Tag: Switzerland

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!

‘Excited to see what the future holds’

As the Autumn colours start to appear on campus, it’s time for another couple of updates from former students, both of whom graduated in 2018. Rebecca completed a BA Hons in International Management with European Languages and Society with us but first up is Michaela, who graduated in French and Law:

‘I’m still working at Ashurst LLP in Glasgow. I’ve been there almost 2 years now and recently got promoted to Senior Legal Analyst. I think I mentioned before that I’m mostly involved in legal work but always try and get involved with French work where I can. We often get ad hoc French translation tasks coming in, and it’s great to be able to assist with them. I’ve also been able to review French documents that have come up in various projects – I’ve really enjoyed being able to contribute to the team in this way.’

2019 Brown CH Pic V Sept19As for Rebecca, she is currently in the third semester of an MSc in Management which ‘includes three ‘branches’ (General Management, European and Global Business and Marketing) and modules on everything from Consumer Research, Complaint Management and European Marketing to Intercultural Management, Management of Innovation and Advanced Entrepreneurship. I’m hoping to finish all lessons by December and then the next step will be to write my thesis. The plan for afterwards is yet to be determined. I would love to go and work in the French-speaking part of Canada for a year or so but as I say, the rest is to be determined!

Although I’m Swiss, after one year, I’m still shocked as to how different the British university system is to the Swiss system. From having to organise your own courses, to having no student union to contacting the Dean if you have any questions. It’s been an experience that I have loved, however I do miss Stirling and the university a lot. I’m excited to see what the future holds in terms of jobs or travel.’

2019 Brown CH Pic III Sept19

Many, many thanks to both Michaela and Rebecca for sending through these great updates and we wish you both all the best for the future!

A Year in Geneva: Translation, Football and Alpine Road Trips

As regular followers of the blog will know, most French at Stirling students will either spend a year working as an English Language Assistantship at some point over their degree (usually between Year 2 and 3, sometimes immediately after graduation) or a semester on Study Abroad at one of our range of partners across the French-speaking world. Every now and then, though, we have a student who manages to spend a full year on Study Abroad and that’s the situation Tom finds himself in at the moment, in the 3rd year of his BA Hons in French and Spanish:

2019 Lock Geneva Photo 3 Mar19‘This year I have had the opportunity to study French and Spanish in the Translation and Interpretation Faculty at the University of Geneva. Having recently completed a year of teaching in Colombia with the British Council, I headed to Switzerland back in the hot seat as a student again.

Having never previously visited, my initial thoughts of Geneva were a pleasant surprise – everything worked, things ran on time and the locals were kind, welcoming and accepting of my rusty French. I had a week to settle in before university started, giving me time to explore the city and the surrounding areas, as well as to find a regular game of football. After a few meet ups with ESN I met some great people from all over and I went from there.

2019 Lock Geneva Photo 2 Mar19University life here has been great, learning translation in both Spanish and French has given me great opportunities to test out a potential career path and what’s more is that the other modules on offer at the university also help me further my other interests such as history and reading. The best part, however, are the people you meet at the university and around the city – be they other ERASMUS students or students from other walks of life.

Geneva can be difficult for immersive language learning, as individuals come from a variety of countries to study, live and work there, making English the de facto language at times. Nevertheless, I found a variety of local cafés and bars that provided me with opportunities to improve my French and after a couple of weeks it had improved to the point where I could hold conversations.

2019 Lock Geneva Photo 5 Mar19

Geneva is famous for plenty of things but, after a year in a small Colombian town, the most notable for me is the high cost of living. It can be extortionate at times, but this has just encouraged me to explore a wider variety of places. My friends and I often get buses, cheap flights or rent a minibus to do weekend trips, ticking off places such as Milan, Lake Garda, Interlaken, Bern, Paris, and Berlin. That has been one of the best things about Geneva, its central location in Europe has given me the opportunity to get around everywhere. I can highly recommend taking road trips through the Swiss alpine countryside, you can see the whole landscape and get a real feel for the culture of each place.

2019 Lock Geneva Photo 1 Mar19Living in a different country has its positives and negatives, the comforts of home can be sorely missed, I’ve realised however that being proactive, doing activities and exploring your new home is the best antidote.

