Translating Film Subtitles from French to English by John McKeane

I recently completed a project translating the subtitles of a French film, and thought it could be of interest to current and prospective language students here at the University of Reading. In this blog I’ll give details of the film and talk about the challenges facing translators in this format. The project was a collaboration with the excellent translator Sam Ferguson and funding was generously provided by Reading’s Centre for Film Æsthetics and Cultures.

I had experience of translating philosophical books from French to English, but not previously a film. However, I was lucky enough to meet film-maker François Lagarde and his collaborator Christine Baudillon. So when I heard they were making a film about Alexandre Kojève, I really wanted to get involved! The film’s French title is Alexandre Kojève: en connaissance de cause, which we translated as Alexandre Kojève: Knowingly.

Who was Kojève? He was an influential figure in 20th-century French philosophy, who thought that there was no human nature but only the gradual unfolding of history. But he fascinates people mainly because he abandoned academia after WWII, going on to become a major figure in the trade agreements that laid the groundwork for the European Union.

Hopefully this sets the scene for the first of the three translation issues I want to concentrate on. I have been calling this person Kojève, which is the Gallicized version of his original surname Kozhevnikov. But while ZH and J are pronounced the same in the film, when it came to adding written subtitles, we had to decide how to spell the original Russian name. Should we go for Kojevnikov, as is written on his gravestone shown in the film, and giving greater visual identity with Kojève, the name by which this figure is most widely known? Or Kozhevnikov, which is the standard English transliteration? We chose the second option.

Second, we were dealing with his speech and writings from the 1930s to the 1960s. Language changes over time, and so we had to decide whether to use today’s English, or that of his period. One example is the French sentence ‘J’étais assis […] réfléchissant à ce qui a été écrit sur les deux cultures, l’Orient et l’Occident’. Should the last part be translated as ‘East and West’, ‘the East and the West’, or ‘the Orient and the Occident’? Translators often try to make their work sound as natural as possible. However, we wanted to give a flavour of the English Kojève might have spoken, and so we went with the old-fashioned sounding, final option.

The last translation issue was a general one, insofar as we knew that the words in our translated subtitles had to a) fit on the screen and b) align with what was being said, when it was being said. In respect of a), we went for brevity wherever we could, producing 10,600 English words as a translation of 12,200-word French transcript. We also had to rearrange some syntax, which is a normal and legitimate part of translation, but we pushed this a bit further than normal so that the subtitles matched the words as they were spoken.

If you have made it to the end of the blog you may be interested in viewing the film and attending a roundtable discussion of it! This will be held at an online conference on 2 September 2021, you can register for free here.

The Mauritian Novel – Liverpool University Press in Conversation with Julia Waters

As Mauritian ecologist Vincent Florens asserts, Mauritius truly is a ‘laboratoire du monde’. With no original, in-dwelling inhabitants, Mauritius’s present-day population is made up entirely of the descendants of French colonial settlers, enslaved Africans and Malagasy, Indian indentured labourers, Chinese traders and other economic migrants from across the globe, with each successive human wave leaving its mark on the languages, cultures, customs and natural environment of this small, postcolonial ‘rainbow nation.’ On 12 March this year, Mauritius marked fifty years of independence from Great Britain, in a ceremony attended by heads of state, crowds of ordinary Mauritians – and me. Despite Mauritius’s inauspicious beginnings as an independent nation, post-colonial Mauritius has been widely praised for its ‘economic miracle’ and for the peaceful accommodation of its multi-ethnic population. Nonetheless, Mauritian literature – especially that written in the wake of the inter-ethnic ‘Kaya riots’ of 1999 – paints a rather different picture of the island-nation, marked by inequality, injustice, difference, division and violence. Given the diverse composition of Mauritius’ population (made up of Franco-Mauritians, Indo-Mauritians, Sino-Mauritians, Muslims and Creoles), Mauritian fiction is also centrally preoccupied with the question of what it means to be ‘Mauritian’ today: in other words, with the issue – or problem – of ‘belonging’.

