My Year Abroad for a Joint Honours student by Daniela Strofton

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.

Daniela

“The year abroad for me was a real opportunity to develop as a person, independently, socially and with regards to my language too.”

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!

Daniela 2

“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.”

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!

 

Europe at the University of Reading by Eleanor Baxter

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.

Student Life: The best five months of my life

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.

Emily 2For 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 Emily 3about 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 Emily 1parts 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 Emily 4during 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!

Student Life: A Year Abroad in Venice

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 Gabriella Burns, a Finalist in Italian Studies, who spent her year abroad in Venice:

4If you are going to Venice on your Third Year Abroad then congratulations!! You will be going to what I personally think is the most breathtaking place you will ever go to. There may be other cities that perhaps come close to the magic of the canals and history, but Venice really is unique – as well as a trap which will have you returning for years to come. After all, if it’s good enough for George Clooney to get married there, then it’s good enough for us!

I spent, six months in Venice as part of my French and Italian degree after first spending six months in the south of France. Although I’ve now come to love Venice, I must be honest: at first it was not my choice to go to Venice for my Year Abroad. Now, however, I can’t imagine it any other way.

As an ab inito student of Italian in my first year, I had minimal prior knowledge of the language, and this made my year abroad experience particularly significant. Not only do I feel more confident using my language, I feel more confident in other life skills that have enriched my experience in so many ways.

The first advice I would give to anyone who is planning to study or travel to Venice is: Get lost. That’s right – Get lost. It’s not a difficult task in Venice, because to the untrained eye, every “calle” (small street) can look the same. You will get lost, and that’s alright, because it’s the only way to get a picture of the real Venice. When lost, you’ll uncover all the little back calle which none of the tourists go to. What’s more, Venice has a very low crime rate, meaning if you do get lost then you are safe. This idea was indeed drilled into me a lot during my time there and I came to realise it was true: my house mate would never lock the door… much to my surprise.

1The second piece of advice which links into this is: Always look up. If you do end up getting lost, there is no need to panic as in every corner of the island there are yellow signs which point to obvious attractions which make it easy to get your bearings, since they point you towards the Rialto, Accademia and Piazza San Marco. I would also like to emphasise the word “island,” which means that you can never stray off too far – wherever your find yourself, you will still always be in Venice.

As Venice is such a small place, every one knows every one so it is very friendly and easy to meet people and make new friends for life.

During the Year Abroad you go through things which at the time seem relatively unimportant but in hindsight you realise that in fact they are quite a big deal and have played a large part in your self transformation. Little things like: catching 3 trains from one side of Italy to another and finding out which platform you need to go to and who you need to speak to. You do these things easily and then when you have 5 minutes to reflect you are filled with a sense of pride.

Places not to miss:

2Remer. Remer is the name of a bar/restaurant which does 5 euro “cicchetti” (buffet food) and spritz every night from 7 til half 8. It over looks the Grand Canal and Rialto and you can sit down with a group of your friends and watch the sun go down.

Alfredo’s. A fresh pasta shop by Piazza San Marco. If you speak to them in Italian and let them know you study there, they may even give you a discount on their delicious pasta, which is like no other.

Paradiso Perduto. A bar come restaurant where every Monday night there is a live band who play a different style of music every week! A great evening out right on the canal front!