Venetian Dreams: Merging Languages and Art by Venetia Baker (French and Italian alumna).

When I graduated from the University of Reading in 2012, I wasn’t sure where I wanted my degree in French and Italian to take me. I was passionate about languages, and my confidence in both languages was at its highest. I knew I wanted to use them in whatever career I would enter into. It was the desire to use my languages that spurred me on to accept a place on a Master’s degree in Technical and Specialised Translation at the University of Westminster.

After graduating from my MA, I gained my first full-time job in a large translation company, TransPerfect, based in London. From here, I built on my knowledge of the translation industry and after one year I gained the confidence to go freelance, setting up my own translation business. I loved being in charge of my workload and building up a steady network of clients, both privately and through agencies. After two years of working from home as a translator, however, one of my other passions was niggling at me, and I realised that there was perhaps another career route for me where I could combine my love of languages with my passion for the arts.

I had studied a few history of art modules during my time at Reading and during my year abroad in Padua, and in particular I had enjoyed learning about the art of the Italian Renaissance. I wanted to build on this knowledge and learn more about the field of art curation in a contemporary setting. What better way to do this than by enrolling on a course in Curatorial Practice and Contemporary Art in the Italian heart of contemporary art: Venice.

I hadn’t realised what I had let myself in for when I landed in Venice last October and made my way to my rented apartment, just outside of Venice in a town called Malcontenta. I was hopeful that the name of the town wasn’t an omen of how the year to come would pan out! Taught completely in Italian, in a class of 20 Italian students, I was truly immersed from the word go, and was suddenly grateful for all the intensive language skills classes Enza had put us through in fourth year! I particularly loved the location of my school in Campo Santo Stefano, near to the Accademia bridge. I would take my morning “caffè ginseng” in the campo before attending lectures on curatorial practice, art project management, fundraising, graphic design, press relations and conservation in the crumbling Conservatorio di musica Benedetto Marcello. The course worked towards the creation and realisation of an art exhibition, which we designed and managed as a group. The best part of this process for me was working with internationally renowned contemporary artists, getting to discuss with them their artworks, and helping them throughout the exhibition process, from choosing the artworks to their arrival in Venice and installation. It was an exhausting but incredible experience, and to top it off we got to attend the openings of several exhibitions as part of the Venice International Art Biennale, meeting artists and networking.

During my time in Venice, I also managed to fit in a one-month internship at the amazing Peggy Guggenheim Collection. I loved being surrounded by the incredible artworks in the collection, from Picasso’s, Dali’s, Matisse’s, Miro’s, Giacometti’s and Brancusi’s, to Pollock’s, Still’s, Bacon’s, Warhol’s and Fontana’s. The art collection of the PGC is out of this world, and I absolutely loved guarding the galleries, selling tickets and preparing talks for the public on the life of Peggy Guggenheim. My favourite part however was putting the artworks to bed every evening, by placing their “pyjamas” over them and being the last ones left in the museum after the crowds had left. What a dream! This experience also enabled me to learn more about the running of a small art museum, and a particular highlight for me was having a private guided tour of the collection by the Director, Dr Philip Rylands.

Having returned to the UK in May, I am now working at Royal Museums Greenwich as a Bookings and Customer Service Coordinator, having started in the museum as a Visitor Assistant. I love my job and couldn’t ask for a better place to have my office – a Unesco World Heritage site surrounded by wonderful artworks and historical artefacts. My team are from all over the world, and I use my languages on a daily basis both with my colleagues and our visitors, and I’m hoping to develop within the museum, and perhaps one day move into the curatorial department, if the opportunity arises. Amongst all the craziness of my time in Venice, I also got engaged there at the start of my course. A perfect place to be proposed to, being the lady of Venice! My fiance, a fellow Reading Modern Languages graduate, and I are now busy planning our wedding and looking forward to building our future together.

Venetia Baker

Michael O’Hagan, Winner of the Year Abroad Photo Competition 2017

Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

Hello, my name is Michael O’Hagan and I spent my year abroad in Paris for a 10-month internship, working as a purchaser/product manager. Obviously completing an internship abroad is a bit more fast-paced than studying abroad, but it was just so worth it.