What drew you to focus your research on Mauritian Literature and the notion of ‘belonging’?

My fascination with Mauritian literature was originally sparked, back in 2001, by a lively, wine-fuelled conversation with Mauritian academic, Kumari Issur, at an ASCALF conference in London. I had just presented a paper on Gallimard’s contentious ‘Continents Noirs’ series and Kumari recommended that I read Amal Sewtohul’s first novel, Histoire d’Ashok et d’autres personnages de moindre importance, which was about to appear in the same series, along with his compatriot, Ananda Devi’s Pagli. Numerous subsequent visits to Mauritius, meetings with Mauritian authors, impassioned debates with Indian Ocean academics, and continued voracious reading, often ‘hot off the press’, of the impressive stream of novels that have continued to flow from the tiny island-nation since, have merely confirmed my initial fascination with Mauritius’ culture, history, society and literature.

My interest in the notion of ‘belonging’ – a sense of attachment to, and identification with, a place or people – was prompted both by the thematic and stylistic recurrence of the notion in contemporary Mauritian literature and, more broadly, by the term’s paradoxical ubiquity and obscurity. Everyone thinks they know what they mean when they talk about belonging, but, as geographer Marco Antonsich points out, they ‘actually know very little about what belonging stands for and how it is claimed.’[1] I was keen to find out more. Whereas existing postcolonial paradigms, such as hybridity or créolisation, had already been fruitfully applied to the Mauritian situation, no one had yet taken belonging, or the ‘universal human desire to belong’, as the primary thematic and conceptual focus of study. As John Crowley points out, ‘while the term [belonging] itself is not new, it is little used as an analytical or theoretical tool.’[2] I was keen to rise to this challenge.

What makes your book stand out from others in its field?

My monograph is the first book-length study in English on twenty-first-century Mauritian fiction in French and as such, I hope, makes a significant contribution to the recent expansion of research on Indian Ocean cultures. The book is original in its focus on the under-researched, affective dimension of belonging (place-belongingness) and its intersections with the often brutal and exclusionary ‘politics of belonging.’ My chapter on Shenaz Patel’s Le Silence des Chagos, in which I explore the uses and abuses of competing notions of belonging in the UK’s forced expulsion of the Chagos islanders in the 1960s and 70s, should also be of interest to anyone following the latest developments in their long struggle for the right to return at the International Court of Justice this year.

My book develops a new, multidimensional approach to understanding issues of belonging and exclusion in diverse, multi-ethnic societies that will, I hope, be of interest to a broad academic audience than those already interested in Mauritian literature or Indian Ocean cultures. Through a series of close textual analyses of individual novels or pairs of novels by leading contemporary Mauritian writers, my book examines Mauritian literary responses to the inter-ethnic ‘Kaya’ riots of 1999 and to the problems of belonging and exclusion that they so dramatically exposed. And it does so by applying an eclectic range of theoretical approaches, not usually associated with ‘postcolonial’ texts, to the particular concerns of individual novels and chapters: violence, place, gender, displacement, the everyday, migration.

Your book is available Open Access, can you tell us why you chose to pursue this option?

In this, the 50th anniversary year of Mauritian independence (1968), there is intense international interest in post-independence Mauritian culture. There is also renewed interest this year in the plight of exiled Chagos islanders, as the Mauritian government challenges the U.K. for its illegal separation of the Chagos archipelago from Mauritius, prior to independence. My book is therefore timely and should, I hope, garner considerable international attention, including amongst readers in Mauritius, India, Africa and the Indian Ocean region. Open Access publication is thus ideal for making my book both logistically and financially accessible to these and other key readerships, both overseas and in the UK. I am therefore grateful to the University of Reading for their institutional support of the OA publication of my monograph – and to Liverpool University Press, Modern Languages Open and Oapen Library for making it happen.

