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



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:


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.

And remember to subscribe to our blog:


MRes and me

Penny Ditchfield tells us about her experiences of studying for an MRes:

An MRes in Modern Languages – pathway in Italian Studies?? Isn’t it all rather serious? Well, yes, I can’t deny that I felt a bit apprehensive in September, clutching my new Campus Card with the word POSTGRADUATE in bold letters, looking at the emails about modules on Research Skills & Methodology, and optional module topics such as Cultures of Fascism, trying not to dwell on the idea of a 20,000-word dissertation – and wondering. These are some of the questions I asked myself – and the answers!

  • Is there too much to do?

Happily, I’ve chosen the part-time option, two years. Time to breathe. I would recommend that to anyone who has an extra year to spare. There is a lot to do, presentations, essays – and that dissertation – but I have above my computer a card with two words of encouragement: NO EXAMS.

  • What about the working in isolation?

You are not of course totally on your own. I know I am responsible for my own research, I am  making decisions about the direction to take, but close at hand is a spectacular support network, staff in the Library, and the Special Collections Service but most importantly, the staff in Modern languages in general and Italian programme staff in particular  –  and especially the interest,  encouragement and guidance of supervisors and Programme director,  with special mention for their patience, when confronted by an over-excited student saying yet again “Look what I’ve just found!”

  • What if I can’t decide on a topic?

I thought I had decided before the course started. I had even started compiling a bibliography. Then the Methodology module involved choosing an item from the Special Collections to analyse. I set aside an hour to read an innocuous blue-covered diary, and dragged myself back two hours later to 2015 and to the assuredness that I had found my topic. An unforgettable moment in an exciting year.

So are there any more questions? Oh yes, plenty – and I’m off to request “my” box of documents in the Special Collections Reading Room and start looking for the answers… but that will be another story.

Beginner’s language at Reading

Beginner’s language degrees are in the news at the moment. Here at Reading we have some news too: we’re very excited to announce that we will be launching beginner’s French for 2017 entry, to join our beginner’s Italian and Spanish courses. We have a longstanding specialism in this area, having provided accelerated Italian for many years.

A beginner’s language degree (or ab initio language degree as universities call it) involvesEnza Siciliano Verruccio learning the language from scratch, but going on to complete the degree at the same level of knowledge and fluency as students who might have a GCSE or A-Level in that language. They are far from being a new phenomenon. It has always been common for language students to pick up another language at degree level. Having more than one language improves your employability in competitive fields such as language teaching, and translating/ interpreting.

If you think you might be interested in learning a language from scratch, you can find out more about how students have found the experience, in these blog posts by our students Sabrina and Jess. Professor Catherine Léglu explains here about the benefits of ab initio language degrees.

My Welcome Week Experience

Becky reflects on her enjoyable Welcome Week and gives you an idea of what to expect in yours.

Welcome Week at the University of Reading was one of the busiest weeks of my university career, packed with meeting new people, attending introductory lectures and taster society sessions, and, along with many students, moving away from my family for the first time.

My Dad dropped me off, his car filled to the brim with my clothes, books and other stuff I’d decided to bring with me. We’d had to attach a roof box just so I could fit in an extra few boxes. After we had carried everything to my new room, he hugged me goodbye and left but, as cheesy as this sounds, I wasn’t on my own. Everyone else was in the same boat: excited, nervous, and (like me) putting up their posters before even unpacking their bedding. Some people I met that first week in lectures commuted from nearby, or lived in student housing, but we all had one thing in common- we were all starting the next Big Step in our lives. It’s the most uniting thing I’ve ever experienced, making Welcome Week really special and good fun. It also really helps if you offer everybody chocolate biscuits!

I soon become close with my flatmates. I had worried that because I had not been clubbing much, this would affect my social life. I couldn’t have been more wrong! My flatmates and I started having many nights dedicated to watching Game of Thrones boxsets, and days scouring Reading’s charity shops for bargain fancy dress outfits. I also got to know students from my course, going to a café after one lecture to discuss the modules before we had even started them, and to this day we still revise together in the summer term. I even became friends with one girl at a university bar because of the amazing coincidence that we were both named Rebecca.

Societies Fayre at Welcome Week

The Societies Fayre and Sports Fayre gave me more great opportunities to meet new people, as well as try new things. With over 150 societies and sports clubs to pick from, it was hard to decide which to join. From the fencing society to the Harry Potter society, from modern languages to rugby to singer-songwriting, between me and my friends we went to a huge number of taster sessions. In addition, another fayre available in that first week was the Careers Fayre, which was exceedingly useful. The companies recruiting students at the stalls prove that there are so many career options and a huge variety of graduate jobs for humanities students, and they start you thinking about the career path you would want to follow after finishing your degree.

With all the activities available in Welcome Week, introductory lectures still managed to be the most exciting part of it. I met the tutors who would be teaching me over the next few years, met students I would be sharing classes with, and got my first feel of what it was going to be like to study at the University of Reading. I remember meeting up with all my flatmates straight after our introductory lectures, sitting on a bench in the middle of campus, and talking enthusiastically about each of our subjects, and our plans for the future. It was a whirlwind of a week, and a great start to university. I hope you enjoy yours just as much.