Well, what can I say about Paris? It’s an incredible city. I didn’t actually live in the centre of Paris (to save money), but in a very small town about an hour’s commute south of the ‘périphérique’ (ringroad) which encircles central Paris. Although the commute was long, it was really nice to be out in the quieter countryside with fields and a forest, but still close enough to the centre of the capital.

To give you a bit more of an insight into my internship, I worked for a company which buys and sells new and used cars in France. I was a purchaser of new cars, so I was contacting suppliers all over Europe to buy cars from them and import them to France. The first few weeks completely flew by as I tried to take in all the French I could, and learn the principle tasks of my internship. Once I settled in, I was quickly given a lot of responsibilities, which was awesome, seeing as some French internships offer interns seriously limited responsibility. As I speak Czech too, I was able to travel to the Czech Republic in December for 4 days with my manager, to meet new suppliers who I had made first contact with over the phone. This was the toughest but also the most rewarding experience of my whole life.

I could go on forever about my internship, but I should instead say to all future languages students looking to potentially do an internship instead of studying abroad, to not hesitate even for a second to search and apply for internships. It will change your life, and give you some serious experience to help you stand out from other candidates in applications for jobs after university.

The photo I took is of the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, in summer time after my placement had finished. It was easily 30-35 degrees at the time! Not bad for Paris, I know. The photo shows that although Paris can be a really loud, bustling, and busy city, there are so many chilled and relaxing parks you can go to and take some time out.

The Christopher G. Wagstaff Film Collection

Thursday April 6, 2017 marked the official launch of the Christopher G. Wagstaff Italian Film Collection at the University of Notre Dame. Wagstaff, who retired from the University of Reading in 2015 after four decades as a teacher and scholar of Italian, delivered a short talk at the event, which recognised his distinguished career as well as the generous donation of his personal film archive to Notre Dame.

Chris Wagstaff, who taught Italian at the University of Reading for four decades

As Wagstaff’s former colleague Professor Zygmunt G. Baranski has said, in his long career at the University of Reading Chris “worked tirelessly and, at times, eccentrically, to develop new undergraduate and graduate courses, to build a major film library, to establish national and international contacts and networks, to enlighten and encourage students, and, most importantly, to demand the highest standards of scholarly seriousness from himself and his students.” With that in mind, we want to take this opportunity to recognise Chris’s contribution to the University of Reading and to the wider Italian and Film-Studies communities.

We asked Tracy Bergstrom, Curator of Italian Imprints and Co-Director of Digital Library Initiatives and Scholarship at the University of Notre Dame, to tell us about the archive. She explained that the Christopher G. Wagstaff Film Collection is built around roughly 2,000 Italian films and television programs donated from Wagstaff’s personal collection. These films are currently being catalogued and made available through the Hesburgh Libraries, as well as digitised for preservation purposes. Both digital and commercial copies are supplemented by the University of Notre Dame’s large print collection, housed in the Hesburgh Library, which explores the history, culture, and aesthetics of Italian media.

The Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame, new home of the Christopher Wagstaff Film Collection

Brendan Hennessey, Assistant Professor of Italian at the University of Binghamton and the archive’s first curator, further expanded on the significance of the archive. “The Christopher G. Wagstaff Film Collection aims to become a centre for the study of Italian film and television that will be open to scholars and students, a North American cineteca at Notre Dame, the first of its kind, capable of supporting extant research while promoting future projects in Italian screen studies.

The mission of the Wagstaff Collection is not to preserve individual films, but to permit the study of a corpus of cinematic works facilitated by their digitisation. It will nurture research, screenings, curated film series, and scholarly events. In so doing it perpetuates Christopher Wagstaff’s original vision to expand our understanding of Italian cinema through the study of all types of Italian media production. Over the course of his prolific career as both teacher and scholar in Italian studies at the University of Reading, Christopher Wagstaff’s role as amateur archivist reinforced his position as one of Italian cinema’s most respected interpreters.

