Tag: Study Abroad

10 Years On: ‘I know that my future holds many more adventures!’

There is something particularly pleasing about being able to start a new month on the blog with a post in praise of studying languages and spending time abroad. It’s pleasing at the best of times but, given the challenges posed in the context of the current global pandemic, there’s something especially good about it so, without further ado, an update from Louise, who graduated with a BA Hons in French a decade ago:

‘Studying French at the University of Stirling was more than the achievement of a degree. For me, going to university itself was a massive challenge, not only academically, but perhaps even more so, mentally and socially. Having moved to Stirling from Inverness, I had no option but to make a conscious effort to make friends in my new home environment. I gained a lot of confidence and enjoyment from my university experience and in particular, through my participation in team sports (field hockey and ultimate frisbee).

Not only is the University set within an attractive campus, with a host of great sports facilities and a top-of-the-range library, but the degree programmes are dynamic and inclusive. I found the University tutors and lecturers to be extremely creative and supportive, providing us with diverse and captivating course content throughout the degree programme.

2020 June Louise Walker Pic I ToursAs a languages student, I was extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to live in France twice during my degree – firstly as a British Council English Language Assistant in Valenciennes during a gap year between 2nd and 3rd year; and secondly on an Erasmus Programme semester abroad at a university in Tours in the second half of 3rd year.

Living abroad has played a huge part in my life – not only allowing me to develop my language and communication skills, learning about local customs and traditions, understanding the French administration systems, exploring the surrounding areas and travelling further afield, but it has also made me become more open-minded, forced me to adapt to and perform in different environments and cultures and overcome challenges which I faced (including one or two cultural faux pas). I also had the pleasure of meeting so many amazing people who helped me to feel more integrated and of whom I will forever have fond memories. My advice would be, if you have the chance to work or study abroad, take the plunge and try to gain as much as possible from the opportunity.

2020 June Louise Walker Pic II MerzigHaving thoroughly enjoyed my time as an English Language Assistant, I continued on the educational and languages career path after graduation. I lived and taught English in a school in Germany on the British Council Comenius Programme for 10 months. On my return, I studied a PGDE in French Secondary Teaching at Glasgow University and following this, I took two TEFL courses (one online and one face-to-face). Following the completion of my studies, I decided to apply for a position within Macleod and MacCallum law firm, where I worked as a Property Assistant for 5 years.

My experiences at University and working and living abroad have provided me with the skills and experience that I can use in my day-to-day work and life in general. I have more confidence when speaking with clients and networking with other professionals, dealing with a wide range of clients with different cultural backgrounds and needs and using my languages where a language barrier exists between clients and colleagues.

In the most recent chapter of my life, I am living with my partner in Aberdeen, having only moved here at the end of February, just weeks before COVID-19 lockdown was imposed in the UK. I have started my new job with Peterkins law firm as a Property Sales Negotiator and am currently “working from home” due to lockdown restrictions. Thanks to my previous experience of working with people from a variety of different backgrounds and cultures, I feel that I have already managed to establish strong working relationships with my new team members after only a short time. I am really enjoying my new role.

2020 June Louise Walker Pic III Balmoral

I believe that my collective experiences of living and working in different cities, both in the UK and abroad, have provided me with the confidence, open-mindedness and adaptability required to be able to settle into my new home in the Granite City. It also goes without saying that the people closest to me, both in Aberdeen and in Inverness, have been incredibly supportive throughout this transition from Inverness to Aberdeen and I cannot thank them enough. I may have stopped living out of a suitcase, but I know that my future holds many more adventures – at home and away. There is still so much of the world to discover!

À la prochaine fois!’

Many, many thanks to Louise for this brilliant post and congratulations on the new job! We look forward to further updates over the years ahead and wish you all the best for your new life in Aberdeen, and for new adventures beyond.

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!

From a Paris living room to the ‘anywhere box’

As lockdown measures and confinement and a range of different restrictions continue to be implemented across the globe, it’s particularly welcome to receive news and updates from former students (current students are also very welcome to get in touch!) who find themselves dotted across the world. Like everyone else, they are adapting to the current circumstances and thinking about the impact on their plans (professional and personal) and we’re very grateful to them for sharing their thoughts with us and for finding the time to send through new blog posts.

2020 Apr David V Pic IIIToday, it’s the turn of David, whose travels in Colombia and Sicily regular readers will have followed over the past couple of years, and who has sent the article below with some photos of an empty but sunny day in the Parisian suburbs:

‘If you had asked me where I would be, at this point in time, seven months ago after my last blog update, my living room in Paris would definitely not have been at the top of my list! Before I tell you how I ended up here, however, I thought I could perhaps tell you about the joys of teaching!