Overall, my experience has been a great one and my language skills have improved immeasurably (even if I sometimes forget how to speak English!). Although tough at times, these have been the situations where I’ve learned the most and I consider myself very lucky to have had this opportunity to meet new people, live in a new country and experience a different university.’

Many thanks to Tom for the great blog post and pictures – we’re delighted this year has worked out so well and look forward to welcoming you back to Stirling in the Autumn!

Why study Languages?

I’m sure many of you will have seen or heard coverage this week of a BBC survey looking at the drop in the uptake of languages at secondary school level across the UK. If you didn’t, there’s plenty to read about it here and elsewhere.

This is, of course, a source of great concern for all of us working in Languages at whatever level within the education system and the reporting prompted us at Stirling to ask some questions, of ourselves and of our students, about our own experiences of language learning and what motivated us (or didn’t) to keep going with a particular language. Emails went out to all our students and to all colleagues, and the responses have been fascinating, as well as being funny, impassioned, thoughtful, concerned… and many other things besides. So, what better reason for a blog post? Or several!

What I’d like to do here, to start with, is to gather together the responses that have come in from colleagues, ie from those of us who teach French at Stirling, and there’ll then be a few blog posts from our students. The questions, though, are the same for all of us, as for the students namely: at what age did you start learning a language that wasn’t your native language? What language was it? What made you continue learning it (if you did)? And if that language wasn’t French, at what age did you start learning that and why and why did you decide to study it at University? And, finally, are there other languages you have previously studied but stopped studying and, if so, which ones and why?

And this time, if you’ll forgive the indulgence, I’ll start with my own experience… So, I’m Cristina Johnston and I’m currently Programme Director for French at Stirling and I started studying French at secondary school, in first year. However, before I started learning French, I was very lucky because I had already been exposed to Italian as my mother (and half my family) come from Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland. I spent school holidays in Switzerland, with my grandmother and family there, and many of them (most of them, at the time) didn’t speak any English but spoke either Italian or the dialect of Ticino, so if I wanted to communicate with them, I just had to speak Italian.

So, when I got to first year of secondary school and French classes started (there was no alternative to French for pupils in first year in my school), although it was a new language and a new accent and new words and new ideas, it somehow already felt familiar to me. I could understand bits and pieces from the first lesson when – as I still vividly recall – our fantastic teacher, Mr Prosser (with whom I’m still in touch every now and then so many years on), appeared and insisted on speaking French and on us speaking French, from the outset, for everything. Others who’ve been in touch about this have spoken about feeling that kind of familiarity and comfort within the new language and that was certainly my experience.

From second year, I also did German and continued with both to the end of secondary school, with French remaining very much my favoured language but German really growing on me, particularly as we got the chance to read more in German (Kafka and Frisch and Dürrenmatt). I spent a year living in France between school and Uni (taking ‘French for foreigners’ classes at Lille III University which was brilliant) and then it was just obvious that French would be part of what I’d do at University, too, so I did. I also took up Czech in first and second year of University which was challenging, to put it mildly, but which I thoroughly enjoyed, not least because, if you wanted to take second year Czech, you had to spend a month at a Summer School in the Czech Republic during the Summer which seemed like an excellent way to spend my time.

In other words, for me, languages have always been there, in different contexts, at different levels, with different levels of enthusiasm, and if I think about what has motivated me to continue studying languages, it’s very often people – Mr Prosser at secondary school, excellent Czech tutors at University in the shape of Josef Fronek and Igor Hajek, but also friends from countries where the languages are spoken and from other countries where other languages are spoken, and, since starting work as a Lecturer in French, students, too. It’s about the books and the films and the plays and the museums and the travel and the food, too, of course, but it’s the people who are the primary motivation, from my perspective.

