Helping visitors to find their way around the MERL

First year students at the MERL

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:

https://merl.reading.ac.uk/news-and-views/2019/06/aus-deutschland-zu-besuch-im-merl/

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.

See also:

Discover The Great West Way: https://www.greatwestway.co.uk/

 

The Museum of English Rural Life: https://merl.reading.ac.uk/

 

Sara Sullam: uncovering valuable documents in the University’s special collections.

Sara Sullam is Assistant Professor of English Literature at the University of Milan.

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.

 

Sara Sullam

The Mauritian Novel – Liverpool University Press in Conversation with Julia Waters

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.’[1] 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.’[2] 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.

[1] Marco Antonsich, ‘Searching for Belonging – An Analytical Framework’, Geography Compass, vol. 4, no. 6 (2010), pp. 644 ̶ 59; p. 644.

[2] 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.

Reviews

‘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

Julia Waters is Professor of Contemporary Literature in French at the University of Reading.

When research and life come together in the most unexpected ways

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:

The twelfth man? Some unlikely connections between Manchester City and Revolutionary Cuba

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.

Poetry reading in Bayamo, April 2018

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

First Year Student at WriteAUT prize giving in London

 

Emily Woodall (1st year German) and UoR-OEAD lecturer Elisabeth Koenigshofer
Pictures: © Elisabeth Koenigshofer

On 24th April 2018, the Austrian Cultural Forum in London awarded students from British and Irishuniversities the first WriteAUT literary prize.

 

Last week, the Austrian Cultural Forum in London invited all competitors and their OEAD lecturers to the prize giving ceremony of the first WriteAUT literary prize. This prize was initiated by OEAD lecturers in Great Britain and Ireland, with a trip to Vienna as its first prize and many books, CDs, and films for all other participants, sponsored by the City of Vienna, OEAD, the Austrian Ministry of Education and the Austrian Cultural Forum.

 

Competitors and lecturers on the balcony of the Austrian Cultural Forum in London
© Elisabeth Koenigshofer

 

The competition was open to German language university students across Great Britain and Ireland and seventeen texts were entered.Students had to write a literary text of any format or style for the topic “2018 – Jahr der Erinnerung / 2018 – Year of Remembrance” to commemorate various jubilees such as the centenary of the birth of the first Austrian Republic, the Anschluss 1938, or the 1968 student revolutions. 17 Texts entered the competition, amongst them one by University of Reading student Emily Woodall (first year German).

A jury of experts then chose the winner and another first prize was awarded for the audience favourite. Members of the public were able to read and to vote for all texts via www.writeaut.at and more than 1,000 people participated in the vote. Iona Charter’s “Werte Entwindet” (University of Leeds) and Conor Gleeson’s “Achtung!” (Trinity College Dublin) won the competition.

Prizes for competitors
© Elisabeth Koenigshofer

The ceremony started with opening remarks from OEAD Lecturers Judith (University of Leeds) and Annelise (University College Dublin) and representatives of the Austrian Cultural Forum. Iona and Conor read their winner texts to the fascinated audience and the afternoon was complete with drinks and the opportunity to mingle with German students from various universities.

 

 

Emily, our University of Reading participant, saw

WriteAUT magazine
© Elisabeth Koenigshofer

the competition as an opportunity to revive her love for creative writing, combining it with her interest in the German language. Her modern fairy tale “Ein Märchen der Revolutionen” can be read in the MLES Resources room in the WriteAUT magazine or online at www.writeaut.at.

 

 

We look forward to next year’s competition.

German Studies Project – Der Fund by Veza Canetti

“I enjoyed working with others as a team to tackle the story of “Der Fund” and present it in a new and interesting way that shows the creativity and diversity of the German Department as a whole. We were able to show that through our common knowledge of the German language, one story could be translated to an audience through a variety o

(from left: Sian Buller (Year 2), Sophie Allen (Year 3), Angelina Lotter-Jones (Year 3), Sophie Payne (PhD student), Emily Stanga (Year 3), Elisabeth Koenigshofer (OEAD-lecturer), Nick Bricknell (Year 1), © Regine Klimpfinger)

f means, be it speech, music, or paintings.” (Sian Buller, Year 2)

While the beast from the east had its icy claws around Reading, some of our talented German Studies students braved the cold and set out to present the outcome of this year’s German Studies

Project “Der Fund by Veza Canetti” at Christchurch Reading.

The project was a voluntary extracurricular activity that should help students to develop and foster their German language and creative skills. For this project, which focused on text transformation, students from all years read a short story by almost-forgotten Austrian author Veza Canetti and interpreted it in their own way through various media.

