Enter the year aboard photo competition to win prizes!
Check our poster below for more information and visit our Facebook page to upload your photos.
Enter the year aboard photo competition to win prizes!
Check our poster below for more information and visit our Facebook page to upload your photos.
My mum rang me just after 9pm “There’s a madman, you’re home aren’t you!? Oh my god Gemma don’t go out!” I reassured her and put the news on. Paris is a city and, as awful as it sounds, there’s always something going on. We stayed on the line for a while before she hung up to tell people at home that I was ok.
This is a re-post, to be redirected to the original post click on the image below.
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!
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.
As well as the very important academic side of University, there is so much more on offer to enhance your social life and your CV! Reading has one of the largest Student Unions in the country! The list of societies is endless, sport societies ranging from Hockey to Quidditch, and the general societies ranging from the lock picking society to the Circus Arts Society! There is most definitely something for everyone. Welcome Week is jam packed with opportunities to find out about all the different societies, and you can trial however many societies you want and then become a member! Societies organise nights out, day trips and even trips abroad! I’m currently the President of the Italian Society this year and it’s already given me so many opportunities to improve my planning skills, leadership skills and it’s also loads of fun! (Of course there is lots of pizza involved…)
Reading is also really big on volunteering! There’s a whole Facebook page and group of people who organise all sorts of fun volunteering activities! Another thing you can get involved with (and any volunteering you do will count towards this) is the Red Award! RED stands for Reading Experience and Development. The RED Award is the University of Reading’s employability skills certificate and is awarded alongside your degree, so it’s a pretty good thing to have on your CV when you’re trying to stand out to employers! You just need to do 50 hours of extra-curricular activities outside of academic studies and then you can apply for the award. I’ve been to a few talks run by the University that count towards it, one was held by the founder of Green & Black’s chocolate! Red Award is a really simple thing to take part in and definitely worth it.
Reading also has its own ‘JobShop’ for students who are looking for part time jobs during their studies. The RUSU website is packed full of different vacancies, ranging from bar staff or shop floor staff to tutoring and babysitting positions. Whatever you’re looking for, I’m pretty certain you’ll find the type of job for you. Most of the jobs are term time only, which is also great as you are able to go home for Christmas and Easter without having to worry!
Being a Student Ambassador for the Modern Languages Department has also really enhanced my time at Reading. It means I help run Open Days, run private tours for prospective students and is even the reason I’m writing this article! I’ve only been doing this for a few months but have already grown in confidence and my organisation skills have improved, and it will look impressive on my CV too!
Essentially, the University of Reading is one of the most vibrant and active Universities! There is always something going on and everyone is so friendly and helpful that you never feel lost or scared. In my experience, the best thing to do is throw yourself into as much as possible throughout your time here and once you’ve graduated you will be able to look back on the best years of your life!
I recently returned from my year abroad where I spent four months studying in Toulouse and six months in Siena. The year abroad is perhaps the most important and exciting aspect of the modern languages degree for the students as is it an opportunity to gain independence, meet new people and really improve language skills.
There are so many options available to students at Reading with the year abroad and there is so much help at hand with choosing where to go, what to do and how to make the most of our time away. As I am a joint honours student, I was particularly lucky in that I was able to go to two places: France and Italy. This is the case for any joint honours student based on the languages they study. It was an incredibly daunting experience, choosing which two cities I would be spending half of my third year in, however we were very fortunate in that we had the fourth year students who were more than happy to advise us and discuss their experiences with us.
Before going on the year abroad I had to make the important decision as to whether I wanted to study at a university or work during my Erasmus period, and I chose to attend a university in both places as I was eager to see the differences to the university system in England. This choice was a positive one for me as I really enjoyed the experience of studying abroad, however a lot of people chose instead to work and also had an amazing time, and of course were earning money, which is always a bonus!
When I finally arrived in Toulouse in early September and again in Siena in February, it was safe to say I was terrified, however it did not take long to make myself at home because I quickly met many Erasmus students who were in the same position as me. It was definitely easier to adjust to life in Siena as I had already experienced a big move and was slightly more experienced. However, what I found so amazing about moving abroad was how friendly people are and how strong the friendships you form become because everyone is in the same boat and everyone wants to make the experience the best it can be.
Studying in French and Italian classes and going to lectures was definitely a challenge but a good one as I noticed quickly how well my language developed, and through the classes I met other students, both English and international and it definitely helped form friendships with local students too. I would strongly encourage anyone going on a year abroad to really try and socialise with students from the country in which you are living because it is so beneficial for your language and it also becomes an excellent excuse to go back and visit!
