondered whether I had showed up on the wrong day.

Everybody’s question was: what next, then? I’ll be honest, if you are in your forties and tied to the Central Belt as a location, career prospects in Languages are somewhat limited. If you have done the Call Centre gig and have no intentions of ever returning to it and if you need to plan your workday around the school hours, it makes it just that little bit harder.

Will I be using French for work at some point in the future? Well, this brings us back to ‘use it or lose it.’  The sad thing is, if you don’t use your languages regularly, you will forget a lot of vocab and grammar. The silver lining is that it will be easier for you to pick it up again, every time you do pick it up again, as long as you have a decent foundation. My current exposure to French language and culture is singing along loudly to Les Misérables and Plastique Bertrand while scouring Netflix for French crime shows I can binge on. The beauty of Netflix is that it provides you with crutches; I love to listen to the original French actors but using English subtitles to make sure I don’t lose the plot (literally) but you could swap this around if your reading skills need to be honed.

To make matters worse, a certain referendum 4 years ago which is intent on ending our opportunities for free travel to work in any of 28 European countries without a lot of red tape may be a further deterrent for pupils to even consider modern languages as a subject for their university studies. Businesses may decide that the UK is no longer an attractive location for them and those precious few jobs that open up opportunities to graduates in modern languages may leave the country. I am still cautiously optimistic that Brexit will turn out to be undeliverable and we will all just forget about this embarrassing episode in recent UK history – I guess we’ll see.

2020 Jan Rosee BretagneIn the end, all is not as gloomy as it seems, and you must look for opportunity where it presents itself. My plans are to convince the family to holiday in Canada and spend some time in Québec: find out how different from metropolitan France it really is, sample some of the lifestyle and speak French, a lot of it, possibly very basic. After that, I might try to duplicate my experience of moving to Scotland and visit Bretagne – I was there on a holiday when I was 5 years old, armed with only once sentence: Je ne parle pas français!

Surely, it has to be better than that by now!’

Yes, we’re sure that it is! Many, many thanks to Kerstin for this great post and for the fantastic pictures of childhood holidays in France. And we wish you all the very best for travels to Quebec and to Brittany, and to many other Francophone locations beyond!

Study Abroad: ‘It’ll be an adventure so don’t waste a second!’

In a few weeks, many of our Year 3 students will be setting off on their integral semester of Study Abroad. We wish them all well for the semester and hope they have a fantastic time, and are very grateful to Lily, who was at the same stage a year ago, and who has just sent us this extremely well-timed post. Lily spent her semester in France as an Erasmus exchange student but much of the advice she gives will be helpful for students heading for some of our other Erasmus partner countries or beyond the Erasmus network to Quebec, Morocco, Switzerland or (for those also studying Spanish) to Latin America:

2019 Dec Lily Ice Cream‘This time last year, I was preparing to move to France for my ERASMUS semester abroad, and I was panicking. Endless paperwork, the terrors of flat-hunting and of moving to another city… think first year of uni all over again, mais en français.

I’ve now moved to France on two separate occasions – first as a teaching assistant just outside Paris, and secondly on an ERASMUS exchange to Angers. Both were amazing experiences, though terrifying at the outset as I figured out how to navigate a new country and settle into a whole other way of living.

So, for this year’s French students preparing to go on their university exchanges: it may feel totally overwhelming right now, but believe it or not, you can do this. If there’s one thing I learned from my time in France, it pays to be prepared. With that in mind, I’ve put some information together that I wish someone had given me before moving to France.

Paperwork

Take everything. In triplicate. Every piece of paper you’ve ever touched. You may have heard of the stereotype that the French like bureaucracy. This is a lie. They LOVE it.

For enrolment, accommodation, banks, housing benefit: here’s some of the stuff you might need. Originals and copies!