Our Language Coordinator, Jean-Michel DesJacques, studied languages in secondary school because the system left him no choice in the matter. You simply had to do at least two languages, one in S1 (in his case, English) and another from S3 (German, for him) with the possibility of picking up a 3rd language in lycée. For him, that structure is relevant when we consider the practical timetabling issues in Scottish schools nowadays and the impact that has on language uptake. There were also special, geographical circumstances that came into play (Jean-Michel comes from the region on the border between France and Switzerland), meaning that tv was readily available in French, German and Italian. He had an older brother who lived in England, American relatives, American pupils visiting his college every year and, he assures us, ‘parents who grew up during the war who were convinced we needed to build a new Europe…’

Hannah Grayson spoke French for the first time in her first week of secondary school: ‘I was 11 years old and very shy, but I was quite pleased we all had to take French as a compulsory subject. It was like an immediate *click*, where I just loved it. I liked the sound of the words, the challenge of learning the names of things in another language, and the fun activities we got to do in class. After that, I chose to carry on with French because I found it really exciting to be able to express myself in another language. I met people from France and loved being able to understand them in their native language. As somebody who likes learning, I like French because there’s always more to learn – there’s always something else I could read, or words I haven’t yet come across.’

Elizabeth Ezra only really started learning French at University but says she wishes she’d been able to start it earlier and ‘learn it at a more relaxed pace!’ In her case, growing up in the States, ‘apart from a few Spanish words that everyone growing up in Southern California learns, that was my first exposure to a language other than English.

French wasn¹t initially my main subject – I just kind of took it on a whim – but I was given the chance in my first year of uni to spend ten weeks in France. I¹d never been out of California (let alone on an airplane) and thought I might never have another chance to go abroad, so I jumped at it.

Even though I was always good at grammar, I couldn¹t really understand a word people in France were saying for a *very* long time. I was actually convinced that this French thing was an elaborate practical joke, and that at some point people would burst out laughing and speak in perfect English about how gullible I was. I loved the south of France, where I was living and studying, but I hated feeling that people thought I was stupid because I could hardly speak. Of course I know now that’s not how it works, and that’s not how people think, but at 17, I didn’t realise that.

In my second year, I took more French because, frankly, I didn’t want all the (very) hard work I’d put in to learning the language in my first year to go to waste (which isn’t a very good reason to pursue something, but there you go). Fortunately, I soon fell in love with French literature. In my third year, I did my study abroad in Paris, which introduced me to the world of French literary theory and philosophy, which I also fell in love with. Once again, while I continued to be good at grammar, I was very bad at understanding spoken French, and they almost didn’t let me take classes at l’Université de Paris III. To remedy my weakness, I obviously read a lot in French, but I also bought a transistor radio (if only there had been podcasts back then) and forced myself to listen to French radio a
couple of hours each day. Eventually, I was able to pick out more and more words, until my comprehension was up to speed.

I came back from Paris with all guns blazing, keen to pursue the study of French literature and culture. After finishing my undergraduate studies, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.’

And finally, for the moment, Mathilde Mazau, started learning English at 11 (en 6e au college, en Martinique). It was her ‘langue vivante 1’ – she also did Latin, German and Spanish, but later. She says: ‘I fell in love with English through music when I was a little child and I think being able to understand and sing the songs I loved (rather than “chanter de la bouillie anglaise”) was my main motivation. I then continued English at uni and taught the language for many years in France before coming to Scotland.’

As other responses come in from colleagues, I’ll add them to the blog but this gives a pretty good starting point, at least from our perspective! Next, it’s the turn of our students to have their say (and maybe try to find some pictures to illustrate all of this!)…

Study Abroad: ‘So many more places I want to travel to’

There’s a bit of a ‘Tours theme’ emerging in these recent posts, just based on the coincidence of what articles come in and when and what we’re all up to. What is particularly fun about this all is that we’re getting different perspectives on the Erasmus exchange process, from our colleagues going to Tours to Tours colleagues coming to us and now, after Mairi’s recent post about her first impressions, Rhiannon, who is also in Tours for the semester as part of her BA Hons in French, has sent her thoughts and some great photos of her travels:

2019 Quinn Tours Blog Post Cathedral Feb19‘Bonjour,

This semester I am doing my study abroad in a place called Tours in France. It’s in a region that is part of the Loire Valley meaning that it is surrounded by history with many castles and museums which I love because there are so many interesting things about France. For example, I learned more about the French revolution and Joan of Arc when I went to Orléans and actually stood in the very spot where she once stood, which admittedly gave me chills.

