Merry Christmas from the School of Literature and Languages!
In their third year at university, students in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading go abroad to live, study, and work. They head to France, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Canada; soon they’ll also be going to Spain and Latin America as well. We’ve asked some of the students who have just come back from their year abroad to let us know how they found the experience. Here’s a reflection from Elliot Reeman, a final-year student of French and Italian, who has some advice for those of you getting ready to set off on your adventures abroad:
Firstly, I hope this post will serve to comfort, inspire, or at the very least deliver insight to those either contemplating or preparing for a year abroad. I had access to information from former language students prior to going abroad, and I really do believe that every bit of advice/knowledge is valuable.
I’ve never actually ‘blogged’… so I guess I’m just going to outline my experience and try to highlight things I learned to avoid, things I learned NOT to avoid and the best ways to make a super memorable chapter of your lives, because (for the record), I had an incredible time in Siena. I really did.
My mobility to Siena was the second of my two study placements (as I also study French), and was a period of five months between the 10th February and the 10th July.
I was very lucky with many aspects of my time in Siena which helped with my arrival and which positively impacted on my experience in general. A close university friend of mine who studies single honours Italian at Reading was to spend her entire year abroad in Italy (Siena), and this meant that she had settled herself in Siena 5 months prior to my arrival (whilst I was in France). Through her, I was able to fill a room in the same apartment building which a student left, presumably having only spent the first half of their mobility in Italy. I was given the contact details of the landlady in advance and this was all confirmed well before my arrival. I suppose this is exactly why having information, such as posts on this blog and points of contact, is so important and valuable. With people and their information readily available, you’re so much more likely to find something or someone to make your transition smoother and easier.
In the six minutes spent in the taxi from the train station, going through the old, narrow, cobbled streets of what was to become my new home-town, I made up my mind that I had chosen well and that I was going to thoroughly enjoy my time here.
The only type of person who I can imagine not enjoying Siena is someone who needs huge, busy cities. Siena has enough charm and character to last you a lifetime. Just a look at the view from my apartment window should give a clue – and this is completely standard view for an apartment in Siena!
There is so much intriguing culture in Siena, the likes of which I can almost guarantee you won’t have come across, and being a resident as opposed to a tourist, it makes you feel an actual part of something so special. I realise I’m not actually explicitly describing said culture, but that’s because I don’t think I can. You simply have to experience it. I will say this: the town’s medieval history can be felt (and often seen) in every street within the walls. Imagine having your breakfast interrupted by the sound of drums, only to get up and look down onto the street from your window and see the whole street filled with men dressed in medieval armour and carrying pikes… well, this happens in Siena.
I could write for days about the things I did and saw (and ate) in Siena, so I’m really trying hard to condense. For this reason, I am going to switch to a list. Call me lazy, but I’m saving your scrolling finger. I just want to highlight the things I believe you should do, and those you shouldn’t:
1: GET A MAP – a good one! Whether it’s Tuscany or any other region, give yourself a real sense of where you are in relation to your host country. Not only will this save potential embarrassment, but you can then see what’s around you.
2: EXPLORE – Once you’ve got your map, I suggest picking a surrounding or neighbouring town/village each fortnight, research it a little, and make it your quest to explore it! Public transport does exist everywhere (even if it can be frustrating). Of course, prioritise getting to know the town/city you live in, but spread your wings – you’ll thank yourself later.
3: MAKE NATIVE FRIENDS – So, in Siena, we had a small local bar – called ‘Bella Vista’ for anyone interested. We befriended the girl who worked behind the bar – an incredibly outgoing Italian girl in her mid-twenties who lived in Siena. She happened to have a car, and this made point number 2 absolutely amazing for us. It also made number 1 slightly redundant for us… It also means that you are much less likely to fall into the English-speaking trap if you live with other English students. It’s just the best thing you can do to enhance pretty much ever aspect of your experience.
4: PACK LIGHT – Moving to France in September, I made a bit of a mistake. “France is nearby, let’s take a drive down with the parents and move in a completely full car-load of possessions.” No. It was a nice idea, and I did enjoy my 30” computer monitor and printer, but no. Obviously Italy isn’t the same – you’d have to be a bit of a fool to drive from England, but my point remains: having just one large suitcase and one hand luggage case is SO much better. I still had plenty of my clothes, and it meant that short trips were manageable and ultimately, moving back was stress-free – let’s just say that moving out of France involved much cardboard and duct tape… So pack light(er) people.
5: BRAVE THE PAPERWORK – Okay, so it’s no secret that the administration of a year abroad is a bit of a nightmare. We all get frustrated as hell with it, but when you think of it, organising a year long exchange on a national scale is a tough job. Do your paperwork EARLY. Yes, you will probably have to print out and scan the same form around 3 times, and yes the office will be open at the stupidest of hours in France, but persevere because the simple fact is that you can get into all sorts of post-mobility trouble if you leave it late. Besides, you want that generous government money, too!