Passport photos, Passport photo page, Proof of home address (bills or bank statements from the last three months or so with your name on them), Birth certificate, Stirling University enrolment letter, Host university enrolment letter/paperwork confirming exchange, Proof of activity for the last five years or so (if not covered by your university enrolment letter), European health card…

Any student cards, youth cards or Young Scot cards are also good to have on you for getting into museums and attractions for free. Many attractions are free for EU residents under 25, so have proof of age with you wherever you go (post-Brexit, you may also need proof of residency in France such as your French student card). Failing that, many museums and galleries are free on the first Sunday of the month – but arrive early, as these tend to be their busiest days!

2019 Dec Lily Les machines de l’île Nantes

Money

Money: believe it or not, you’re probably going to need some.

My friends and I chose a lot of different ways to handle our finances abroad. Here’s a few options to consider. Also: take some hard cash with you when you first head out – enough to survive on for a week or so while you get yourself set up or in case of complication or catastrophe.

Opening a French bank account.

Pros: If you want to try and claim French housing benefit, you need to have one of these. Some services – like renting a bike in certain cities – require one. The simplest way to avoid messing around too much with currency conversion and international payment charges.

Cons: I won’t lie, it’s difficult to set up an account. Most banks ask for proof of a French address (bill/bank statement with your name on it, letter from landlord, etc.) as well as proof of identity amongst other things. Some banks may be hesitant to set up an account for so short a period of time.

My opinion: Probably the most faff, but worth it for the security and flexibility it gave me while abroad. My university in France made an agreement with a local branch to help their foreign students set up short term accounts, so check with your exchange coordinator or ask other exchange students which branch they have gone with.

Using your British Bank

Pros: Easy. You already have it!

Cons: You’re subject to changing exchange rates and foreign transaction fees depending on your bank, meaning this is one of the more costly options. Additionally, it’s hard to say how Brexit will affect access to your British account –  there’s been a few newspaper articles about UK citizens losing access to their accounts while abroad in the case of a no-deal.

My advice: This seemed the more popular choice amongst my British friends but come prepared to look into other options just in case. Check your British bank’s rules and charges and notify them before leaving the UK so they know your details haven’t been stolen by a French tourist, lest you be blocked from your own account for buying your pre-class croissant.

Travel Credit Card

Pros: A card that will let you withdraw money in any currency in any country without charging foreign transaction fees. Simple and flexible.

Cons: Again, interest fees. Some cards use their own exchange rates.

My advice: This is good for frequent travellers as it will work for you almost anywhere in the world. However, be careful what kind of card you get, and make sure to keep track of your spending lest you end up with the mother of all debts at the end of your holiday semester.

2019 Dec Lily Rennes StreetTravel

Lucky you! France is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Top tips for getting around:

Trains

The SNCF carte jeune is a 50 euro youth railcard valid for one year for 18-25 year olds, which gets you a decent discount on most train journeys. It may feel expensive for just a few months, but train fares in France are rarely cheap and if you plan on doing lots of exploring, you’re sure to get your money back. You can also get offers on last-minute tickets that haven’t sold. Ouigo is also worth checking, as it offers budget rail travel often far cheaper than its competitors.

Attention! Check strike dates before you book your ticket. There’s usually a lot of them. It’s France – what were you expecting?

Planes

Companies like Ryanair offer fare discounts and free luggage for students with an ESN (Erasmus student network) card. Check esncard.org for more info.

Cars and Coaches

Probably the cheapest options out there. Coaches operate just about everywhere for the road-tripper on a tight budget. Alternatively, Blablacar is very popular in France as a kind of long-distance rideshare scheme. [Note from the blog: Do remember to take the same precautions with such sites and schemes as you would do anywhere else!]

Accommodation

This is the one that seems to stress everyone out the most. Step one: don’t panic!

Where to look?

Your university may have an accommodation services office – this is a great place to go to for help, and they’re usually prepped to help the wave of incoming exchange students.

University accommodation: some universities will offer one-semester digs in their student accommodation. This is a great way to meet students both local and on exchange.

Famille d’Accueil: Some universities have programs that will lodge you with a French family during your stay. A wonderful way to make friends with locals, practice French and perhaps try some homemade French meals!