[1] Marco Antonsich, ‘Searching for Belonging – An Analytical Framework’, Geography Compass, vol. 4, no. 6 (2010), pp. 644 ̶ 59; p. 644.

[2] John Crowley, ‘The Politics of Belonging: Some Theoretical Considerations’, in Andrew Geddes and Adrian Favell (eds.), The Politics of Belonging: Migrants and Minorities in Contemporary Europe (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999), pp. 15 ̶ 39; p. 18.


‘In this insightful book, Julia Waters provides new perspectives to chart the Mauritian 21st century novel – these stimulating and provocative essays illustrate the challenge provided by both the varied subject matter and the critical lenses adopted.’
Kumari R Issur, University of Mauritius

About The Author

Julia Waters is Professor of Contemporary Literature in French at the University of Reading.

When research and life come together in the most unexpected ways

As an academic working on Cuban culture since 1959 , and as a lifelong supporter of Manchester City, imagine my delight at being invited to speak at an event which featured Manchester City’s manager, Pep Guardiola? Huge thanks to Dr Diana Cullell, Professor Claire Taylor and Professor Chris Harris for the invitation!

And so, on 21 November 2018, I travelled to the University of Liverpool and listened to Pep talk about the importance of travel, learning languages, engaging with other cultures, recent political events in Catalunya and, of course, about his work as one of the world’s most successful football managers. The video of his talk is available here:

Following his talk, I gave my own paper, a mixture of personal experience and research reflexions. This was possibly the easiest academic paper I have prepared in my life (based on so many conversations with family and friends), and certainly the most fun to deliver (sound recording to be added soon). Here’s a summary of the main argument:

The twelfth man? Some unlikely connections between Manchester City and Revolutionary Cuba

I frequently experience reactions of curiosity and surprise. These reactions are rarely articulated but they seem to be born of certain assumptions, to follow a certain orthodoxy. Why continue to work with such dedication on a context where writers and artists are denied freedom of expression and have to distort their ideas and work to fit political and ideological prescriptions? Why continue to support a football team and club which have lost touch with the grassroots, and which are fuelled and sponsored by unlimited reserves of Middle Eastern oil money?

This paper aims to question those reactions, to interrogate assumptions about Cuba and about football, and to propose a more nuanced understanding of both. It is based on much reading and writing ;  and on abundant participant observation on the terraces and in Cuba

So, the essential question is how to understand two cultural contexts which, in my view, have been over-determined politically and economically ; . What these two approaches fail to notice, and what my work on cultural participation in post-1959 Cuba emphasises, is the importance of culture – as both everyday practice and artistic representation – in providing the glue that binds societies and social groups.

Let’s start with Cuba: whilst many scholars and commentators focus on periods of crisis for writers and artists, often related to the ‘Sovietisation’ of culture in the 1970s, they fail to notice the other discourses and policies that have provided a direction for Cuban cultural policy since the revolutionary government came to power, and, crucially, the continuity that has characterised those policies over 60 years: that is, a commitment to investing in culture, a sustained attempt to ‘change the rules of the game’ in order that elite forms such as literature become massified practices, and, of course, the creation of an infrastructure for publishing and he socialisation of literary culture. These ideas were crystallised in a series of speeches by Fidel Castro, the ‘Palabras a los intelectuales’/Words to the intellectuals’ of 1961; . One of the key examples here is the Feria Internacional del Libro de la Habana (FILH)/Havana International Book Festival, and its massification and diversification in the 2000s. At its height in 2006, and bearing in mind that Cuba has a population of around 11.5 million, the FILH attracted 5 million people and sold 5 million books across the island’s territory . Yet some Cuban writers complained at the time that the massification of the FILH diluted or trivialised the serious work of producing and consuming literature.