6: SPEND WISELY – If you can, think ahead and put money aside for your year abroad. Yes, you do get some money from Erasmus/government, but I want to stress how being in a new country presents you with SO many exciting opportunities. You want to be saying yes to as many things as possible, and many of them won’t be free. Italy was not expensive. In fact, my accommodation; the food; the drink… these were all impressively inexpensive compared to England. The only thing is that, because of this, you’ll want to experience dining out, having evening drinks, taking day trips etc. much more frequently. In a sentence: think about how to financially manage a lifestyle you’ll both enjoy and be able to maintain right up until your departure.
Much of what I’ve written refers to the Year Abroad in general rather than specifically rather than Siena specifically. Anyone thinking about / preparing for / in Siena who would like more detailed information about my experience or advice, please get in touch with me. In the meantime, I hope that my photographs can to the talking with regards to my cool experiences and some of the great places I went. These include much drinking in the Piazza del Campo, road trips to lakes and, of course, the famous Palio. Bouna fortuna à tutti!
Growing up, I remember admiring my teachers from the carpet while they wrote on the whiteboard and I remember thinking how ‘cool’ it would be for me to one day own a pack of those different coloured pens. I recall coming home from school and playing teachers (with my imaginary class of students) and re-enacting the day’s events, even to the point of having my very own class register and marking with a green and red pen those who were present and those who were absent.
However, my imagination was soon taken with other things and the answer to the question ‘what do you want to be when you’re older?’ changed from being ‘a teacher’ to a number of different careers; the answer ‘teacher’ didn’t return till the age of 14.
In 2007 Italian television aired a mini television series on the life of Maria Montessori, on Canale 5. The influence she had had with her teaching method, not only in Italy but also all around the world, instantly fascinated me, and further reading into Maria Montessori’s life was what made me say, “I want to be like her”.
From then on I had decided; I wanted to pursue a career in teaching. I wanted to become a teacher but this time it was different. It was no longer a matter of wanting to copy what my teachers did but instead I wanted to be able to make a difference as a teacher.
I was in the middle of my GCSE’s when I first said that I wanted to become a language teacher. Italian language school was always something I looked at as a chore, but just as almost everything in life; the things you hate, in the end, become the very things that you love. I began to see an interest in not only the Italian language but also in its culture. This interest accompanied me throughout my secondary and collage school years, until finally leading me to graduate from the University of Reading with a BA (Hons) in Italian in July 2015.
I began to view my knowledge in the language as a positive factor that determined who I was; Italian at the end of the day is what I know best.
It was only when, while reading through my brother’s A-level work and finding myself going mad at the sight that he had not used the subjunctive correctly, that I realised that teaching Italian was something I wanted to do.
I owe most of my interest in Italian to the many language teachers I’ve had through the years, but my determination, enthusiasm and will is definitely something I’ve acquired through my experience as a student at university. Just as when I was a child, I look up to and admire the work of those whom I’ve had the privilege of being taught by while at Reading. Their enthusiasm and knowledge in transmitting the subject to their students is yet another factor I wish to be able to one day possess.
I have recently completed a training course at the Italian Cultural Institute in London to teach Italian as a foreign language. The first hand experience received has given me the confirmation that teaching Italian is what I want to do. However I do not consider myself a language teacher just yet. Being qualified is only the start of the journey, years of experience is what, I believe, makes you the teacher and in any case mine has just begun.
While I wait for the journey ahead to fully take off, I imagine myself to one day have my very own class, in which I can invoke the same amount of enthusiasm in the culture and language, as I was lucky enough to have had. Most importantly, I wish to positively change my students in their knowledge and understanding of the language that I’ve been so fortunate to possess as from childhood.