Airbnb: Surprisingly, several of my friends found studio flats on Airbnb. Search for properties with discounted monthly rates.

Roomlala.com: This is the site I used when I moved to France as a teaching assistant. Good for finding spare rooms in flats or houses shared with other people. Range of different options/types of accommodation available. Other students have recommended appartager.com

My main recommendation is to live with French speakers if you can. It may seem daunting at first, but it really is the best way to immerse yourself in the language and culture. You’ll really see the difference down the line!

Addition: For moving in, some students have recommended companies like Send My Bag as a cheaper and easier alternative to lugging your suitcases from one country to another. They’ll send your luggage right to your door so you don’t have to struggle with heavy bags while you’re travelling.  

Housing Benefits

Rent prices can be higher in France as landlords know that many of their tenants receive help paying for accommodation. Luckily, you might qualify too!

If you can make a successful application to CAF (Caisses d’Allocations Familiales) then you can do anything. CAF is notorious for being an awkward, laborious mess of bureaucracy, even for native French speakers, but a successful application can pay a couple hundred euros a month towards your rent. No pain, no gain!

Top tips:

Start early, work fast. CAF is usually very slow to reply, so send in any paperwork they ask for as soon as you can. Additionally, who knows how the rules will change after Brexit – try to make as much progress as you can ahead of the deadline.

Make your account the month before you arrive: CAF won’t pay benefits for the first month your account is opened, so don’t wait until your arrival to begin setting up your account.

Practice makes perfect: CAF will let you “faire un simulation” i.e. make a pretend application to estimate if you are likely to qualify, and for how much. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get what the simulation estimates, but it might help you decide whether the process is likely to be worth your time.

Check with your uni: my accommodation services office offered to help exchange students with their applications.

Remember, to receive CAF you will need a French bank account. Which means… more paperwork. Quelle surprise!

Phones

Most UK networks will now let you use your phone as usual, up to a point. The fair usage policy means that if you use your phone more in another country than you do in the UK, they’ll add roaming charges. If you’ve been on your contract for a long time, this will be fine as long as you don’t use more data in France than you’ve already used in the UK the whole time you’ve been on your contract. If you’re on a newer contract, you’re more likely to pass the amount you’ve already used at home, at which point you will start getting roaming charges. Insert usual warning about Brexit changing all the rules here.

If you’re going to be charged for using your UK number, Free Mobile is popular as a pay-by-month sim card for short-term French residents.

Pros: No contract, decent value for money

Cons: Notorious for difficulties in ending subscriptions.

Make sure your phone is “unlocked” if you think you’re likely to get a French sim card. This will allow you to switch out your sim card, but can take some time, and may be easier to do before leaving the UK.

Other

2019 Dec Lily UCO Scottish Desk

Your university will likely organise a lot of events and exchanges for foreign students. Take food, flags, decorations, postcards etc from Stirling/Scotland/the UK for displays or for sharing. That is,if there’s any room left in your suitcase!

2019 Dec Lily English FoodIf you find yourself dying for a taste of home, check out the foreign food section of your local supermarket, if only to laugh at what the French supermarkets think qualifies as “English” food…

Most important (if cliché) advice of all: have fun, try new things, and roll with the punches. It will be an adventure, so don’t waste one second!’

Many, many thanks to Lily for having taken the time to send through all this advice which will be incredibly helpful for future students. And for those reading this and getting ready to head off, profitez bien de ce semestre et on se reverra en septembre!