For me, one of the best aspects of the year abroad was getting to know the culture of the two countries. Having studied French and Italian for so long, it was really nice to be able to spend some time in both countries to really understand and experience everything they have to offer. I used the time very well in my opinion, making sure I tried all the cheeses I could get my hands on and drinking all the different wines the regions made! It is safe to say, I will never eat a ready meal again.
The year abroad for me was a real opportunity to develop as a person, independently, socially and with regards to my language too. It is quite incredible what you can do when you are thrown into something and have to sort things out for yourself, whether that be finding an apartment, opening a bank account or sitting an exam. The people I met abroad have become some of my closest friends and will continue to be for many years to come, so much so that I am already planning to go back and visit in the next few months. It was the most daunting endeavour I have had to face so far in my life however I can now say looking back that I do consider it the best year of my life!
Studying a language is undoubtedly one of the most enriching and useful challenges as a young person. Modern Languages open up a wide and exciting range of opportunities that extend far beyond just a summer holiday. However in my opinion, grammar, tenses and translation may not be enough. There’s so much more to study when it comes to Modern Languages at the University of Reading. As a final year student, I can safely say that my language skills have been immensely improved thanks to my understanding of Europe as a whole. By choosing to study European culture, politics and history modules within our department, I’ve been able to add a depth of context and understanding to my degree. The European Studies modules are available as options throughout your time as a Modern Languages student, and cover a variety of topics to suit all interests. The selection of European Studies modules on offer at Reading are among the most exciting and flexible in the UK.
In my first year of study I chose two European modules, which together covered the basic history of Europe. We looked at the formation of Europe, and the wars and battles for independence that have changed the make-up of the continent. This provided a brilliant starting point, and definitely appealed to my inner historian! These two European Studies modules ended up being my favourite across the whole first year, this was thanks to the excellent teaching and accessible design of the course. It was easy to follow, and I learnt a variety of quirky and interesting facts about traditions and daily life across Europe. As Modern Languages students, we have constant access to a range of resources in the department, available throughout the year for extra reading. The French, German and Spanish newspapers available to read in the resources room help to keep our knowledge of current affairs up-to-date. There is also an extensive collection of European history texts in the university library to assist us with essay writing and research.
European Studies modules are a brilliant way to challenge and test our abilities as Modern Language students, they contain concepts and topics that are often new and may not have been covered at A-Level. For example, I was slightly overwhelmed by the different institutions of the European Union, and the process used to implement laws. Despite this, the lecturers made the content accessible and interesting, it was really satisfying to get to grips with such engaging discussions! Not only do we have fun and varied seminars during our weekly schedules, I was lucky enough to visit the Natural History Museum with my EU modules during Enhancement week. Visiting the Darwin centre really helped to visualise some of the concepts we’d studied in European sociology, it was great to apply our knowledge in real-world scenarios.
I would definitely encourage any Modern Language student to consider the European Studies modules at Reading, it is an exciting and ever changing time to be studying all things Europe. Not only will this give you a solid context for your essays and background knowledge for presentations, it is engaging and fun! Lots of international and ERASMUS students choose to take EU modules, so it’s a great way to make friends from around the world, you can even perfect your language conversational skills. EU modules give you the opportunity and flexibility to personalise your language course, choosing courses from the participating departments. It’s a great way to study the subjects that appeal to you the most. I’ve gained a variety of skills including presenting, project management and analytical thinking. Most importantly, I now have a detailed knowledge of European countries, cultures and the institutions of the European Union. European modules at the University of Reading have been an excellent foundation for me, and as a final year student I feel well equipped to face a competitive job market both at home and across Europe.
Today, second-year students in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies have their introductory meeting about the year abroad. As they begin to consider the opportunities available to them next year, when they’ll head off to work, study, and teach overseas, we thought we’d ask the students who have recently returned from their time abroad to share with us some reflections on the experience. Here’s a reflection from Emily Skew, a joint-honours student of French and Italian, who spent 2013/14 in Grenoble, France and Venice, Italy.
For the Italian half of the year, my top choices were Florence, Rome and Pisa. This was mainly because these were the only Italian cities I’d ever been to and I knew I had liked them. When the time came for allocating cities, I found out I was going to Venice. In all honesty, when I found out, I wasn’t very excited! I had a fear of boats and the only mode of transport there is by boat! But I came to terms with having to go there and after completing my first 5 months of third year in France, it was time to move to Venice.
