Following on from Stuart’s tales of life in sub-zero Quebec and Brett’s of life teaching English in Japan, it’s time for more travels, this time with thanks to Emily who is reaching the end of her year teaching English in France:
‘Salut encore! It feels like hardly any time has passed since I was writing my last post for the French at Stirling blog, where I spoke a bit about my first two years studying French and History. First and second year went by so quickly, but not as quickly as this year! Instead of carrying on into third year, I decided to take a year out from my studies to work in France as an English Language Assistant. In my last post I had just found out that I’d been accepted into the programme run by the British Council, and was waiting to hear where I would be posted. I ended up being placed in a lycée in a small town in Brittany, which I was really excited about because it would be an opportunity to explore a region of France that I’d never seen before.
The town I was posted in, Combourg, wasn’t much different to my hometown in Argyll; it was rural, the population was small (7,000 people roughly), and the lycée was a similar size to the high school I went to, with 600-odd pupils. The job itself consisted of me leading conversation classes in English with the older pupils, which was a bit daunting as there was only an age-gap of two years between me and most of my students! However, I thought back to my oral classes at Stirling University and what I liked most about them (the conversations on recent events, discussing our own interests, being encouraged to speak, even if we made mistakes or our pronunciation wasn’t the best) and I tried to apply these things when I was planning my own classes. It was also a great opportunity to talk about Scotland and our culture, as most of the students had only really associated the UK with England. They couldn’t believe what goes into some of our best loved dishes, like haggis!
Although I was working in Combourg, I actually ended up living in a house-share with four French people in St Malo, a wee coastal town in the north of Brittany. Living with native French-speakers was really fun as I was able to learn a bit about French culture, and they really helped me to improve my language skills. There was so much that I loved about living in France, but the thing I enjoyed the most had to be the food. There were markets in different neighbourhoods of St-Malo near enough every day, and it’s safe to say that most of my wages went on trying as much authentic French food as I could! When I wasn’t spending my money on food, I was using it to explore nearby towns with some other language assistants in the area. We were able to visit a lot of places, like Dinan and Rennes, by using public transport, which was amazing as it wasn’t expensive and it gave us the chance to see new parts of France.
Although I had a fantastic experience in France, I’m really looking forward to getting back into my studies at Stirling and putting everything I learned over the past seven months into practice. And I’ll be back in France in no time, because in third year we have the choice of studying abroad for a semester! I’m hoping that I can go to a different part of France for this, just because I think it’d be nice to experience a new region, but no matter where I end up, I’ll definitely be paying Brittany a wee visit!’
Many, many thanks to Emily for taking the time to send us this post and we’re looking forward to finding out where you’ll be spending Spring 2020, too!
Term has finished now in Stirling but there’s still lots going on, in particular with our two days of events for secondary school pupils next week (more on that later!). It’s also a good point in the year to catch up with tales from current students finishing off time abroad and graduates whose post-graduation paths have taken them in unexpected directions like Brett who has just sent us this great post and who graduated in French and Spanish this time last year: ‘
‘If you’re a languages student on the cusp of graduating, you’re probably at the infamous crossroads: translation or teaching. I’ve stared down that path before too, but I just couldn’t bring myself to walk it. I’ve done translation work, and I like it, but I’m not ready to commit to specializing in any field just yet. I’m also quite sure that I don’t want to be a teacher in the UK either. So what does that leave me with? After working for TAPIF (via British Council) in France, and having the time of my life on Erasmus in Seville, I wanted more from language learning before diving into the pool of post-grad uncertainty.
As if Fourth Year isn’t hard enough (specially with studying two foreign languages), I decided to also study introductory Japanese ‘for fun’. If you’re questioning my sanity, you’re right to do so. On Thursdays I used to have a two-hour Spanish class, a two-hour French class, another two hours of Spanish and then two hours of Japanese from 6-8pm. There was method to the madness, however. I’d always been interested in Japan as a teenager, and even at the age of fourteen I knew I wanted to live and work there. I’d heard of the JET (Japanese Exchange and Teaching) Programme, but I had pushed it to the back of my mind, thinking there was no way I’d be eligible to go with basically no Japanese ability. But one day, during our weekly 2-hour Japanese class, representatives from the Programme came to Stirling University. It didn’t take long for me to make up my mind.
