Hola! My name is Annie, and I spent my Year Abroad in Madrid, Spain, where I worked in Recruitment for the first half, followed by Investment Strategies in Private Equity in the second. I also worked during the evenings as an English tutor to three young children to earn some extra money, by the end they were like family to me and helped me with my Spanish and taught me how to cook typical Spanish food. This photo was taken by Puerta de Alcalá, one of my favourite spots in Madrid, not only because it is right next to the Prado and Retiro, but because when I first arrived in the city, it immediately caught my attention. Choosing to go to Madrid was the best decision I made for my year abroad, not only because it is a bustling city, but because I was able to travel around Spain and Europe to visit my friends who were also on their year abroad. Before coronavirus hit, I was lucky enough to have went to Malaga, Venice, Paris, Bilbao and Milan. I would say to students going on their year abroad, travel travel travel! You will never have this time again and it will go by so quickly, that is what the student loan is for anyway!
‘Hi everyone, I’m Alexandra and I’m a final year Italian and Spanish student here at the University of Reading. My year abroad was split into two semester so I spent September to December in Bologna, Italy and February to July in Seville, Spain.
My photo is a partial skyline of Seville from the view over the Guadalquivir river. I wish I could capture the feeling I had taking that photo and the many times I walked over the bridges in Seville. The city completely captures you in it’s beauty and I was always completely mesmerised.
During my time in Seville, I studied at the University of Seville until quarantine was announced on March 14th, however, I made the, now, best decision of my life to stay there during the strict regulations of the lockdown. University abroad is always a whirlwind, there will certainly be times when you feel like pulling your hair out, especially when it comes to scheduling your own timetable (which was a massive surprise to me). In the end, I managed to find modules that didn’t all clash and I was interested in. Despite the tricky times and trying to get yourself understood, it pays off massively. The students in Seville were so welcoming and a couple offered to help me by sending me their notes of the classes!
Of course, we go on our year abroad to study/work and it is very rewarding, however the true Erasmus experience comes from making international connections. I was in a flat with 10 other Erasmus students from all over the world and, it’s safe to say, I have made friends for life. We all went through the struggles together of attempting to understand our teachers, waiters/waitresses and any person who tried to communicate with us in the thickest Andalucian accent! But once we got the hang of it, we felt so proud of ourselves
My first night in Seville, I went for a walk by the river at sunset whilst I called my mum and cried. They were tears from being so overwhelmed as I could not believe how lucky I was to live in such a beautiful place, it was nothing like anything I had ever seen before. Coming from a low income background, spending time abroad is not something I was widely exposed to and it really changed my life.
Seville is truly enchanting and I, normally, wouldn’t be so poetic but the city really takes hold of you. It is full of vibrant culture, stunning buildings and citizens who are always willing to help you. Every corner you turn, there is something new to look at or to learn about and there are a million places for impressive photo opportunities. My greatest advice, if you plan on going to Seville, would be to lose yourself in the city – go in the morning when it’s not a million degrees, and just walk around all the streets as you will discover so much, you will hear the natives communicating and just immerse yourself in the culture.’
Hey, I’m Harry West and I study Spanish and Economics. I was in Seville studying Filología Hispánica. It was something of a shock, Spanish taught in the classroom is something else to what is spoken on the street, and I remember thinking to myself “what on earth has 6 years of Spanish done for me?!”. But 12 months later here I am, with a great group of friends from all sides of the globe, from Mexico to Poland; and a Mexican-Sevilla-argentine accent. I wouldn’t look back and regret a thing.
Sevilla, the capital of Andalucía, is renowned for its flamenco, La Feria (a huge festival celebrated every May) and of course, Cristobal Colón. It is a city full of things to see and do, aquariums, a replica of the first ship to circumnavigate the globe is moored on the Guadalquivir, Las Setas gives you a panoramic view of the city, and of course, FC Sevilla, champions of the Europa league have its stadium there.
I lived just outside of the old town, so the Giralda was only 15 minutes away. I would recommend trying to live somewhere near the centre as this is where I spent most of my time with friends, in local bars and restaurants, and under normal circumstances, the nightclubs. Sevilla is well connected to the rest of the country, AVE can take you to Cordoba within 40 minutes, a bus can take you to the beach within an hour, and through ESN, you can get to Morocco within 4 hours.