It was the end of January and I was extremely nervous; I was a ball of nerves on the plane journey and was constantly worrying. That was until we came into land at Venice Marco Polo airport. The airport is very close to the island, just on the edge of the mainland in fact, so on the final descent if you look to the right hand side of the plane you get the most amazing view of the whole island. It was such a clear day and it was the first time I’d seen the island; it looked so pretty and intriguing, and it was the first time I had gotten excited about what was to come. Once on the island I was completely blown away: the architecture was incredible and it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. For the first week I wasn’t too busy so I walked around each day, first seeing the main attractions and being a tourist with my camera and then getting lost, finding hidden corners around the island. I was not scared of wandering around on my own in the day, it felt completely safe and, in fact, I later found out that Venice has one of the lowest crime rates in Italy! I also wasn’t scared of getting lost, because the island is so small that even if you do get lost, eventually you will end up somewhere you recognise. There are also lots of signs on the tops of calles (streets) with directions to the most iconic places, such as Piazza San Marco or the Rialto bridge.
Once it was time to begin our studies at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, we had a welcome day which included tours of the university buildings, which are scattered around the island, and a welcome party with the chance to meet other Erasmus students. The International Erasmus office at the University were so helpful throughout my stay, and the lectures and exams were also very well organised. It was a nice surprise and a worry off my mind!
When I wasn’t studying, I spent my time finding out about the city and the culture! The first was the Acqua Alta, which is when the whole island floods due to the high tides. It’s amazing to see how the whole island continues to function even when the water levels can reach up to a metre. You will see the locals wading through in their wellies (luckily my Italian flatmates had a spare pair for me to use) and each night when acqua alta is forecast, the locals will help each other to erect wooden walkways around the busiest parts of the city. There were some great days and nights spent in Piazza San Marco splashing around in the water and taking photos.
One thing I loved about Italy was the food! It was especially good in Venice due to the fresh fish and there were incredible restaurants on nearly every street. It wasn’t just the restaurants that caught my attention; all over Venice you will find small bars tucked away in the small back streets, which the locals liked to frequent and here you will find a Venetian tradition of cicchetti (small finger food) and a few umbra (tiny glasses of house wine for roughly a euro). These places are great for a quick lunch or making a long evening of drinking and picking through some of the cicchetti.
Another favourite of the Venetian students is to hang out with friends in one of the many bars in Campo Santa Margherita, a small square near to the University, which is great for people watching and sipping espresso during the day and having a few spritz in the evenings. A spritz is another Venetian speciality: a mix of soda, Prosecco and a bitter, either Aperol, Campari or other less well known varieties. The square is buzzing with activity in the summer evenings and it is great for socialising with the Italians and practicing your language – especially with the help of a drink to give a confidence boost! In this square you will also find a small pizza shop called ‘Pizza al volo’ where you can buy a slice of a very large pizza for just 2€! It’s always busy and is one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. You will also find a popular ice cream shop called ‘Il Doge’ which some argue sells the best ice cream in all of Venice, but in my opinion, the best ice cream is to be found in Sottoportego de la Bissa, just off of Campo San Bartolomeo, in a small shop called ‘Suso’. They do some amazing flavours such as speculoos biscuit, pistachio with a chocolate ganache and my favourite, Opéra, which is vanilla with a hazelnut chocolate ganache on top.
Venice has a great transport system; the trains are so easy to get to and the vaporetti (water buses) run all night and as often as every 5-10 minutes during the busy parts of the day. There are even lots of vaporetti lines going to the different islands around Venice, one of my favourites being Burano, a tiny fishing island where every house is painted a different bright colour! It looks like something from a postcard. Another island which is great to visit is the Lido. Here you’ll find the beach with its soft sands and blue waters. I spent many a day there in the summer relaxing and having picnics with friends.
One of the main things I loved about Venice was how everything was in close proximity. Coming from a small village where the closest town is 20 minutes’ drive away, being so close to University and friends was great. The island of Venice is so small but in fact, because everything is so squashed together, it still feels like a normal sized city, with tonnes to do and a beautiful scene around every corner.
I would really recommend anyone with the option of Venice for a year abroad to go there because it ended up being the best five months of my life where I met so many amazing people and saw so many beautiful places!