I started the application process. That in itself was a journey. Doctors’ appointments, trips to the Consulate in Edinburgh, and mountains of paperwork awaited me (I thought I’d had it bad in France). It paid off though, as I was notified in May that I’d been accepted. But in the afterglow of being successfully hired I was asked the same few questions.
“Urm, why are you going to Japan?”
“Don’t you think it’s a waste after studying Spanish and French?”
I just gave a smile and said “it’ll be an adventure!” But the truth is I didn’t know what I was doing. Why invest so much time, money, and energy into something if you’re not going to utilize it? I pushed those thoughts aside as I got on the plane and endured the 18-hour flight to Tokyo. But the thoughts didn’t leave my mind during the 3-day orientation. It seemed everyone had studied Japanese, or had at least been to Japan before. Even though I had successfully gone through the same application and hiring process as everyone else, imposter syndrome started to creep in.
After the orientation, I flew to my final destination: Tottori City in Tottori Prefecture. Tottori Prefecture lies in Western Japan, and is very inaka (rural). It’s the least populated prefecture, with a rough total of 570,570 inhabitants. Starbucks finally made its debut in Tottori in 2015 (I’m using that as a measurement of ruralness). Other measurements of inaka-ness include; being surrounded by rice paddies, having to pay with exact change on the bus, and always hearing the hum of the cicadas wherever you go. As for weather, it’s hot and humid (around 35 degrees Celsius) in the summer and below freezing in winter.
My job is an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) at a high-level academic Senior High School. You may have some preconceived ideas about Japanese students.
“They must be so polite!”
“They’re amazing at English!”
“They’re so clever!”
Of course, they are, in part. On the whole my students are lovely to work with. They always say “hello” in the corridors, they give me sweets or presents when they come back from holidays, and they often come to chat to me in the staff room. At my high school, every student wants to go to university, so learning English is important for them. This makes my job easier, because it means they try hard to begin with (a welcome change from my situation in France). Outside the classroom, I try to involve myself in cultural activities. I joined my school’s ikebana (flower arranging) club. I’ve also experienced tea ceremonies and attempted Japanese calligraphy.
Maybe you’re thinking, well that’s great, but you’ve not used your skills in Spanish and French. Au contraire. Being a Language Assistant in France gave me my first insight into teaching English as a foreign language. On top of that, my Erasmus semester gave me the courage to speak to people in a foreign language, without the safety net of English to catch me. You might have already experienced these things in Spanish and French-speaking countries, but it can be daunting when your new country doesn’t even use the same alphabet. Thankfully, I also have very kind teachers and colleagues to help me when I’m struggling.
I was lucky enough to be placed in a Super Global High School. What does that mean? Our school takes part in international projects (mainly focused on social and environmental issues). We also have students partake in international exchange programmes. Right now, we have an Argentine exchange student who doesn’t speak much English or Japanese. So, I’ve been proactively helping her, translating any information she doesn’t understand and speaking to her in Spanish when she’s struggling. I guess that’s a job that couldn’t be done if I hadn’t studied Spanish at university.
On top of all of this, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to some amazing places that I otherwise would never have been to. I’ve also made my TV debut on both small local stations and prime time nation-wide programmes. Who would have thought?
Living in Japan has given me the chance to reunite with two other Stirling University alumni: Daisuke and Atsushi. They helped tutor me in Japanese and gave me some great advice before I left the UK. If I hadn’t studied languages at Stirling Uni, I would never have met two great friends and developed a support network before I even arrived in Japan.
The obvious thing to mention is the challenge of learning the Japanese language. It’s different in almost every way to English, Spanish and French. Forget the patterns of “Subject, Verb, Object” and noun/adjective placement. I’ve had to unlearn the knowledge I acquired over the last ten years and treat this as something completely new. On top of that, there are three writing systems used in Japanese! Yes, three! Although it’s been a slow process, I feel like I’ve made some small progress in the (almost) year that I’ve been here. In July I’m taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and aiming for N5 level (the equivalent of A1/2 in the CEFR exams).
I’m still not sure what the future holds, but I know I’m going to be in Japan until at least August 2020. After that, I still haven’t made up my mind. I’m torn between staying in Japan, moving to South Korea or travelling around South America. I guess the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this experience is that there is no one way to do things. So, if you’re standing at a crossroads and you can’t decide which route to take, why don’t you forge your own path?’