Sophie Payne, a PhD student in the department, was our host for the evening. She gave the audience an insight into the author’s life and led the Q&A after the recital of the translation.

(Emily Stanga, presenting her translation © Melani Schroeter)

Veza Canetti and her short story Der Fund

Author Veza Canetti, wife of Nobel Prize winner Elias Canetti, never stepped out of her husband’s long literary shadow but published extensively from the 1930s onwards. Born in 1897 in Vienna, she emigrated to London with her husband in 1938, fleeing the Nazis who had annexed Austria. During her life time, she published mainly short stories in Viennese working class newspapers but could not find a publisher for her novels. Those were only published from the 1990s onwards.

Her stories focus often on women from lower class backgrounds and their day-to-day struggles. Her short story Der Fund (The Discovery) is no exception, telling the story of Knut Tell, an impoverished poet who is forced to work at a lost property office. There, he finds the letter of an illiterate woman who had been treated ill by her former doctor and lover. Fascinated by her letter, Knut sets out to find her. Love, jealousy, and star-crossed lovers dominate this little gem.

Why Veza Canetti?

Veza Canetti is one of many forgotten female authors of the last century who worked alongside men but did not achieve fame. Like many other artists, Veza had been born into a Jewish family and therefore decided to flee to England when Hitler annexed Austria in 1938. She had worked as an English teacher before she moved to London. Veza was chosen because she reflects anniversaries that are commemorated in 2018: the centenary of women’s rights to vote and 80 years since the annexation of Austria and the dissolution of Austria as an independent nation.

Our students

Nick Bricknell, Year 1, used music to make the text accessible to the audience. During the presentation he played variations of Bach’s Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme Cantata 140 which reflected

(Sophie Payne, introducing Veza Canetti © Melani Schroeter)

the mood and events in Canetti’s text. Nick deliberately chose a lesser known work by a famous German-speaking composer. He has worked as a church organist at Christchurch since the beginning of his studies at Reading and impressed the audience with his skills.

Sophie Allen, Angelina Lotter-Jones and Emily Stanga, all Year 3, put their translation skills to practice and produced a great translation into English. All three worked hard throughout the last months and weeks because Veza’s language is quite different from what our students work on in their translation classes. During the presentation, all three translators read their texts aloud to the audience, accompanied by the organ recital.

Angelina: “Prior to this project I had not heard of Veza Canetti before and there was not an English translation in existence at the time we did this project. What attracted me to participating in this project was the opportunity to have more practice translating.”

Sophie: “I was able to use my methods from my university classes to write the translation, which involves envisioning the target audience and retaining the style of the text.”

(Sian Buller, Der Fund No.1 © Sian Buller)

Sian Buller, Year 2, proved herself as a visual artist. She created four canvases to accompany the narration. She chose a different style and media for each piece, for example acrylic paint, paint-pens and artist pencils. Her fascinating work added a visual dimension to the way in which a text can be interpreted.

Sian: “Through my participation in this project, I felt that I have learnt many valuable skills. I had to be organised and time efficient, in order to give myself enough time to complete each canvas to a suitable level of standard on time, whilst still keeping up with my own university work. I also needed to be conscientious whilst thinking of designs that would be clear to an audience and fit in with any narration or musical pieces created by other participating students. Additionally, I had to make sure that the pieces were captivating as they were used in advertised posters around the university and so served as a public representation for the project itself.”

All participants showed great interest in the project and dedicated a lot of time, energy and effort to their tasks. It is great to see that our students are so engaged and were able to transfer their skills to a new and experimental project. The audience on the evening of the presentation was small due to the weather condition but our students made it worth coming out that evening and the audience truly enjoyed the presentation.

If you would like to see their great work for yourself, the project is exhibited in room EM 274 (Resources Room) in the Edith Morley building.

Second issue of Gendered Voices magazine: “Beyond the Binary”.

I am delighted to announce the recent publication of the second issue of Gendered Voices magazine: “Beyond the Binary”. The magazine is published by the Gender and Sexuality Research Cluster of the AHRC SWWDTP and features work by postgraduate students, academics, and a guest article from the charity sector. This interdisciplinary magazine celebrates diversity and intersectionality. It includes topics such as drag culture, non-binary identity, transgender experience, lgbtq issues, gender fluidity in 19th century France, The Inca Empire, pirates, and much more!

Thank you to all the Reading PhD students who contributed articles and photos to the magazine. The issue certainly demonstrates the richness of postgraduate research in the UK. As we received such a high level of interest from our fellow postgraduate students, we will certainly be publishing a third issue in the future. Watch this space!