The photo which came in at third place is the town of Chefchaouen in Northern Morocco. It is a beautiful town with almost every surface painted this rich sky blue. It was inhabited by Jewish people after their expulsion from Spain back in 1492 so it´s rich in history. For any cat lovers, this is the place to be. You go into a restaurant in the central plaza and you will have cats playing all around you. I also wouldn’t be too surprised if a few of the locals ask to have photos taken with you either, as this happened to me on multiple occasions for whatever reason that was. I made some great friends on this organised trip to Morocco, we had beautiful food and we even got to ride camels in the Sahara. It was amazing.
Some advice I would give to students who are going on their year abroad would be to make sure you sign up to ESN ASAP. They have probably already organised events for other Erasmus students before you even arrived, and this is how I met most of my social group, and how I went on this fantastic trip to Morocco.
Another piece of advice would be, don’t get too comfortable with other English speakers. I know it can be stressful trying to get involved in a conversation with other speakers, but, just swallow your pride and get in there. Even though you will be making mistakes, calling a drawer a cojón, they will find it funny and it´s an ice breaker.
So, whilst on your year abroad, sign up to ESN or another group that organises events for students, and get involved with locals or other Erasmus students, this is the only way you will improve your Spanish! Finally, jump at every opportunity that comes your way, be it an invitation to grab a coffee, go to the beach, or to go to Morocco, you only get this year to have these opportunities, so make the most of it!
I took this photo on a freezing day in January, about halfway through my Year Abroad which I spent living in Padova. Living so close to Venice I spent a lot of weekends there and one day a friend suggested we take a tour of some of the smaller islands which I would really recommend to anyone who visits! This photo was taken on the island of Burano, which is famous for its painted houses.
To anyone going on a Year Abroad, I can’t stress enough how important it is to travel! You should obviously spend lots of time getting to know the city you’re living in, but I would really recommend using your free time to travel around and get to see some other places. In Italy, trains and coaches were reasonably priced and so I’d usually spend Monday to Friday working in Padova and then pretty much every weekend in a different place. Once you get back to the UK and have to pay for a flight to go see these places you’ll definitely regret not going while they were so close-by!
We are very excited to launch our new BA Modern Languages! This flexible programme enables students to move with confidence across one, two or three languages, allowing them to build their own degree based on their linguistic and cultural interests. Whether specialising in one linguistic area, or combining two or three languages and their associated cultures, students will have the opportunity to expand their horizons and develop their skills as versatile linguists.
Why launch a ‘BA Modern Languages’ programme?
The introduction of this new programme comes in response to students’ requests to be able to combine more than two languages, and we are delighted to be able to offer them this opportunity to focus on up to three languages. The range of languages on offer has also been increased, with the introduction of a series of ‘additional languages’ that complement and diversify our existing offer.
A highly flexible programme
From September 2020 onwards, students will be able to study one, two or three languages, choosing from
All of these core languages can be taken from beginner’s (no prior knowledge required), intermediate (post-GCSE) or advanced level (Post A level) – please note that only one core language can be taken from beginner’s level.
Our programme also allows students to combine up to two core languages with our additional languages, which currently include (subject to availability):
- British Sign Language,
- Chinese (Mandarin),
- Modern Greek
The study of core languages focuses both on developing linguistic proficiency (up to near-native level by the time our students graduate) and deepening their understanding of the cultures of the countries in which the target language is spoken. For example, students who elect to study French (on its own or combined with another language/subject) can explore French Caribbean Identity, French popular music or French children’s literature.
Students on our German programmes may choose to take our modules on Migration in Germany, on German Romanticism or on ‘Glorification, Denial and Contempt – Reconstructing Austria’s Past’.
In Italian our cultural modules may include History of the Italian language, Italian Cinema and ‘Crisis, Change and Opportunity; Italy from 1968 to the Present’.
Students on our Spanish programmes can explore ‘Icons of Spain and Latin America’, ‘Culture and Revolution in Modern Latin America’ or ‘Writers and Publishers in Spain’.