Many, many thanks to Brett for this fantastic post – we’re delighted that JET and Japan are working out so well for you and look forward to more updates over the months ahead. Do keep in touch!
Many of the articles on this blog over the past months and years have given an overview of what our undergraduate students go on to do after graduation and we’re hoping to continue that particular stream of posts in the weeks ahead. For just now, though, a slightly different perspective, in the shape of this article from Martin who completed his PhD with us, under the supervision of Bill Marshall and Cristina Johnston, a few years ago now, working on language and French and Francophone rap:
‘Since the end of my PhD in June 2016, I have focused primarily on teaching and publishing my PhD research. Although my main area of study was French at university, I started working full-time as a Dutch and English teacher in a Belgian secondary school in September 2016 because of the shortage of such teachers. My Bachelor’s degree in Translation and Interpreting combined with my time spent in Flanders (for my Master’s degree) and Scotland made me a very sought-after candidate for such vacancies.
Of course, I would have preferred to teach French right away, ideally in a high school or a university (both types of higher education in Belgium), but there are many French teachers on the job market. Even with a PhD, it is hard to stand out when applying for a vacancy. This was made even more complicated by the introduction of a new law regulating the degrees needed to teach in secondary schools. Since September 2016, it has become mandatory to possess a teaching degree from a university (called agrégation). Without this degree, it is hard to find a teaching position, you get paid less, anyone with a teaching degree, even fresh out of university, will be prioritised over you regardless of your years of service, and it is impossible (actually illegal) to get a permanent contract.
As I had been made aware of this upcoming legislative change, I enrolled in a French teaching degree at the Université catholique de Louvain in September 2016, right after my PhD. This course normally takes one year to complete, but I took it over two years while working full-time. It is only worth 30 credits on paper but takes a lot of time and effort and represents many more credits in practice. In fact, if you take it within a Master’s degree, you are allowed to take a 6-credit ‘empty course’ as compensation because they do realise that it would be too hard otherwise. Unfortunately, they do not offer such a privilege to people who only follow the teaching part of the degree. Things were made even more difficult by my father’s passing away in October 2016. Despite all of this, I somehow managed to finish the degree with the highest distinction (18/20 average) while having a second daughter and publishing 5 articles based on chapters from my thesis. My hair was thinning before and now I am completely bald… Go figure!
This new degree has created opportunities for me. It allowed me to start working part-time as a French teacher in a secondary school last September while continuing to teach English to ‘immersion’ classes (with students who have certain courses in English despite being in a French-speaking school). Next school year, I am very likely to work as a French teacher full-time. My goal is to do this for a few years and to eventually find a more fulfilling position in a Belgian high school or maybe university if I get the right opportunity. A big reform is about to take place with regards to teaching degrees, which means that high schools and universities will be looking for new teachers. The director of the French teaching degree at the Université catholique de Louvain told me that he will get in touch with me then, as I impressed him during my studies. I’ve had interviews with other high school directors who told me that my profile would be very interesting then. I do enjoy teaching in secondary schools, but students can be unruly and the school programs uninspiring at times. Furthermore, it does not make long-term sense, in my opinion, as my PhD is not valued at all (nor even taken into consideration).
In any case, we will see what the future has in store for me! I will make sure to let the University of Stirling know. In the meantime, you can read some of my publications on non-standard vocabulary in Francophone rap if you want to: in French here, and in English here, here, here and here!’
Many, many thanks to Martin for having found the time among so many other commitments to write this blog post for us and we look forward to hearing how things work out in the next academic year, and send you our best wishes!
Another very pleasant part of this whole blog catch-up thing is that it gives me a chance to pass on great news about successes for staff and students.
The University’s annual RATE teaching award ceremony took place at the end of last month so, firstly, congratulations to our Divisional colleague Bashir Saade who won this year’s prize for Excellence in Teaching in Arts and Humanities. It was fantastic to see a number of French at Stirling staff also being nominated for their hard work and commitment to teaching over this past academic year across a range of categories: Exceptional Student Support Award; Research Postgraduate Supervisor of the Year; Best Tutor; Fantastic Feedback and Excellence in Teaching in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities. And the feedback from the voters always makes us smile:
‘An inspirational teacher and one that I desire to be like myself’;
‘So passionate about her subject and creates an enjoyable atmosphere for learning. Where every student feels their opinion or interpretation is valid’;
‘Very constructive and friendly feedback that gave me the confidence to write essays with more ease’;
‘Most involved, best informed, best organised tutor and professor. Will always get back to you on time, will help with anything, always on time, always available for appointments.’