The magazine is intended for an audience both within and outside academia, so do please share this magazine with your peers and friends. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed putting it together.

If you’d like to get in touch please contact me by email: genderandsexualitycluster@gmail.com
or via the cluster’s twitter account @swwgender

 

Best wishes

Maria Tomlinson (General Editor)

 

Ashleigh Embling, Runner-up of the Year Abroad Photo Competition 2017

Hello, my name is Ashleigh Embling and I’m a final year French and International Relations Student. I spent my year abroad studying at Sciences Po Lyon, in Lyon. Studying at a Grande Ecole was a challenging experience, but incredibly rewarding and enjoyable.

I chose to study because although the aim of the year abroad is to focus on our language development, I really wanted to keep up the International Relations side of my degree and Sciences Po provided the perfect place to do this, whilst also massively improving my language skills because of the lectures being in French. Studying also provided an environment where it was easy to meet other people doing Erasmus placements, so I had a group of Erasmus friends and our common language was French which really helped improve my level of fluency.

Lyon was unlike anywhere I’ve lived before, it’s the third largest city in France and shows this in its vibrant culture and welcoming atmosphere. Lyon has 9 arrondissements, each with its own personality. My preferred areas are Vieux Lyon which is the historic quarter; home to old churches, a basilica and traditional French streets housing many small ateliers, and Croix-Rousse which is quite a young area with stunning views of the city.

During my year abroad, I travelled to many places including Marseille, Siena, Paris and Madrid. The photo that won second place was taken on one of my trips to Lake Annecy, in a town called Annecy on the Swiss-French border about an hour’s bus trip from Lyon. Being able to travel to so many places was definitely a highlight of my year abroad, and I’m glad I took so many photos like this one to be able to remember each trip!

Another year, another cohort, another graduation ceremony: A parent’s view

Another year, another cohort, another graduation ceremony. What is unchanged is our happiness to be celebrating our students’ present achievements and our excitement at the thought of their future achievements, all accompanied by that touch of sadness at seeing them go. Graduation is also the opportunity for us to meet our students’ families, and rejoice with them on such a special occasion. This year we had the extreme pleasure of meeting the family of one very special student, James Dowds, who graduated in French and Italian, winner of the 2017 Welson Prize for Italian, as well as of the Student of the Year award for being one of the most engaged students of his year, a true example of active participation, citizenship, and resilience. This is what his mother, Dympna Mc Donnell, had to say about James’s – and her own – experience (including the ‘bumps’) during the years here at Reading:

Photograph courtesy of Cre8ive studios http://www.cre8ive-studios.com 

As a parent it is difficult to support a child through university as there is little contact with the university and the student is away from home.  I was also very aware that in supporting James from afar, it was important that he learned the skills and techniques he needed to get him through difficult times.  Whilst this was a challenge in years 1 and 2 it became more difficult in his year away.  All students find coping away from home challenging and James was not unusual in feeling lonely and homesick.  In his first week away in France I know he contacted you (as indeed I did as I was concerned about how low he was feeling).  The university was quick to respond in making contact with James and giving him the advice he needed.  I know that in both France and Italy James was helped by lecturers and staff in Reading.  Without this support I think he may have questioned if the trip abroad was a worthwhile and manageable event for him.  In fact, the support James received was key in making the year abroad the success it turned out to be.  In France, he made many friends and had a thriving social life.  I went out to see him with his brother and sister in October 2015 and was so impressed with the quantity of local knowledge he had accumulated.  He guided us around Poitiers, showing us many lovely churches and courtyards and was clearly happy and relaxed.

On graduation day, the department’s lecturers remarked that James returned back to Reading for his fourth year with a very different attitude and approach towards his studies.  He had matured in his time away and dealt with many issues that were making him unhappy.  He felt more confident in his ability to deal with the challenges life presents us with.  He worked hard at his studies and secured the 2.1 degree he wanted to get.  He got involved with extra curricular events such as the radio show and the video promoting foreign languages.  He was much more positive and wanted to do well.

To the department I would like to say: never forget or underestimate the profound positive impact you and your colleagues have on the young people who are so lucky to have you. Imparting knowledge, preparing and delivering lectures is such a big part of what you all do but it is very clear to me that you provide so much more to your students. You reassure, listen and support. Alongside that pastoral care, you set high academic standards, which ensure students, reach their potential. I have no doubt whatsoever that your care and your professional skills were key to James’s success.

Dympna McDonnell