On 25 November 2015, The Vice-Chancellor’s Office and the Department for Modern Languages and European Studies hosted the official launch of the new BA Spanish, which brought together University colleagues, the first cohort of students on the programme, local community stakeholders and dignitaries (the Ambassadors for Nicaragua and Panamá, and the cultural attachés for Mexico, Panamá and Cuba). The guests enjoyed Spanish tapas and wonderful live music from Charanga del Norte, and the dancing continued into the evening. We look forward to celebrating the achievements of our first graduates of Ba Spanish programmes four years from now! More pictures of the event in https://www.facebook.com/MLESReading/
This academic year, DAAD Lektorin Sandra Beer has organised a Modern Languages year abroad photo competition. The wonderful pictures of our students can be found on the departmental Facebook site and on Twitter. Three pictures were voted to be the best ones and this is what the winners tell us about their experience on their year abroad:
1st place Zara Al Naimi (French and English Literature)
Hello, my name is Zara Alnaimi and I spent my year abroad in Angoulême, SW France, working as an English assistant in two primary schools. The town of Angoulême is relatively small although it is famous for La Bande Dessinée (BD) and is home to the celebrated BD festival which takes place every year. During my year abroad, I was living in accommodation with other assistants from all over the world. Although English was our common language, we tried to speak French as much as we could and regularly went to restaurants and the cinema to watch French films. We also enjoyed experiencing French life and eating as much cheese and bread as we could! On the weekends, we usually traveled around South West France to places such as Bordeaux, La Rochelle and Poitiers. The photograph I submitted for the year abroad competition was from a lovely day on the beach at La Rochelle. A particular highlight for me was hiring a car in France so we could all visit Bordeaux, and driving on the French motorway which was scary but enjoyable! As expected, I met many French people whilst I was abroad and this really improved my language skills.
In terms of working as a language assistant, this was a very interesting experience: it really was a change from essays and assignments at university! Standing up in front of thirty children and teaching can be a very daunting experience, but once you get into the swing of things it is very rewarding. I really appreciated the children’s enthusiasm for learning English and it was enjoyable to create lesson plans for all the classes. Both of my schools have kept in touch since and it is so nice to hear how the children and teachers are getting on. Working as an assistant also gave me a sense of independence, adaptability and greatly improved my linguistic capabilities. I absolutely loved being part of the French culture and tried to make the most of my time abroad! Finally, I do miss France very much and my year abroad will always have a special place in my heart.
2nd place Elliot Reeman (Italian and French)
Hello my name is Elliot, and I spent my year abroad in two parts: the first half in France and the second in Italy. These were two very different experiences, but both extremely enjoyable. In France, I was in Grenoble, in the south east of France close to the Alps. This is a beautiful region of the country with amazing mountainous scenery, very cold winters and gorgeous hot summers. I arrived at the start of September for my study placement at the university of Grenoble, but the weather still somehow reached 20+ degrees into November! The university campus is large and green much like reading, but with a team network running through it and Into the town. This was incredibly handy. We spend our weekends hiking, exploring the region and watching local rugby matches. The Christmas markets in Grenoble were Great, too!
I was in Siena from February to mid July. I cannot speak highly enough of my time here. Like my time in France before, this was a study placement – at the university of Siena. After some initial administrative confusion with lecture buildings and paperwork, the classes were very interesting (and quite informal!) As for accommodation, I was living in delightfully Tuscan apartment with one other Italian guy my age (who was coincidently the son of the building’s landlady. Friends of mine from Reading also studying in Siena were living just 2 floors above me in the same apartment building. This combination of the usefulness of an Italian housemate and the comfort of my English friends so close was so perfect. As my picture shows, much of our free time was spent taking full advantage of the food and wine Tuscany has to offer. We explored Tuscany thoroughly and took trips to the closest coastal beaches. The weather from the start of May onwards was beautiful. This medieval town is the most charming place I could imagine studying on your year abroad, and it’s culture goes hand in hand with its beauty.
This is a photo which I am both proud and also slightly embarrassed to say, was a VERY typical scene during my 6 months aboard in Siena. Between our lectures we had signed up for during the semester, we would walk home, but on our way was the iconic Piazza Del Campo – the focal point of the town. With high quality bars, restaurants and cafes running the whole way around this central square, it was not hard to find yourself a seat outside, on the periphery of the Piazza with a cool class of Pinot Grigio and your choice of delicious aperitivo dishes. This particular day, my close friend Sam was visiting from Genova, where he was studying. After a spot of shopping, we rewarded ourselves with a drink in the warm sun whilst watching the world go by, appreciating the fortune of our opportunity to be living in such a beautiful country during our studies. Naturally, wanting to cause jealousy amongst my friends and family (and it being 2015), I took out my phone to send a photo of the sun hitting my glistening glass of wine. It was then that I noticed a perfectly clear reflection of the main clock tower of the Piazza in my wine glass. It didn’t even take two attempts to capture the beauty of my second home town in a way which also accurately represented the slow and indulgent lifestyle of its people.
3rd place – Jessica Kravetz (Italian and Management Studies)
I spent my third year abroad in Venice. During my year abroad I was able to fully immerse myself in Italian culture, history and art. I travelled to many different cities including Milan, Florence, Siena, Bergamo and Rome. Venice however was so unique and events such as Carnival and the frequent flooding of Aqua Alta (High Water)made it a truly inimitable experience. There with endless opportunities to explore the city’s calle, museums and galleries and I made new international friendships. I really enjoyed the endless opportunities to immerse myself in Italian art and architecture, it was a truly enriching experience.