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!

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.

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

Incredible Thank-you from Alicja Kobylecka, a BA German and Italian graduate

The winking robot Maria by Alicja Kobylecka

Staff in Italian and German studies were overwhelmed when Alicja Kobylecka, a BA German and Italian graduate, brought in a gift: three of her paintings based on films she studied with us. Two of the paintings depict films from the German final year module Cinema of the Weimar Republic. A third depicts a film from the second year module on Italian cinema.

The winking robot Maria from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) is dedicated to the German staff; a second painting showing “German Expressionism entering HumSS Building” is based on F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) and is a thank you to the Senior Tutor of DMLES, Dr Wölfel. The third painting depicts Gelsomina from Federico Fellini’s La strada (1954) and is dedicated to all of the Italian staff.

With the paintings a thank-you note to the Italian section from Alicja came:

German Expressionism entering HumSS Building by Alicja Kobylecka

Understanding the enigmatic world of a new culture through learning language in a social context is a fascinating but also quite challenging process. It definitely changed my perception of the world forever. Additionally, after being introduced by my lecturers to Italian Neorealism and German Expressionism, I was lucky enough to find an inspiration for my artworks. What a bonus! Therefore, to all the lovely people from the German and Italian sections I would like to say a big thank you for sharing your knowledge with me and for the amazing support all the way!

The paintings will remain displayed in the Edith Morley building. There is nothing more rewarding for us then getting something so exceptionally creative back. We know that we are only as inspiring and productive as our students are. Thank you, Alicja!

Ze Germans and ze British: Just good Frenemies?

A lot of people know about the German connections of the British Royal Family during the 18th and 19th centuries. But did you know that what was to become British Gas was founded by two German chemists in the 19th century? That Germans were the largest group of foreigners in Britain in the 19th century? That German academics are the largest group of foreign nationals working at British Universities (including at Reading University)? That the Germans are obsessed with a British comedy sketch, Dinner for One, which is shown, and has been shown for decades by every German TV station throughout the day each year on New Years Eve for decades? That two Germans invented the Doc Martens’ air cushioned sole?

A pop-up travelling exhibition, provided by the UK-based Migration Museum Project, explores such relations between Britain and Germany. It is currently on show at the University of Reading and will remain here until 24 March. It can be visited anytime between 9am and 5pm on weekdays in the Humanities and Social Sciences Building on Whiteknights Campus, room 274A. More directions and a couple of weekend dates for external visitors can be found at the bottom of this post.

The panel discussing “The Brelephant in the Room” on 15 February

The exhibition consists of a small number of panels that explore different groups of German migrants to the UK, from the Royal family to the poor and the refugees during the Second World War. It also explores different economic as well as cultural connections between the UK and Germany from Early Modern Period onwards. There is also a panel about stereotypes and sport – yes, football gets a mention, too; but did you know that a German doctor working in London inspired the Paralympics? Each panel provides specific examples as well as a short text about the historical background. Showing this exhibition is timely – with a view on a pending Brexit – and equally interesting from a German as well as from a British perspective, as it describes a part of British migration history and illustrates how (groups of) migrants contribute to the country that they make their new home, and partly also the difficulties that they may face.

Part of the audience at the panel discussion

A little programme of events around the exhibition also attracted visitors, such as a panel discussion about “The Brelephant in the Room: Living in post-referendum UK as an EU citizen”.

Two more events are coming up: A guest lecture by Dr Stefan Manz about “German Immigrants and the First World War. A Centenary Perspective” on Wednesday, 1 March, 4-6pm and a presentation by Final Year German Studies students who interviewed German academics working at the University of Reading on Wednesday 15 March, 4-5:30pm (meet in HumSS 274A for both).

The exhibition and events are supported by the Vice-Chancellor’s Endowment Funds for academic events, the School of Literature and Languages and the Heritage and Creativity Institute.

The Humanities and Social Sciences Building (HumSS) is located on Whiteknights Campus, building number 1 on the map: Room 274A is on the second floor. The exhibition is also open to visit on the following two Saturdays: 4 and 18 March, between 8am-12pm and 2-4pm. Please contact Dr Melani Schröter  if you would like further information.

Vice-Chancellor Sir David Bell visited the exhibition earlier this month

To find out more about German Studies and the other languages we in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading – French, Italian, and Spanish –  we invite you to to like us on Facebook and subscribe to our Twitter feed.

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One year on

crowtherLucia Crowther graduated in 2015 with a degree in Italian and History of Art. An excellent and committed student throughout her degree, Lucia was the recipient of the Meneghello-Italianist UG Prize for outstanding academic achievements in Italian Studies. Her dissertation entitled ‘The architectural formalisation of pilgrimage in the portico of the Madonna di San Luca’ was awarded the prestigious British-Italian Society Memorial Rooke Prize for the best UG dissertation in Italian Studies in 2016.