As mentioned in my previous piece, I decided that I was finally ready to start my teaching qualification after a couple of years of experience. My course at the University of Glasgow consists of teaching theory as well as teaching practice as a language teacher. My first placement was in a school in Paisley where I saw first-hand how much work teachers have to deal with on a daily basis. As one of my colleagues said, you aren’t only teaching them a language, but also teaching them how to learn it. I hadn’t realised how much planning was involved in order to stay on top of the workload. Some teachers’ capacity to juggle classes made up of pupils with completely different levels is mind-blowing!

My second placement was in a school in Clydebank where I learnt to become more independent as a teacher and create my own resources for my lessons. Located to the west of Glasgow, an area that includes some of the most deprived parts of Scotland where many pupils live in very challenging conditions. However, the school showed me how being part of a community of teachers and parents could create more opportunities for underprivileged pupils by working together. Overall, the course at Glasgow has been challenging but ultimately rewarding as I have learnt to adapt to difficult situations inside, and outside, the classroom.

Looking back at my undergrad years, I am grateful for the flexibility of the courses offered at the University of Stirling as well as the range of topics that we had the opportunity to study, from French Canadian cinema to Latin American literature. The exchange programme was also one of the reasons I decided to travel and work abroad… How time flies!

Now, to come back to my living room in Paris, it turns out that, due to the unprecedented measures taken by the Scottish government, both face-to-face classes and my third and final placement have been cancelled. This means I will go straight into teaching as a probationer in August! I have opted for the lucky dip option by ticking the “anywhere box” to quote the General Teaching Council, so will be sent wherever I am needed in Scotland. As a result of the pandemic, I decided to return home since I wanted to be with family over Easter.

2020 Apr David V Pic IIThere were only about 30 people on the plane as most people had cancelled their trips and the French government announced yesterday that there would be a further two weeks of “confinement” during which we are only allowed to leave our homes for an hour a day in order to buy essentials such as food and medicine or for daily light exercise within a 1 km radius. It is quite an odd experience having to fill out a form before leaving the house as the police may stop people to check that they are sticking to the rules but then desperate times call for desperate measures! It seems that the U.K. is not at that stage yet. However, having been in touch (not literally of course!) with friends from Sicily and Colombia, everyone is following WHO guidelines and staying at home to avoid any risk of transmission.

So that’s it for now and remember: lavez-vous les mains!’

Many, many thanks to David for sending this update – good luck with the remainder of the course and we look forward to finding out where the GTC send you next year! Keep in touch and stay safe.

From Tour-Guiding and TEFL to International Marketing: ‘Language Skills and Cultural Knowledge’

2020 Feb Kitti MarseilleTime for another great update from one of our former students – after Paul’s tales of financial crime analysis, this time, we’re delighted to have news from Kitti who graduated just over two years ago:

‘My name is Kitti and I studied French and Global Cinema and Culture between 2013 and 2017. I really enjoyed my time at Stirling, I met some wonderful people, I learnt so much and I had a lot of fun. I spent a semester in the South of France studying at Aix-Marseille University. I was having a hard time with the accent, so I promised myself I would move back to a different part of France once I graduated.

2020 Feb Kitti Bordeaux TourShortly after graduating I moved to Bordeaux. I loved this gorgeous city from the moment I arrived. Everyone was kind and welcoming and I found the accent much more understandable. I started working on the reception of a youth hostel, and soon a local tour company hired me as one of their guides. I enjoyed every minute spent tour guiding. I learnt so many interesting things about the city and I met a lot of different people. I spent six months in Bordeaux, after which I returned to Scotland and started thinking of going into French teaching, even though I wasn’t 100% sure it was for me.

I completed my application, but I already had a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate, so I thought why not make some use of it and gain some experience before starting the PGDE course. I applied for a few TEFL jobs and I landed in a role in Madrid, Spain. I worked in two schools, a nursery and a so called ‘business vocational school’, which is similar to colleges in Scotland. I loved both of these jobs. However, I started giving evening classes for teenagers in a language school, which I didn’t enjoy as much. I found working with teenagers much harder than working with any other age group, and I started asking myself if teaching French in high schools is really the right path for me.

2020 Feb Kitti Cadiz

After returning to Scotland five months ago, instead of going for the PGDE, I decided to give myself a little more time to figure out what I really wanted to do. Since I have teaching experience, I got a job in a primary school, where I support children with learning difficulties. In the meantime, I kept wondering and asking myself what should my next step in life be. I do love working with children but I felt like there might be a more suitable path for me, so I kept searching for career options.