Since coming here, I have managed to do a lot of travelling. We had a week’s holiday during February, and I managed to go to Switzerland, Slovenia, Austria and the Czech Republic (all by bus) which was so surreal. I had the best time seeing places that I’d never thought I would ever get to see, in particular, Lake Bled in Slovenia. The scenery was just breath-taking, and we had an amazing view of the Alps in the background. The weather also seemed to work in our favour and surprisingly it didn’t rain.

2019 Quinn Tours Blog Lake Pic Feb19

Tours itself is very nice, and I have been able to try some amazing food. There are more bakeries than I can count so it is nice to always have a selection of cakes and pastries wherever I go. There is a huge cathedral that I am always in awe of whenever I am nearby as it is simply stunning. One thing that I do love is the transport system and how efficient it is. It is so bizarre to me that a bus can actually be on time.

I am enjoying my classes at the university and have found that all my teachers are lovely and very helpful and welcoming. All of my classes are for exchange students which I do very much enjoy as I am meeting people from all over the world and have made very good friends with people from countries such as the USA, Germany, England etc.

I am now nearing the half-way point of my study abroad and it has gone by so fast. There are so many more places that I want to travel to and I am thankful that this experience has given me the opportunity to do it all.’

Many, many thanks to Rhiannon for having sent this great blog post and we hope you’re able to continue taking full advantage of everything Tours has to offer, as well as travelling well beyond the city, over the remaining months of the Semester Abroad.

 

Strasbourg: un mélange charmant de deux cultures

As this year’s Year 3 students think about where they might be going for their Semester 6 Abroad (destinations will be confirmed next week…), time for another student blog post looking back over Study Abroad. Natalie, who is studying International Management with European Languages and Society, was at the heart of Europe in the Spring and has sent us the following reflections:

‘I started my Erasmus exchange in the charming city of Strasbourg in January of this year. Although I was apprehensive at the prospective of moving to another country, I was excited to discover a new culture in a city which I had heard so much about.

2018 Natalie European ParliamentStrasbourg’s location in the heart of Alsace was one of the biggest factors when choosing my university for semester six. The beautiful town is situated on the French-German border and therefore, it is ideal for travelling and discovering new cities! Strasbourg is also home to various European institutions such as le Parlement européen, la Cour européenne des droits de l’Homme and le Conseil de l’Europe. I would certainly recommend visiting these institutions – we visited the European Parliament for free! We were able to enjoy the panoramic views of Strasbourg and we visited the Hemicycle which is used for the most important debates!

Capitale de Noël

I arrived in Strasbourg on the 5th of January and fortunately, the Christmas spirit was still alive in the town which claims to be the ‘Capital of Christmas’. Strasbourg boasts one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe. I was able to try local delicacies and discover the wonderful Alsatian Christmas decorations. It was a truly magical start to the semester which made me feel at home!2018 Natalie Capitale de Nöel

La dimension franco-allemande

Situated close to the German border, Strasbourg’s culture is a wonderful mixture of German and French influences. As a multicultural town, its historical city centre has been granted the title of World Heritage Site by UNESCO. One of the biggest attractions in this fairy-tale town is ‘La Petite France’ which is a historical and quaint part of Strasbourg. You can walk through the narrow streets, discover the Gothic architecture and enjoy a tarte flambée (speciality of the region) at one of the local restaurants. I would also recommend visiting la cathédrale de Strasbourg to climb up to the rooftops and enjoy a breath-taking view of the town and the Black Forest in Germany. There is also free entry on the first Sunday of each month to take all of your family and friends!

2018 Natalie La Petite France

Strasbourg’s location is perfect for students who want to travel throughout their semester abroad. During my exchange, I visited Germany on a daily basis to go shopping. There is an excellent tram service which connects Strasbourg and Germany, I could not believe that I could travel across a border in only ten minutes! I also visited Zurich in Switzerland, Paris in Spring and carnival with my Erasmus friends in Cologne, Germany. As well as visiting other countries, I travelled to some beautiful towns within the Alsace region and I would recommend visiting Colmar, a small town accessible by bus from Strasbourg. The multi-coloured buildings, cobblestone streets and canals are incredible. We also visited the food markets to try some local delicacies!