Thank you to all the students who voted for us – it really is very much appreciated by us all!
Eilidh – who is studying French with Spanish and Professional Education – will be working on a project exploring how a particular region balances its history and traditions against a desire to modernise and to exist within a changing world, with a particular focus on Lyon where she’ll be spending her year as a Language Assistant. Caitlin – who is on the same degree programme as Eilidh – is keen to explore the influence of Gothic art and architecture on the region around Montpellier where she’ll be working, also as a British Council Assistant. And Eszter – whose degree is in Spanish and Marketing – will be in Spain, on Semester Abroad, and examining feminism and the creative industries while studying at the University of Navarra-Pamplona. Congratulations to all three recipients of these competitive scholarships and we look forward to tales of your time abroad and the work you do with the Stevenson over the year ahead.
As ever, with the end of the academic year, we like to get a sense of what plans our finalists have for life after graduation at the end of June – it’s becoming something of a tradition. And, as ever, those plans are diverse and varied so, with many, many thanks to all those who contributed (and to those who have promised additions to this post as and when their final assessments are over…), here’s a taste of what lies ahead for them:
Greig, who has been studying for a BA Hons in French with us, has been saving to go travelling over the past year with the intention of going to south-east Asia at some point in the near future for 6 months to a year. Over the summer he’ll be ‘working for a wealth-management company (Succession) doing data-entry and reviews just to help add to my travel-funds and then after summer I intend on applying to work as a chalet host in the Alps in France for a ski-season. After that I hope to have saved up enough money to begin my travels and, as cliché-d as it sounds, do a bit of soul-searching and find out what I want to do with my life.’
Like Greig, Samantha, who will be graduating in French and Spanish, is ultimately very much hoping to become a translator. However, she hopes to spend ‘at least a year saving up for a backpacking trip around Europe in Spring-Summer 2020 before either starting a Masters in French translation or doing a translation internship and eventually gaining enough experience to become a freelance translator in French, but also maybe in Spanish and Italian. I’m not sure when I’ll officially have a career as a translator but it’s definitely my end goal and has been my dream since I was 6 years old.’
Paloma is on our International Management and Intercultural Studies programme that we run in conjunction with the Ecole de Management in Strasbourg and, having completed her Stirling modules and a semester of Study Abroad in Rabat, she’s off to Alsace in the Autumn for the Master Grande Ecole. As she says ‘Back in 2017, I had the chance to take part in a Summer School in Strasbourg, and I fell in love with the city. After finishing up my bachelors in Stirling (where did time go?), I am excited to go back and study a masters at EM Strasbourg starting in September. I am looking forward to being at the heart of Europe in a buzzing, historic, and multilingual city filled with European institutions.’
Another of our International Management and Intercultural Studies students, Annika, has just started a Summer-long network and research internship with the UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) based in Bonn, with a pretty fantastic view from her office windows. Core to her role will be to assist in the planning and preparation phase of the 2019 UNEVOC TVET Leadership Programme in Bonn later this year, including logistical support, preparation of communication, PR and programme materials. Thanks to her language skills, she’s also been asked to work with the Communications and Capacity Building Team there. And then in September, she’ll be hopping over the border to Strasbourg to start her MGE year.
As for Alex, who has been studying French and Maths at Stirling, as he says: ‘Like many 4th year students, I am yet to decide what field of work I’d like to go into. Despite this, I have applied for the British Council placement to become an English Language Assistant in France for roughly 8 months. This opportunity will give me good experience in teaching, especially if I decide to become a teacher, whilst further improving my level of French. I have received confirmation that I am likely to get a place and am awaiting allocation of my destined region, which I should know by the end of June.’
Among the plans of other finalists are more intentions to travel far and wide, as well as offers for Master’s programmes in everything from International Political Economy to Peace Studies. To all our finalists from this year, we send our very best wishes and look forward to learning where life will take you – keep in touch!