For a full list of current modules please contact us (all modules subject to availability)
The Year Abroad
Our BA Modern Languages includes a year spent abroad, in the third year. Students have the opportunity to expand their linguistic skills and intercultural understanding in one or two of their core languages. They can choose to study at a partner university, go on a work placement or work as a language teaching assistant. If they choose to study more than one core language and start one of their languages at beginner’s level, it is possible to spend the full year in a country where the language taken form beginner’s level is spoken.
To find out more about BA Modern Languages do not hesitate to contact us!
This year, first and final year students of German have worked together with the Museum of English Rural Life to enhance the museum experience for German speaking visitors.
The Museum of English Rural Life, based at the University of Reading’s London Road campus, has recently become part of the Great West Way. The Great West Way is a new tourist initiative targeting tourists from the US, Germany and the Netherlands who visit places of interest along the Thames between London and Bristol. The German section started a new collaboration with the MERL which enhances the museum experience for German speaking tourists in the Berkshire area. This collaboration provides students with an opportunity to develop transferable skills and use their language skills in a non-academic, tourism-focused setting.
Final Year students created a series of translations for the museum galleries and visitor pages as part of their translation course. The experience helped students to translate for a specific target audience and expand their knowledge of both the German language and the factors involved in a successful translation process. The students’ work will become part of the MERL website and the project will continue in the following academic year.
As part of their language course, First Year students learn to write blog entries. Students took part in a blogging workshop in the studio at the MERL. Alison Hilton, Marketing Officer at the MERL, gave students an introduction to the museum, its collection, the Great West Way and its target audience, before our First Years set out to explore the museum and find aspects that they would like to present to a German speaking target audience. By writing blog posts for MERL, they could put their skills into practice. Their texts cover a vast range of topics, from the Museum’s special exhibitions to special activities for families and young adults. Some of the texts that were created can be found here:
Both groups had the opportunity to use their language skills in a real life setting that helped them to understand that writing blogs and translation can be challenging and rewarding at the same time.
Discover The Great West Way: https://www.greatwestway.co.uk/
The Museum of English Rural Life: https://merl.reading.ac.uk/
Sara Sullam is Assistant Professor of English Literature at the University of Milan. She spent her six-month Visiting Fellowship funded by the British Academy at our Department. In this blog post she tells us what she discovered in the University’s Special Collections.
In her 1925 essay on “How Should One Read a Book” Virginia Woolf reflected on the fact that the very act of reading was always, in a way, taken for granted, while it in fact deserves further scrutiny and attention: “For though reading seems so simple – a matter of knowing the alphabet – it is indeed so difficult that it is doubtful anyone knows anything about it”. Research on reading has undoubtedly progressed since then: however, much remains to be discovered on how reading habits are formed and on how our experience of reading across languages and cultures is shaped.
Funded by a Visiting Fellowship of the British Academy hosted by the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies under the supervision of Dr Daniela La Penna, my project British Novels for European Readers, European novels for British Readers: A Working Hypothesis for the Anglo-Italian Case (1945-1965) has investigated the crucial function of publishing for the development of reading culture in a key moment in the history of European integration. In particular, it has focused on the strategies devised by Italian and British publishers to select, evaluate, translate, promote and market fiction from 1945 to the mid-Sixties. Who were the people involved in these processes? What was their way of reading? And how did it impact on the way the common reader in both countries made sense of fiction coming from abroad?
To address these research questions, I literally plunged in the incredible wealth of materials of the Archives of British Publishing and Printing housed at the University of Reading’s Special Collections. I read the correspondence between English and Italian publishers – Chatto & Windus, The Hogarth Press, Jonathan Cape, The Bodley Head on this side of the Channel, Mondadori, Feltrinelli, Einaudi in Italy. I studied the reports written by professional readers, key actors in the process of literary transfer, whose work has very often remained buried in the archives. I was able to see how much is gained, and not lost, in translation. Working on these papers has made literature come alive.
Illuminating the transnational networks of people who shaped the availability of post-war European novels in the British and American markets has also inspired the research practice underpinning the project, aimed at building research networks across disciplines and languages. Besides funding a number of presentations of the project at other UK universities (Manchester, Nottingham), the BA grant allowed me to co-organize with my host Daniela La Penna an international conference (https://readingconference.home.blog/) that brought together publishing historians, scholars of Italian and English literature, from Italy, Germany, the US and the United Kingdom. The conference gave us all the opportunity to reflect on the networks of the past to build the research networks of the future.