2018 Natalie Colmar food markets

Grande ville étudiante

During my Erasmus exchange, I studied at L’EM Strasbourg business school. I was able to choose from a wide variety of modules including subjects that are not available at Stirling University. One of my most fascinating subjects was ‘Introduction to Grape and Wine knowledge’ which included a trip to the vineyards in a small town called Ribeauvillé. This was an excellent trip to learn about the production of wine in Alsace, the grape varieties and to show off our knowledge about wine and food pairings. We even had the opportunity to put the theory we had learned in class into practice by participating in a wine tasting afternoon!

2018 Natalie The end of an adventureEM Strasbourg business school focuses on welcoming international students to ensure that all of its students feel accepted and included in university life. The student associations organise activities, buddy systems to meet French students and cultural trips throughout the semester. The buddy system allowed me to meet French friends that I would not have been able to meet otherwise. Also, the university promotes the local language cafes or ‘Café des langues’ in Strasbourg to practice your French. There are several language cafés across Strasbourg which allow students and locals to meet up, share experiences, meet new friends and learn French in a relaxing atmosphere!

On the whole, I really enjoyed my experience in Strasbourg and I even decided to dedicate my independent research project on the city itself in order to explore the French-German relationship. I would definitely recommend Strasbourg to all students who are looking for an enriching experience in a vibrant and dynamic town with the opportunity of travelling easily across borders. Upon reflecting on my experience, I would not change a thing and I cannot wait to return to Strasbourg!’

Many thanks, firstly, to Natalie for this great post (and pictures!). As it happens, Natalie is also one of a group of Year 3 and 4 students who are heading to Wallace High School in Stirling tomorrow as Student Language Ambassadors to lead a series of workshops as part of their annual Languages Day so good luck with that and we look forward to hearing all about it.

New Semester

It’s already the end of our first week of the new semester here at Stirling so time for a quick round-up of our news. It’s been a busy little run up to the start of teaching here: new colleagues, great First Year numbers and those starting in our Advanced stream have been benefiting from our Bridging Materials, French at Stirling has been rated No.3 in Scotland and in the top 20 in the UK by the 2019 Complete University Guide… A period of great change and excitement!

Where to start? ‘New colleagues’ seems a good place. Beatrice Ivey, Research Assistant on Fiona Barclay’s AHRC Leadership project, is now in Stirling and settling into Divisional life. She and Fiona are working on the organisation of the exhibition that forms part of the project, more on which soon. We’ve also welcomed Emeline Morin who has joined us as a Lecturer in French for the next two years. Emeline’s research interests lie in comparative literature and fairytales and she’s teaching with us across a wide range of courses.

Alongside Emeline, two other new lecturers will be joining us over the months ahead. Aedín ní Loingsigh will be starting in October, with Hannah Grayson taking up her post in January. Hannah’s recent work has been on the Rwandan Stories of Change project at St Andrews. Much as we were sad to see Bill Marshall retire, it’s great to get a chance to welcome a fantastic group of new colleagues and we’re looking forward to working with them. We’ve also got some new faces among the Teaching Assistants who work as part of our Language team (with Language Coordinator, Jean-Michel DesJacques, Mathilde Mazau and Brigitte Depret): Fanny Lacôte and Fraser McQueen who have taught with us before are joined by Aurélie Noël who has previously taught at the University of Glasgow.

2018 Hornberger VIIAs ever, the start of the new semester also means welcoming back our students. Our finalists are back from their Semester Abroad (in France, Quebec, Morocco, Switzerland… or Hispanophone destinations for those doing French and Spanish) and our Year 3 students are about to start the process to select their destination for their Semester Abroad. With that in mind, Jean-Michel DesJacques, Jose Ferreira-Cayuela and Cristina Johnston are organising their annual get-together at the end of September that gives all those students a chance to meet over wine and nibbles to talk about Study Abroad and to exchange questions and tips. All the University’s incoming exchange students from French or Spanish-speaking partner institutions are also invited and it’s a great chance for the different groups of students to get to know each other.