In 2016, Lucia won a full EU-funded Unibo Azione 2 scholarship from the University of Bologna to attend an extremely selective two-year Master’s programme in Visual Arts.

Let’s hear how she is settling in the world’s oldest university.

One year on

I’d never formally studied Italian before I began my bachelor’s degree, so in some ways it feels quite surreal to find myself where I am now. One year after graduating from Reading I’m living in Italy and doing my Master’s degree at the University of Bologna. This is the city I came to for my Erasmus year, and I think I’m only just now appreciating how much that year abroad and my whole degree experience at Reading changed my life.

I still remember the first evening I ever spent in Bologna. Late in the day, standing in a bar in the centre of town surrounded by a crowd of new local friends, someone asked me if I was happy to have chosen the city for my Erasmus placement. I shouted back over the music that I was delighted, and couldn’t wait to try my first spaghetti bolognese. Well, the whole place went silent. I now know, as I’m sure almost everyone reading already does too, that ‘spag-bol’ does not exist in Bologna, and that the locals can spot a tourist a mile away as anyone who doesn’t know that tagliatelle al ragù is the dish to ask for in the Italian capital of food.

That evening taught me a few lessons: firstly, the people of Bologna are among the friendliest, kindest and most forgiving on Earth. The impromptu night-time tour of the city I was given a few hours later was testament enough to that. But secondly, if you move to a new country you will never stop learning new things, and your life will never be dull (whether you want it to be or not!). That’s why I knew I had to come back, one way or another, and at the beginning of September I unpacked my suitcase here for the second time.

After the brilliant Italian language and culture teaching I had at Reading, I felt confident enough to apply directly to Bologna earlier this year. I was lucky enough to be awarded one of the scholarships reserved for international students, and I realised that Italian universities are really welcoming to foreign students. My MA is in the Visual Arts, which is the perfect subject to study in a country so full of beautiful art and architecture, and it’s also really interesting to see how different the postgraduate degrees are over here. I’m able to study a really broad range of topics, so my courses this year range from art restoration, to iconography, to Museum studies. I’ve also made so many new Italian friends in Bologna, and every time I manage to get though a whole day without saying anything inappropriate about their pasta I feel like an honorary Italian all over again.

It’s not for the faint hearted, however. Italian students usually write 30 – 50,000 word dissertations to graduate from their MA courses, so I’ve got all that to looks forward to next year! But while I was at Reading I already managed to do so many things I never thought I’d be able to. I never expected to go from zero Italian to let’s-move-to-Italy-and-start-a-new-life standards, but my degree got me there. And that’s not all: during my second year my tutor Dr La Penna helped me to get a placement as a research assistant with the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP), so I contributed to the databases of the Diasporic Literary Archives project and learned so much from working with researchers from across the University. Then in my final year a module with Dr Faloppa gave us the chance to replace an essay with a personalised project, so I was able to curate an exhibition based on my favourite charity, Amnesty International. After all those different experiences, to mention just a few, I don’t feel worried about taking on a new challenge, and being in this stunning city is all the inspiration I need.

So if you want to see what is, in my opinion, one of the most under-appreciated, lively and cultured cites in Europe, then come and visit any time! You’ll have a lot of new friends before the first night is even over, and if you can get through a whole evening without mentioning spaghetti then it might just be safe to show you where they do the best tagliatelle al ragù in town…

Celebrating Halloween and the Day of the Dead

Jack-o-lanterns

Lanterns

The carved pumpkins, fancy dress and Trick or Treating activities popular in North America have spread to Europe, says Dr Veronica Heath, who teaches on our 19th century European Novels module. However there are also very different traditions unique to Great Britain (such as 5th November Bonfire Night), to other European countries and to Latin America.

In France, Halloween is more popular among children than adults. Dr Marjorie Gehrhardt, who teaches 20th century French history, says that since the 1990s, you can see groups of children dressed up on 31st October, going around the neighbourhood asking for sweets sometimes late into the evening as the following day is a bank holiday. On 1st November, known in France as La Toussaint [All Saints’ Day], many people take chrysanthemums to the graves of their loved ones. Traditionally the Day of the Dead is 2nd November, but this is a working day, so families tend to gather on 1st November instead. The story goes that as chrysanthemums resist well to the cold and frost, they were used to flower the graves of fallen soldiers after the First World War.

Our postdoctoral researcher on Translation and NGOs, Dr Wine Tesseur explains that ‘in Belgium, families get together on 1st November and eat pancakes, waffles, and/or beignets. On 2 November, there is usually a requiem mass. If someone from your family has passed away in the previous months, a little wooden cross with their name is put on a special notice board in the local church. On 2 November, after mass, you can collect the cross and take it home’.