On 4 February, students and staff of German had the enormous privilege to meet Andrew Sims, a German alumnus, who has pursued a successful career as an interpreter and translator with the German Ministry of Trade and Industry.
Andrew studied German and Russian at Reading in the 1980s. Since his MA in translation and interpreting, he has worked first for the West German government in Bonn and, after 1990, for the government of unified Germany in Berlin. His talk introduced students to the different types of interpreting, from simultaneous and consecutive to whisper interpreting, and gave an insight into how the types of interpreting determine the role of the interpreter within this quite daunting process. To reassure students who are thinking of choosing this career path, Andrew showed us the interpreter’s survival kit. It included strong nerves, good knowledge of shorthand, the ability to be invisible in the middle of a room, an insatiable appetite for new words and phrases (to be learnt for each new policy, political development, and project), the art of inserting place-holder words as long as the message of the sentence remains unclear, absolute confidentiality, and a good grasp of the audience you are interpreting for.
Andrew also talked about his work as a translator, a rapidly changing profession. The future of translation will depend on ever-improving translation software while a highly qualified translator is needed for the post-translation editing. While the rough work will be managed by machines, human linguistic and cultural know-how – including superb knowledge of the target as well as the source language – will remain central for producing a text fit for sensitive political communication.
Students were inspired by the talk and encouraged by Andrew’s assessment that English natives who master both their own language and German are desperately needed, and will always be welcome in Germany.
As Mauritian ecologist Vincent Florens asserts, Mauritius truly is a ‘laboratoire du monde’. With no original, in-dwelling inhabitants, Mauritius’s present-day population is made up entirely of the descendants of French colonial settlers, enslaved Africans and Malagasy, Indian indentured labourers, Chinese traders and other economic migrants from across the globe, with each successive human wave leaving its mark on the languages, cultures, customs and natural environment of this small, postcolonial ‘rainbow nation.’ On 12 March this year, Mauritius marked fifty years of independence from Great Britain, in a ceremony attended by heads of state, crowds of ordinary Mauritians – and me. Despite Mauritius’s inauspicious beginnings as an independent nation, post-colonial Mauritius has been widely praised for its ‘economic miracle’ and for the peaceful accommodation of its multi-ethnic population. Nonetheless, Mauritian literature – especially that written in the wake of the inter-ethnic ‘Kaya riots’ of 1999 – paints a rather different picture of the island-nation, marked by inequality, injustice, difference, division and violence. Given the diverse composition of Mauritius’ population (made up of Franco-Mauritians, Indo-Mauritians, Sino-Mauritians, Muslims and Creoles), Mauritian fiction is also centrally preoccupied with the question of what it means to be ‘Mauritian’ today: in other words, with the issue – or problem – of ‘belonging’.
What drew you to focus your research on Mauritian Literature and the notion of ‘belonging’?
My fascination with Mauritian literature was originally sparked, back in 2001, by a lively, wine-fuelled conversation with Mauritian academic, Kumari Issur, at an ASCALF conference in London. I had just presented a paper on Gallimard’s contentious ‘Continents Noirs’ series and Kumari recommended that I read Amal Sewtohul’s first novel, Histoire d’Ashok et d’autres personnages de moindre importance, which was about to appear in the same series, along with his compatriot, Ananda Devi’s Pagli. Numerous subsequent visits to Mauritius, meetings with Mauritian authors, impassioned debates with Indian Ocean academics, and continued voracious reading, often ‘hot off the press’, of the impressive stream of novels that have continued to flow from the tiny island-nation since, have merely confirmed my initial fascination with Mauritius’ culture, history, society and literature.
My interest in the notion of ‘belonging’ – a sense of attachment to, and identification with, a place or people – was prompted both by the thematic and stylistic recurrence of the notion in contemporary Mauritian literature and, more broadly, by the term’s paradoxical ubiquity and obscurity. Everyone thinks they know what they mean when they talk about belonging, but, as geographer Marco Antonsich points out, they ‘actually know very little about what belonging stands for and how it is claimed.’ I was keen to find out more. Whereas existing postcolonial paradigms, such as hybridity or créolisation, had already been fruitfully applied to the Mauritian situation, no one had yet taken belonging, or the ‘universal human desire to belong’, as the primary thematic and conceptual focus of study. As John Crowley points out, ‘while the term [belonging] itself is not new, it is little used as an analytical or theoretical tool.’ I was keen to rise to this challenge.