During his career at the University of Reading Wagstaff published several path-breaking studies, including this magisterial examination of Italian neorealism

As an archivist-scholar, Wagstaff brought precision to the study of both “classics” and non-canonical films, with a particular interest in exploring how production contexts (and their illuminating empirical data) could be gateways for sharpening Italian film hermeneutics. Evidenced by the titles in the archive, his tastes are indeed eclectic: art-house staples, rare versions of neorealist classics and auteur films from the 1960s neighbour popular genre films (science fiction, action-adventure, peplums) and an extensive assortment of spaghetti westerns. Recent scholarship attests how such an expansive horizon of types was prescient for Italian screen studies in the twenty-first century. Today, as the reverence for traditional canons and their inevitable hierarchies are on the wane, collections that stretch beyond the precincts of the post-war Italian art film are increasingly vital.”

We at Reading are proud of the work that Chris has done and want to congratulate him on the launch of the Christopher G. Wagstaff Italian Film Collection at the University of Notre Dame. Well done Chris!

Reflecting on Paris attacks by Gemma Dutton (French and Economics student on her year abroad in Paris)

On the 13th November 2015, people from all walks of life were out enjoying a Friday night – drinks on the terrace, watching the football game or enjoying a live heavy metal concert.

On 13th November 2015, Paris was victim to a wave of coordinated terrorist attacks leaving 130 dead and hundreds injured.

On 13th November 2015, France became the centre of international thoughts, not forgetting those in Beirut, Baghdad, Syria, Ankara, Nigeria, the list goes on…


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.

To watch the full original post by by Gemma Dutton, click on the image.

To watch the full original post by by Gemma Dutton, click on the image.

Student Life: A Year Abroad in Siena

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:


 Our weekend road trip to Castiglione Del Lago with our Italian friend, Beatrice. An amazing weekend filled with bbqs, swimming, taking her boat out on the lake etc. So memorable.

Our weekend road trip to Castiglione Del Lago with our Italian friend, Beatrice. An amazing weekend filled with bbqs, swimming, taking her boat out on the lake etc. So memorable.

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.

 This cafe in the Piazza offers customers their balcony. A perfect spot for a morning espresso whilst watching the people go about their days. It's funny... the whole town seems to adopt the same care-free pace of life here - so refreshing.

This cafe in the Piazza offers customers their balcony. A perfect spot for a morning espresso whilst watching the people go about their days. It’s funny… the whole town seems to adopt the same care-free pace of life here – so refreshing.

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!


The view from my apartment. It was as breathtaking the 100th time as it was the first time.

The view from my apartment. It was as breathtaking the 100th time as it was the first time.

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.


 This is on top of 'the arch' alongside il duomo di Siena. Offers spectacular panoramic views of Siena and the surround tuscan countryside - Free to go up for Erasmus students with your student card! FYI, that's Elliot's on the right.

This is on top of ‘the arch’ alongside il duomo di Siena. Offers spectacular panoramic views of Siena and the surround tuscan countryside – Free to go up for Erasmus students with your student card! FYI, that’s Elliot’s on the right.

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.

Our trip to Follonica - the nearest and prettiest coastal town to Siena. Can't be without the beach, now!

Our trip to Follonica – the nearest and prettiest coastal town to Siena. Can’t be without the beach, now!

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.

 Palio Day in the Piazza del Campo, which is ram-packed with spectators waiting for the horse race to commence. The build up to this 3-minute long race is electrifying.

Palio Day in the Piazza del Campo, which is ram-packed with
spectators waiting for the horse race to commence. The build up to this 3-minute long race is electrifying.

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!

Modern Languages year abroad photo competition – winners 2015 (1)

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)

Zara Al NaimiHello, 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.

Modern Languages year abroad photo competition – winners 2015 (2)

2nd place Elliot Reeman (Italian and French)

Elliot ReemanHello 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.

Modern Languages year abroad photo competition – winners 2015 (3)

3rd  place – Jessica Kravetz (Italian and Management Studies)

Jessica Kravetz

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.


How to make the most of your time at University by Chiara Nunzet


“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!”

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!