In Austria, Halloween is more of a children’s celebration, whereas all ages celebrate Allerheiligen [All Saints’ Day]. Like in France, 1st November is a bank holiday and most people go to visit the graves of their loved ones on that day. They light white candles that sit in red glasses, and leave fresh flowers. Another tradition, our German Lektorin Elli Königshofer tells us, is for godparents to give their godchildren a striezel, a sweet pastry containing raisins, shaped into a braid (traditionally women would cut their braided hair in sign of mourning).dia-de-los-muertos-03-full

In Italy too, people remember the dead, visit their graves and eat special food as part of Ognissanti (All Saints Day, on 1st November) and I Morti (2nd November), our language coordinator Enza Siciliano-Verruccio explains. It is the time of the year when the first caldarroste [roasted chestnuts] are eaten and many regions have their own local specialties, like the Frutta di Martorana [a fruit-shaped sweet] in Sicily.

Our Spanish teaching fellow Ivan Ortega, tells us that in Spain too, people go to cemeteries to tidy up their relatives’ graves and bring fresh flowers. Spanish people also have food traditions, such as huesos de Santo and buñuelos de Viento, which are two typical sweets eaten during these festivities.

ev_3_la_catrinaIn Mexico, both 31st October and 1st November are big celebrations. Dr Catriona McAllister, who teaches Latin American history and culture, describes Día de muertos traditions for us: ‘On 2nd November (coinciding with the Catholic festival of All Souls Day), Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead. The festival offers the opportunity to remember and honour departed loved ones and has its origins in pre-Hispanic traditions that were later combined with Catholic practices. Celebrations can take place over several days, and it is traditional to visit cemeteries where loved ones are buried and to prepare an altar at home. Altars usually contain a range of objects including flowers (particularly cempasúchiles, or marigolds), the favourite food of the departed loved one, candles, objects belonging to the departed, photos and decorated sugar skulls’.

If Halloween, pumpkins and trick-or-treating are becoming more popular, the countries whose cultures and languages we study in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies also have their own fascinating traditions!

Looking for extra guidance on your studies?

Study Skills PosterTo all students of Modern Languages and European Studies!

The department is offering weekly drop-in sessions for study skills advice specific to undergraduate students (all years) of MLES, run by the department’s study skills advisers. Do you have questions or worries about making the transition to university life, writing or structuring essays, building vocabulary, grammar, exam technique, note taking, time management, etc…? Come along to our sessions when we will be available to answer your questions.

We can’t proofread your work, or give you specific answers to your assignments, but we do have experience of how things work in the department, and are uniquely placed to give you advice based on our knowledge as successful postgraduate students. If your query is beyond our scope, we’ll suggest the best person for you to contact.

These sessions will take place on Mondays 1-2pm in HumSS 274A, the Resources Room. It is not compulsory to attend all sessions; come as and when you have a query.

Hope to see you there!

Maria, Sophie and Stefano

If it wasn’t for my decision to learn Italian at Reading, I simply wouldn’t be where I am today!

You never know where a degree in Modern Languages will take you. Lora Jury, who graduated from the University of Reading in 2015 with a BA in English Literature and Italian, is now in the United States, where she won a Fellowship to pursue a Masters in Italian Studies at the University of Oregon. With the opportunities that a University of Reading degree provides, many of our alumni go on to pursue post-graduate studies, often here at Reading, but also at other universities throughout the UK, and often much further afield. We’ve asked Lora to let us know how she wound up in Oregon and how she’s getting on in her studies. Here’s what she had to say:

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Lora Jury, graduating from the University of Reading in 2015 with a degree in degree in English Literature and Italian

“I first began learning Italian at the University of Reading in 2011, and at the start it felt like the most difficult challenge of my life. Before coming to university, I’d attended a state school and a sixth form college in South Wales, and I’d never studied a foreign language, apart from three years of French and German at secondary school. I’d never studied any Italian and I could not profess to be proficient in any language other than English. Just five years later, I’m now teaching Italian at the University of Oregon, USA!

Whilst at the University of Reading I undertook a whole range of courses in Italian language, history, politics, intellectual history, and literature. I found Reading’s Department of Modern Languages and European Studies to be an environment in which I could really develop as an independent thinker. The kinds of assessments I was set by my Italian lecturers encouraged me to develop my own research topics, and also acted as a kind of exercise in learning the rubric of academia (proofreading, citing, creating a bibliography etc.) The most unique opportunity for me was being able to take up a foreign language without having any prior qualifications – if it wasn’t for my decision to learn Italian at Reading, I simply wouldn’t be where I am today.