What makes your book stand out from others in its field?
My monograph is the first book-length study in English on twenty-first-century Mauritian fiction in French and as such, I hope, makes a significant contribution to the recent expansion of research on Indian Ocean cultures. The book is original in its focus on the under-researched, affective dimension of belonging (place-belongingness) and its intersections with the often brutal and exclusionary ‘politics of belonging.’ My chapter on Shenaz Patel’s Le Silence des Chagos, in which I explore the uses and abuses of competing notions of belonging in the UK’s forced expulsion of the Chagos islanders in the 1960s and 70s, should also be of interest to anyone following the latest developments in their long struggle for the right to return at the International Court of Justice this year.
My book develops a new, multidimensional approach to understanding issues of belonging and exclusion in diverse, multi-ethnic societies that will, I hope, be of interest to a broad academic audience than those already interested in Mauritian literature or Indian Ocean cultures. Through a series of close textual analyses of individual novels or pairs of novels by leading contemporary Mauritian writers, my book examines Mauritian literary responses to the inter-ethnic ‘Kaya’ riots of 1999 and to the problems of belonging and exclusion that they so dramatically exposed. And it does so by applying an eclectic range of theoretical approaches, not usually associated with ‘postcolonial’ texts, to the particular concerns of individual novels and chapters: violence, place, gender, displacement, the everyday, migration.
Your book is available Open Access, can you tell us why you chose to pursue this option?
In this, the 50th anniversary year of Mauritian independence (1968), there is intense international interest in post-independence Mauritian culture. There is also renewed interest this year in the plight of exiled Chagos islanders, as the Mauritian government challenges the U.K. for its illegal separation of the Chagos archipelago from Mauritius, prior to independence. My book is therefore timely and should, I hope, garner considerable international attention, including amongst readers in Mauritius, India, Africa and the Indian Ocean region. Open Access publication is thus ideal for making my book both logistically and financially accessible to these and other key readerships, both overseas and in the UK. I am therefore grateful to the University of Reading for their institutional support of the OA publication of my monograph – and to Liverpool University Press, Modern Languages Open and Oapen Library for making it happen.
 Marco Antonsich, ‘Searching for Belonging – An Analytical Framework’, Geography Compass, vol. 4, no. 6 (2010), pp. 644 ̶ 59; p. 644.
 John Crowley, ‘The Politics of Belonging: Some Theoretical Considerations’, in Andrew Geddes and Adrian Favell (eds.), The Politics of Belonging: Migrants and Minorities in Contemporary Europe (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999), pp. 15 ̶ 39; p. 18.
‘In this insightful book, Julia Waters provides new perspectives to chart the Mauritian 21st century novel – these stimulating and provocative essays illustrate the challenge provided by both the varied subject matter and the critical lenses adopted.’
Kumari R Issur, University of Mauritius
About The Author
As an academic working on Cuban culture since 1959 https://www.reading.ac.uk/modern-languages-and-european-studies/stories/mles-story-kumaraswami.aspx , and as a lifelong supporter of Manchester City, imagine my delight at being invited to speak at an event which featured Manchester City’s manager, Pep Guardiola? Huge thanks to Dr Diana Cullell, Professor Claire Taylor and Professor Chris Harris for the invitation!
And so, on 21 November 2018, I travelled to the University of Liverpool and listened to Pep talk about the importance of travel, learning languages, engaging with other cultures, recent political events in Catalunya and, of course, about his work as one of the world’s most successful football managers. The video of his talk is available here: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/modern-languages-and-cultures/events/pep-live/
Following his talk, I gave my own paper, a mixture of personal experience and research reflexions. This was possibly the easiest academic paper I have prepared in my life (based on so many conversations with family and friends), and certainly the most fun to deliver (sound recording to be added soon). Here’s a summary of the main argument:
I frequently experience reactions of curiosity and surprise. These reactions are rarely articulated but they seem to be born of certain assumptions, to follow a certain orthodoxy. Why continue to work with such dedication on a context where writers and artists are denied freedom of expression and have to distort their ideas and work to fit political and ideological prescriptions? Why continue to support a football team and club which have lost touch with the grassroots, and which are fuelled and sponsored by unlimited reserves of Middle Eastern oil money?