2018 Nicolas Masdorp Pic I

Some of those incoming French-language exchange students are also currently being recruited to lead informal conversation sessions for students in a range of year groups, to offer a further opportunity for spoken language practice beyond the weekly tuition offered by our Language team.

And, of course, we have a great cohort of Year 2 students, many of whom will be applying for English Language Assistantships over the course of this year (welcome back to those who were ELAs last year!). For the first half of our second year, we run an Intermediate class for those who started as complete beginners with us in Year 1 and it’s great to see that numbers on that module are even higher than last year.

Finalists back from Semester Abroad, Year 3 students planning time abroad, students settling into Year 2 and good numbers of Year 1 students which is fantastic to see. Those on the Advanced stream – taking French with a wide range of other subjects – have been working their way through the Bridging Materials that we put together for incoming students each year, to help smooth the transition from secondary school language study to University-level language learning. And those on our Beginners’ stream are about to plunge into the intensive programme of language learning that will introduce them to French and build their confidence and ability as the weeks progress.

A great group of undergraduates and an enthusiastic intake of students on the French stream of our Translation and Translation with TESOL programmes who will work under the guidance of French at Stirling staff on their translation portfolios and, ultimately, on their dissertation projects. It’s been particularly nice to see some familiar faces on those programmes with recent graduates returning to undertake postgrad work with us (as well as across other TPG programmes at Stirling, of course).

As in previous years, we’ll be posting profiles of our students regularly, partly to catch up with those who’ve written for us before and to get a sense of how their studies are progressing, and partly to introduce you to some of our new Year 1 intake, so keep an eye on these pages!

2018 FFF Logo

As for French at Stirling colleagues, lots of news to report there, too. Fiona Barclay, Beatrice Ivey and Cristina Johnston are in discussions with the MacRobert’s film programmer, Grahame Reid, to finalise a programme of French Film Festival screenings that will take place at the MacRobert later in the semester. Details to follow but expect some great new French-language films! (It’s not directly French-related but do also check out Grahame’s Central Scotland Documentary Festival at the MacRobert from 4-8 October – a fantastic programme of documentaries lies ahead!) And on another film-related note, David Murphy will be involved with the Africa in Motion festival in November – more on which soon…

2018 Cent Scot Docu Fest

2018 AiM Logo

 

 

 

 

Aedín ní Loingsigh will be participating in a workpshop on Interdisciplinarity at the Université de Limoges in December and Elizabeth Ezra gave a paper in June at the Contemporary Childhood Conference at the University of Strathclyde examining the witch-familiar relationships in Harry Potter and His Dark Materials. Elizabeth has also just signed a contract for a book, co-edited with Catherine Wheatley of KCL entitled Shoe Reels: The History and Philosophy of Footwear in Film, which will be published by EUP in 2020. And with her non-academic hat on, Elizabeth will be talking about her children’s book Ruby McCracken at the Wigtown Book Festival later this month.

2018 Ruby McCracken

This weekend, while staff and students from French and Spanish are talking to prospective students at Stirling University’s Open Day (15 September – come and see us!), Jean-Michel DesJacques is off to Dundee where he’ll be taking part in the 25th Anniversary Conference UCML Scotland​: Looking inward and outward. Jean-Michel will be meeting actors from all education sectors from Primary to higher education. The 1+2 language initiative will be high on the agenda but not exclusively since challenges and issues in languages are multiple and complex.

And our Phd student Fraser McQueen has been presenting his work across a range of conferences since the Spring, including the ASMCF Postgraduate Study Day at the IMLR (where he spoke about Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in France), the Society for French Studies Postgraduate Study day at UCL (with a paper on female radicalisation fiction), Stirling’s own annual Arts and Humanities Postgraduate Research Conference and the Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies Postgraduate Study Day at Birmingham. Fraser also co-organised the SGSAH Second Year PG Symposium in Glasgow in June and presented his own work there, too.

There is much, much more that we could include here but that seems a good taste of what’s going on to start things off this semester. More to follow over the weeks ahead! In the meantime, many thanks to the students whose photos from last semester abroad have made their way into this post and bon weekend!

‘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.

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!”