During my final year at the University of Reading I followed a course on Modern Italian Poetry with Dr Daniela La Penna, and that’s when my love for Italian literature really began to develop and flourish. When Dr La Penna recommended me as an applicant to the University of Oregon’s MA programme, I was full of doubts. Still, even as I wondered whether I would be admitted to this competitive programme, I went ahead with my application. To my great surprise I was offered a prestigious Graduate Teaching Fellowship in Italian Studies. This means that, while I pursue my MA in Italian language and literature at the University of Oregon, all my fees are paid for! I also receive a monthly stipend, which pays for all of my living expenses, as well as health insurance and a whole range of other benefits as well. In exchange, I teach Italian language courses to undergraduate students at the university.

Lora Jury is now pursuing an MA in Italian Studies and teaching Italian language at the University of Oregon, USA

Lora Jury is now pursuing an MA in Italian Studies and teaching Italian language at the University of Oregon, USA

Pursuing a Masters Degree in the US has been an amazing experience, but it’s not for the faint hearted. This is much more than another Erasmus year. It’s the act of transferring one’s whole life to the other side of the planet, and not only learning as a student but also developing as a professional and an academic. At times my colleagues and I work under intense pressures, given that we are teachers and post-graduate students at the same time. Even so, this first year has been great. I’ve learned an unfathomable amount.

My studies in literature and language at the University of Reading definitely gave me an advantage when it came to studying for my MA at the University of Oregon. Some candidates may initially struggle when it comes to the deep analytical and theoretical work, but I definitely never felt this pressure. The courses I took at Reading were particularly rigorous, allowing me already to engage with some of the material I now work with as a post-graduate. I also think that a lot of our assignments had a practical application – for example we were often assessed on the presentation of our research at the undergraduate level, and this is now a crucial part of my everyday work. Studying at Reading taught me to be a confident and vocal young thinker; my lecturers inspired me with the notion to question absolutely everything, to think radically, and this philosophy has always added new elements to my work.

Lora Jury, enjoying life inside and outside the classroom in Oregon

Lora Jury, enjoying life inside and outside the classroom in Oregon

Like Reading, Oregon provides a really comprehensive and well-rounded education. I’m incredibly grateful that I have the opportunity to work for all of this and not to have to pay for my Masters programme. I still have one year left, in which I’ll take four more courses in Italian Studies, as well as two four hour exams, while also presenting my research at a post-graduate forum, completing an MA thesis, and reading around forty books. It sounds like an awful lot when I put it like that! But I love it. My professors in Oregon are incredible people. They only encourage the very best from their students. Plus, working in Oregon has opened up other opportunities as well: the Department of Romance Languages will fund my summer studying at a language school in Sorrento, Italy, where I’ll also work on a research project I’ll then present back in Oregon at the Graduate Student Research Forum in the Fall.

Studying in the States has opened up a wealth of opportunities to me. For instance, earlier this year I presented a paper on Italian Neorealist Cinema at a conference at the University of Wisconsin, and I’m hoping to do this again in New York in October. I am also going to apply for PhD in Culture and Theory at UC Irvine, and this is something which I simply would have never considered had I never gotten the opportunity to study at two great institutions like the University of Reading and the University of Oregon. I’ve been able to meet and network with a lot of exceptional academics and to learn more about their research, which also helps me to think about what I would like to research and where I would like to conduct my investigations.

There are so many advantages to being a part of this unbelievable experience. Most days I wake up and can’t believe that this is my life! But I intend to find a PhD programme in the States after finishing my masters.

The 2016 graduates of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading. You never know where a languages degree will lead you.

The 2016 graduates of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading. You never know where a languages degree will lead you.

I definitely believe that other Reading students could follow in my footsteps. As a woman I feel that we are sometimes conditioned to believe that the positions of success and power are not reserved for us, but the role models I had at the University of Reading were testament to the contrary. The Department of Modern Languages and European Studies has a large population of female students, and I believe that we should encourage these young women to aim high. There are so many opportunities here in the US within academia, and I know that students at Reading are well prepared to compete in this market.”

To learn more about how competitive you can be with a degree in French, German, Italian, or Spanish from the University of Reading, check out our careers page. Be sure to follow our blog, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Twitter feed, too, so that you can keep up on all the news and events of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading.

If you’re a Reading graduate, we’d love to hear from you about your career choices after university. Tell us your story. The University of Reading publishes alumni profiles online. If you’d like to share your experiences, all you have to do is fill out an online questionnaire.

When you do, please consider submitting your story for the “Meet a Reading Graduate” section of our departmental blog.

If you’d like to tell us where your Reading degree has taken you, and perhaps to share a few  memories of the department, please get in touch with our Alumni Officer, Dr Veronica Heath. And please consider joining the University’s Thrive Mentoring Scheme to help our students make their transition into the world after graduation.

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