This paper aims to question those reactions, to interrogate assumptions about Cuba and about football, and to propose a more nuanced understanding of both. It is based on much reading and writing https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1vwmdc2 ; https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9781137569639 and on abundant participant observation on the terraces and in Cuba https://www.leverhulme.ac.uk/research-project-grants-2014.
So, the essential question is how to understand two cultural contexts which, in my view, have been over-determined politically and economically https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/19/cuba-president-miguel-diaz-canel-modernise-economy ; https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/24/who-pays-for-manchester-city-beautiful-game . What these two approaches fail to notice, and what my work on cultural participation in post-1959 Cuba emphasises, is the importance of culture – as both everyday practice and artistic representation – in providing the glue that binds societies and social groups.
Let’s start with Cuba: whilst many scholars and commentators focus on periods of crisis for writers and artists, often related to the ‘Sovietisation’ of culture in the 1970s, they fail to notice the other discourses and policies that have provided a direction for Cuban cultural policy since the revolutionary government came to power, and, crucially, the continuity that has characterised those policies over 60 years: that is, a commitment to investing in culture, a sustained attempt to ‘change the rules of the game’ in order that elite forms such as literature become massified practices, and, of course, the creation of an infrastructure for publishing and he socialisation of literary culture. These ideas were crystallised in a series of speeches by Fidel Castro, the ‘Palabras a los intelectuales’/Words to the intellectuals’ of 1961 http://lanic.utexas.edu/project/castro/db/1961/19610630.html;https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1470-9856.2009.00315.x . One of the key examples here is the Feria Internacional del Libro de la Habana (FILH)/Havana International Book Festival, and its massification and diversification in the 2000s. At its height in 2006, and bearing in mind that Cuba has a population of around 11.5 million, the FILH attracted 5 million people and sold 5 million books across the island’s territory https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292324130_The_feria_del_libro_and_the_ritualization_of_cultural_belonging_in_Havana . Yet some Cuban writers complained at the time that the massification of the FILH diluted or trivialised the serious work of producing and consuming literature.
A more recent example is from the provincial iteration of the FILH in 2014. At a poetry reading organised in the central square of Bayamo, the capital of Cuba’s eastern Granma province, the organiser of the reading complained that it was being interrupted by the public shouting to friends, generally enjoying the fair-like atmosphere rather than paying attention to the poetry being recited. The organiser felt that this demonstrated ‘una falta de respeto’/’a lack of respect’, whilst I argued back vigorously that in fact it showed the opposite: the sense of entitlement to occupy public spaces for culture produced in Cubans of all walks of life by decades of government and public investment in cultural access and participation. What emerges from initiatives such as the FILH is the notion that elite and mass/popular cultures are compatible, mutually constitutive and reciprocally beneficial, that they create a particularly effective model for cultural prestige; furthermore, that collective participation also creates a sense of well-being in providing spaces, opportunities and practices that bind individuals loosely, in ways which allow them to feel a sense of both identification and self-differentiation. The local and physical aspects of that participation are key.
What does all this mean for Cuba and for football? The fact that two levels of activity, each with functions that are infused with cognitive, moral, affective and corporeal components, can come together in a public and collective space, means that the public – whether at a book reading in Cuba or a football match at the Etihad stadium – enjoy the opportunity to feel, believe, represent and perform identities which are vital to our sense of belonging and well-being. As long as they are harmonised with top-down policies, these interactions nourish social integration: in my experience, the football terraces are the only place in contemporary English society where people of all ages, genders, classes and cultural heritages come together to inhabit the same space as a collective.
Quite simply, cultural participation, whether at a book festival or a football match – especially at times of rapid socio-cultural and political change – can be the twelfth man.
Dr Par Kumaraswami, Spanish Section, Department of Modern Languages and European Studies, University of Reading