School Visits, Language Blogging & Tips for French at Uni

Regular blog readers will know about our Schools Days and our Language Ambassadors and our students who spend a year working as English Language Assistants. We’re also always looking for new activities and new ways of building connections with a wide range of schools to give us further opportunities to work with secondary teachers and pupils. With that in mind, colleagues from French and Spanish worked together a few weeks ago to organise an event for a local secondary school and we’re very grateful to Peter Baker, Lecturer in Spanish, for having sent us this update:

‘On Wednesday 20 November, Higher and Advanced Higher pupils of French and Spanish from Bannockburn High School attended a series of lectures, workshops and a library visit hosted by lecturers in French and Spanish. The day started with an introduction and a lecture on the historical memory of the Spanish Civil War in Spain by Peter Baker, followed by a tour around the University library. This was followed by a lecture on essay writing at university hosted by Hannah Grayson in French. We finished the day with a Q&A session about the expectations of studying Modern Languages at Higher Education, the transformative experience of the semester abroad and about future employment with a degree in Modern Languages, with the presence of Aedin Ní Loingsigh and Peter Baker.

We would like to thank Claudia Marqués-Martin and Derek Monaghan for organising the day with us and for coming along to support the pupils, and for the very positive feedback we received on all aspects of the day. We would also like to give special thanks to the pupils themselves who showed great enthusiasm and exceptional good behaviour whilst they were with us. We would encourage them to let us know if they decide to study languages at university where they end up and to come visit us if they are ever on campus – and especially if they choose Stirling as their place of study!’

Many thanks again to Peter for sending us through this post and to all involved for what sounds like a great day.

Blog readers might also be interested in a couple of other schools-related pieces of news. The first is that one of our current English Language Assistants, Eilidh, has added a new article to the Language Linking Global Thinking blog she’s running while she’s in France for this academic. The LLGT scheme is an initiative that is run by SCILT (the Scottish National Centre for Languages), the British Council and Project Trust, working with the UCMLS. It involves pairing up students on assistantships with classes of school pupils back in Scotland to and those assistants then keeping in touch with the school to tell them about the experiences and to give the pupils a clear sense of the benefits and opportunities that come with spending time using a language other than English.

And the second piece of schools-related news is that the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France has posted an article on their blog with tips for preparing to study French at University from Cristina Johnston and Hannah Grayson. The article is available here! Bonne lecture!

Textbook problems…

As well as conferences and study days and the like, the summer months are also a time for preparing new classes, writing lectures, revising coursepacks, ordering new textbooks… Not always plain sailing as our Language Coordinator, Jean-Michel DesJacques, explains:

“J-1! Ah! Le soleil, les vacances, le verre de rosé le soir à la fraiche. Sauf que… en fait d’apéro, déboires à gogo! We need to talk about “the textbook”.  Have you heard of the curious legal incident in a faraway land?

Tout a commencé par un courriel anodin: “We wish to inform that there will be a substantial increase in some of the print textbooks that you have chosen” (US Supreme Court ruling Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons for those, if any, who wish to know). How lucky of me to have chosen a textbook whose sale price had to be discussed by the US Supreme Court. A few weeks later, I received another email saying that ‘my’ textbook was still available of course but it would cost £111.

I know, odd number, who would buy a book for that price I asked myself. Some students could be deterred from signing up to French for beginners, missing out on a potential lifelong love affair with the language. The timing of the decision was rather unfortunate: language tutors would tell you that a new textbook is a decision you make a good 6 months prior to the start of teaching so that you can reorganize your course accordingly. I certainly felt that I had done everything I could: I had met with the company’s representatives before teaching started in February and organized the purchase of the textbook with the added bonus of a range of on-line activities in the format of a virtual lab. A true example of blended learning, a combination of traditional methods combined with new technology, on which we pride ourselves at Stirling. The perfect mix!

What now? Well, I suppose I could go back to the previous edition which is still available at a reasonable price. I know conjugations and grammatical structures will be the same, but should I run the risk of having students who believe that M. Sarkozy is still president? And dare I mention Gérard Depardieu?

Dear beginners, fear not! You will have a textbook worthy of your efforts next semester. Remember, it’s an intensive course so I shall keep you busy and well prepared to eventually join the mainstream with the ultimate goal of studying at a Francophone university for a semester in 3rd year (we have partners in France, Canada, Morocco and Switzerland) and maybe spending a whole year working as a Language Assistant. A worthy reward.

À bientôt!”