First day of teaching for the Spring semester and French at Stirling is back!
So, welcome back, firstly, to the over- 250 students registered across our various French modules, from Year 1 Advanced and Beginners’ streams all the way through to final year Core Language and dissertations. And to those of you reading this as French at Stirling students embarking on your integral Semester Abroad or entering the second half of your year as an English Language Assistant, we hope you have a great time and look forward to tales of your studies, work and travels as the semester progresses.
On the staffing front, following Bill Marshall’s retirement at the end of last Summer, we were sorry to say goodbye to our colleague David Murphy who left to take up a new role at the University of Strathclyde at the start of January. We wish him all the very best in the new job. As regular blog readers will know, we’ve made a series of great new appointments to French at Stirling and we’re delighted that Hannah Grayson has now joined us as a Lecturer in French and Francophone Studies, working alongside Aedín ní Loingsigh and Emeline Morin who both started last semester, and the rest of the French at Stirling team.
As ever, there’ll be plenty of blog posts over the days and weeks ahead with details of what our students and staff have been up to over the past few months and plans for the months ahead so watch this space but, in the meantime, welcome back to the new semester and welcome back to French at Stirling!
Another week until the start of semester and these final few days before the new academic year are full of news to report. Usually, the bits of this blog that are written by me (Cristina Johnston) are written in Scotland but this post sees me making my way to Strasbourg where I’m headed for meetings with our colleagues at the Ecole de Management. We’ve had an exchange partnership with them for many years now and currently have a great Integrated Masters programme that we run with them in International Management and Intercultural Studies. As is the way with these things, most of the time that just means corresponding via email and it’s our students who benefit from being able to enjoy the delights of our respective institutions and cities. Every now and then, though, colleagues come from Strasbourg to Stirling or from Stirling to Strasbourg and that’s what I’m up to just now. A good day of meetings and discussions about possible future partnerships and teaching and research collaborations lies ahead, and I’m looking forward to getting a chance to see the EMS.
The added bonus – from my perspective, at least – is that I spent my own year abroad when I was an undergraduate as an English Language Assistant living and teaching in Strasbourg so it’s a city I used to know well. As those students who were away as ELAs last year make their way back to campus in Stirling, and some of those who are just starting on new adventures as assistants in places as far-flung as Colombia (watch this space for more…) send emails to say hello, it’s great to get a chance to reminisce on my own experiences as a Language Assistant. I taught at the Lycée Marie Curie in Strasbourg where – at the time, at least – they taught both the French Bac and the European Bac, meaning that one class of pupils in terminale had extra language tuition, History and Geography taught in English and an impressive openness to the possibilities that language learning opened up for them.
For me, it was a great first experience of teaching – I wasn’t much older than the pupils, they were (without exception) really keen to learn, and the school was incredibly supportive (of me and of their pupils). As well as the actual teaching, I was lucky enough to be asked to accompany that terminale class on a 10-day trip to Northern Ireland and was just generally made to feel part of the school community. I kept in touch with some of the pupils for a few years after I came back and, ever since then, have also kept in touch with one of the former English teachers from the school so this EMS trip will also give me a chance to catch up with her, having not actually seen her face-to-face in 20 years! All in all, a good trip lies ahead!
Enough about me, though… What other news? Well, Fiona Barclay and I had a great meeting last week with the ever-enthusiastic Grahame Reid of Stirling’s MacRobert cinema to talk about (fingers crossed) bringing some of this year’s French Film Festival films to Stirling again this year. All being well, November should be French cinema month at Stirling but more will follow on that once we get confirmation. French at Stirling has also been busy preparing workpacks for all the modules we’ll be running in the new semester and generally getting ourselves ready for all our new and returning students. And, at the end of this week, just before the focus shifts back more towards teaching, many of us will also be attending a Research Away Day led by Bill Marshall to discuss research plans and ideas with colleagues from Languages, Translation, Religion, English and Creative Writing. Oh yes, and our former PhD student Martin Verbeke has another article forthcoming: “Represent Your Origins: An Analysis of the Diatopic Determinants of Non-Standard Language Use in French Rap” has been accepted for publication by the International Journal of Francophone Studies!
A flurry of pre-semester activity! And pictures of Strasbourg will doubtless appear on the blog over the next week or so…