Poetry reading in Bayamo, April 2018

A more recent example is from the provincial iteration of the FILH in 2014. At a poetry reading organised in the central square of Bayamo, the capital of Cuba’s eastern Granma province, the organiser of the reading complained that it was being interrupted by the public shouting to friends, generally enjoying the fair-like atmosphere rather than paying attention to the poetry being recited. The organiser felt that this demonstrated ‘una falta de respeto’/’a lack of respect’, whilst I argued back vigorously that in fact it showed the opposite: the sense of entitlement to occupy public spaces for culture produced in Cubans of all walks of life by decades of government and public investment in cultural access and participation. What emerges from initiatives such as the FILH is the notion that elite and mass/popular cultures are compatible, mutually constitutive and reciprocally beneficial, that they create a particularly effective model for cultural prestige; furthermore, that collective participation also creates a sense of well-being in providing spaces, opportunities and practices that bind individuals loosely, in ways which allow them to feel a sense of both identification and self-differentiation. The local and physical aspects of that participation are key.

What does all this mean for Cuba and for football? The fact that two levels of activity, each with functions that are infused with cognitive, moral, affective and corporeal components, can come together in a public and collective space, means that the public – whether at a book reading in Cuba or a football match at the Etihad stadium – enjoy the opportunity to feel, believe, represent and perform identities which are vital to our sense of belonging and well-being. As long as they are harmonised with top-down policies, these interactions nourish social integration: in my experience, the football terraces are the only place in contemporary English society where people of all ages, genders, classes and cultural heritages come together to inhabit the same space as a collective.

Quite simply, cultural participation, whether at a book festival or a football match – especially at times of rapid socio-cultural and political change – can be the twelfth man.

Dr Par Kumaraswami, Spanish Section, Department of Modern Languages and European Studies, University of Reading

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!

Welcome to new staff in the French section and new developments for 2017!

Photo Marine French seciton blog postWe are delighted to welcome our new Teaching Fellow in French Language, Miss Marine Orain, in September 2016. Marine joins us from Birkbeck College and she will be teaching Language modules. Marine holds an MA in Teaching French as a Foreign Language from the University of Cumbria and she is completing her PhD thesis on French intellectuals.

Marine says:

‘After 9 years in London, I am delighted to be joining the University of Reading. I can’t wait to meet the students of the Modern Languages department. In today’s world, I believe that promoting multilingualism and intercultural understanding is more important than ever. I particularly enjoy teaching beginners and introducing them to my native culture and language.’

Our dynamic Language Teaching team is indeed preparing to launch a new Beginners’ Language module, which will allow students who did not study French at A Level to take French as part of a Joint Honours Degree. For more information on the wide range of degree programmes we offer check our website or contact us at!


French @ Reading

Welcome to the new staff in Spanish and Latin American Studies

We are delighted to welcome two new members of staff to the Spanish section as of September 2016.


Dream Team

Meet the new Dream Team

Dr Catriona McAllister (Lecturer in Latin American Cultural Studies) joins us from Brunel

University, where she taught extensively and was also Head of Academic Skills Development. Catriona gained her doctorate at the Centre of

Latin American Studies, University of Cambridge, where she completed a PhD thesis on ‘Rewriting Independence in Contemporary Argentine Literature: Postmodernism, Politics and History’, which she is currently re-working as a book.


Catriona says:
‘As a Latin Americanist specialising in Argentine literary and cultural studies, my research focuses on discourses of national identity and rewritings of history in contemporary fiction. I’ll be joining the Spanish section in August and look forward to meeting new and existing students in the Languages department’.

Iván Ortega Galiano (Teaching Fellow in Spanish Language) joins us from the University of Strathclyde where he taught Spanish language for several years. Iván holds an MA in Linguistics Applied to the Teaching of Spanish as a Second Language, and will be bringing a Castilian flavour to the Spanish language team (with his colleague Raúl Marchena representing Latin America!)