Recently I was accepted to study for a Masters at Edinburgh Napier University. The course is called International Marketing with Tourism and Events and it starts in September. I am over the moon and cannot wait for it to start. All modules sound as if they had been tailored to my interests. When I first read about the course, I couldn’t believe how perfect it all sounded. The year is split into three trimesters, two will take place in Edinburgh while the third one in Nice at IPAG Business School. I am most excited about studying festival management, as I hope one day I can work on film and music festivals. I am equally looking forward to working in settings where I can use my language skills and cultural knowledge. In the end I am happy I decided to take my time to figure out what I truly wanted, I am certain it will pay off. I just hope I will find the southern French accent easier to understand this time round.’

Many, many thanks to Kitti for finding the time to send us through this post and photos. We wish you all the best for the Masters next year and look forward to updates over the months and years ahead.

‘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!).

Study Abroad: ‘My future isn’t limited to one country and one way of life’

The last of today’s blog posts also comes from Lily (author of the excellent Study Abroad advice posted earlier!) and is a great way to see how that very practical advice actually plays out over the course of a semester:

2019 Dec Lily UCO Campus

‘I spent the 2019 Spring semester at l’Université Catholique de l’Ouest in Angers, France. Studying at a French university was a fantastic experience which allowed me to learn about a new facet of francophone culture – French student life.

2019 Dec Lily Notre DameMy ERASMUS semester was a tremendously liberating experience as I was allowed to study any subject I wanted to as long as it was taught in French – everything from Japanese to art to photography to theatre. Most importantly, Stirling University prioritized my language development in grading my semester abroad, so I didn’t feel too pressured to do brilliantly in subjects I had never studied before. I was able to experiment, make mistakes, and learn from them. Taking art classes was a particular joy for me, as my French classmates were quick to welcome me and offer help where needed. They were endlessly accepting of my inexperience too – I hadn’t touched a paintbrush in years when I walked into my first class!

As well as integrating with French students, the international student body was a vibrant and wonderful group, and we all bonded over our confusion as we adapted to the French lifestyle. It was hard to feel homesick with so many other students in the same situation.

2019 Dec Lily Art Class

 

One of the advantages of l’UCO was its position in the Loire valley. The Loire valley is a beautiful region filled with chateaux and vineyards and plenty of towns within travelling distance to explore. The occasional weekend in Paris was an added bonus!

Studying in France was a totally unique experience which taught me so much, not just in terms of language and culture. After navigating life in another country, I feel totally prepared for any future challenges I might face back home. Living in France has opened up so many opportunities for me, and I no longer feel as though my future is limited to one country and one way of life. One thing is certain – France hasn’t seen the last of me!’

Once again, many thanks to Lily for the great article and pictures, and to our partners in Angers for offering such a warm welcome.

2019 Dec Lily Chateau d'Angers

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!

Languages and Career Stories

2019 Dec Languages and Career Stories AllAs Laura and Michael noted in their post yesterday, it can be really helpful for secondary school pupils to get a sense of the opportunities that studying Languages at University can open up by actually getting a chance to meet Languages students and ask them questions. The same can be said of those Languages students themselves and the benefits that can come from listening to Languages graduates, at different stages post-graduation, talking about the different paths their lives have followed and the ways in which languages have shaped those paths. With that in mind, Hannah Grayson, who coordinates our Languages for Employability module this academic year, organised just such an event for our undergraduates last month:

2019 Dec Languages and Career Stories Sam‘On Thursday 7 November, we organised ‘Career Stories’, an event aimed at our Year 3 students taking the Languages for Employability module as part of their degree programme and any other students interested in hearing more about where languages can take you. We had three former Stirling students come to speak about their semesters/years abroad and the trajectories they have taken since leaving Stirling. The speakers were Sam Philips (Languages teacher at Bo’Ness Academy), Luise Pawlig (freelance translator) and Fraser McQueen (current PhD student at Stirling) and they shared experiences of working in tourism, au-pairing, customer service, translation, teaching and parliament.

2019 Dec Languages and Career Stories Luise

It was a fantastic opportunity for our students to hear about their experiences and to get advice on how to meet some of the challenges that intercultural experiences can bring. These events are made by the anecdotes and enthusiasm of those who share, and we couldn’t have asked for more from our speakers. All three of them encouraged students to go abroad whenever the opportunity arises!

2019 Dec Languages and Career Stories Fraser

We also heard from Lena Bauchop, our Careers and Employability consultant who has delivered teaching on the module and is herself a languages graduate. Lena explained her own career path and shared helpful insights into what can influence job decisions. There were plenty of questions for our visiting speakers and lots of conversation and networking afterwards over refreshments. Thanks to all involved!’

And many thanks to Hannah for making the time to send through this blog post and for organising the event.