Ivan says:
‘For me, being part of the Spanish section team is a golden opportunity to inspire all our students to succeed in their learning of the Spanish language and of the Spanish speaking countries’ rich culture’.

Welcome to you both from the MLES Department @Reading!

Life of a Lecturer: Bienvenida Dr Parvathi Kumaraswami

The Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading is growing! In 2015-16, we’ll begin offering degrees in Spanish in addition to our current offerings in French, German, Italian, and European Studies. Leading the creation and implementation of this new programme is Dr Parvathi Kumaraswami, who has joined the department this year from the University of Manchester. We’ve asked Dr Kumaraswami to let us know how she’s finding the University of Reading. Here’s what she has to say:

Parvathi KumaraswamiIf July and August were full of despedidas – goodbyes – (from Manchester, my home town, home of my beloved football club [the ones in blue, by the way] and location of my previous job), September has been a month of bienvenidos – warm welcomes, new names…. and labyrinthine buildings. If you see a trail of breadcrumbs on the 2nd floor of the HumSS building, you’ll know who left them.

I’m here to set up the new BA programme in Spanish, and to build a teaching and research community around Spanish and Latin American Studies at Reading. Some of my time will be taken up, no doubt, by paperwork – module descriptions, programme specifications (stay with me on this), but a lot of time will also be devoted to imagining how Spanish should look at Reading and making as much of that vision come to life as I can. And it’s an exciting prospect! It’ll mean travelling near and far – some trips abroad to set up exchange agreements with universities in Spain and Latin America, but also to some less exotic destinations (down the M4 corridor and up to the Midlands) to visit schools and to do A-Level masterclasses and taster sessions in Spanish and Latin American Studies. It’ll mean meeting a whole bunch of people – colleagues in my department and beyond, administrative staff, community groups and members of the public who have an interest in Spain and Latin America – and seeing how we can work together to organise academic and public events.

The verdict so far? 10/10. Well, maybe 9 – the commute is not always behaving as it should. After a recent  4.5 hour delay on my train to Reading, my request for a fare refund was met by a letter from Crosscountry Trains which arrived yesterday and which said – well, I liked it so much that it’s here in all its glory.

Par's Train Letter

The verdict, actually, is a resounding 10/10. Friendly faces, cooperative colleagues, what’s not to like? It’s what’s known as the ‘ honeymoon period’, I hear you say. So  I’ll let you know in a few months. And if you see me, stop and introduce yourself. I’m the one with the big bag of breadcrumbs….

Life of a Lecturer: Academic in August

It’s August, and many of us in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies have taken a brief holiday. How do academics spend their time off? Here’s an update from Dr Daniela La Penna, Associate Professor of Italian Studies.

I am writing this quite late at night. In the next few hours, I will have to print boarding passes and take the plunge. I will go on annual leave, and in my case this year at least it means that I am heading towards my home country, Italy.

SandcastleHolidays are fraught with stress for academics. I know, it seems exaggerated and self-important but it’s true. Whoever is involved in this trade knows that every action and thought that is not directly connected to research, pastoral care, and teaching is welcomed by anxiety, anguish, and an overwhelming sense of guilt. “Oh my! I am actually enjoying this film!”, you think with a mixture of surprise and sweetness, only to be assailed by the thought of that unfinished book review or that sentence that you still have not nailed for the ending of that paragraph, and the feedback to that student… Holidays only extend the agony of self-inflicted guilt.

How so? When I was sans child, it was not uncommon for me to spend weekends in the office, to ruminate on this and that, or finishing articles. But when I had my child, my ‘free time’ that I often and contently occupied with research and directed reading was now claimed by the sweet smile of my little daughter, who wants to discover the world with her parents. This was a paradigm shift, and I had to adapt to this structural change quickly, and I did so in a heartbeat. My holidays are her holidays and I need and want to engage with her desire to enjoy herself. However, I am a whole person, and this means that I am still a researcher obsessed with the things I do, I care deeply for my dissertation students and my postgraduates. And of course, you have 24 hours in a day, and you cannot always build sand-castles. But boundaries are a healthy and necessary thing, so if you are not naturally inclined to switch off on command, you better create fences and obstacles. Because I realised that I go ‘cold turkey’ if I don’t check emails regularly, and in order not to fall into temptation, we decided to holiday in an island near Naples that has notoriously bad reception and where wi-fi is still a thing of the future.

Sunny treesHolidays means for me rehab and re-education. In a sense, I needed to be educated in the art of watching your thoughts float aimlessly, and resist the temptation of arranging them into rational systems to see them printed in written form. The art of leisure is for some an acquired taste. I don’t think this is bad (or good), it is just the way it is. My daughter has been in this case a true inspiration and a veritable teacher, and from her I learn every day. In my suitcase, I have packed a few books I would like to read, and I confess, there is one I am due to review. But only during the holidays I can actually read freely and beyond my immediate research interests.

I have packed my luggage and alongside a few Marcia Williams adaptations (Shakespeare and Greek Myths are high on demand!) and Oxford Reading Tree books with alluring titles such Splash and Squelch and an all-time favourite, Elephant Ears, I have managed to squeeze a few of my own. I look forward to leaf through Antal Szerb’s Journey by Moonlight, a gem of Hungarian literature recommended to me by my friend Rajneesh Narula. Will I manage to plough through the 800 pages of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries, a book my husband enjoyed terribly and set in his native New Zealand? It all depends on how I react to the first pages…But I confess I have my eyes set on Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. I gave this book as a present to my friend Chris Wagstaff a couple of years ago and did not manage to finish it, and now I am going to do it. Kahneman contends that there are two types of thought: one type is fast, automatic, frequent, reactive to emotions, led by stereotypes (apparently these increase decision-making efficiency but not efficacy). The other type, and the one that underpins research, is slow. As those engaged in research know, this type of thought is effortful, alas infrequent, demandingly logical, and conscious (perhaps because you lie awake waiting for it to appear!).Island in the sun

This is going to be a special holiday, and one that I am determined to enjoy. For the first time it is unencumbered by the thought of a yet-unfinished book. This academic year has been very challenging and extremely busy and amongst the things I am pleased to have done is to have published my book on trilingual and diasporic poet Amelia Rosselli, an endeavour that has kept me company and given me nightmares for more than ten years. I need to recharge my batteries. Next academic year will come sooner, and it will be no doubt both challenging and hilarious, I hope in equal measure. I better build some sand-castles now, as winter is coming!

Life of a Lecturer: Graduation Day

In a regular feature, we’ll explore the “Life of a Lecturer,” inviting the staff of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies to reflect on their experiences at the University of Reading and beyond.

Paola NastiTo inaugurate the series, we’ve invited Dr Paola Nasti, Associate Professor of Italian Studies, to share with us her thoughts on graduation day. Dr Nasti, an expert on Medieval Italy, teaches students from their first to their final year, from a first-year module on “Italian Medieval and Renaissance Culture” to a final-year module on the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, one of the most fascinating, innovative and influential works of Western culture. That means that Dr Nasti has worked closely with today’s graduating students since they first arrived on campus in Reading, a fact that has led her to some profound reflections:

Graduation Day. I am an early bird today. I need to do some work before I get ready for the big day. I sit with my large strong Italian espresso and I think back over last night’s dreams. In my dream, I’m in a beautiful kitchen, there is a big beautifully dressed table, colourful food and people chatting loudly. It’s my extended English family. The in-laws, brothers, nephews, children. At the table the conversation comes to a halt. There’s news. The in-laws will be moving to another country. My brother-in-law is moving to another city. The house will be empty.

Still dreaming, I pass through big rooms and I hear the echoes of memories. Here the chocolate stains on the sofa from last Easter; there grandma’s chair; on that wall a picture of the children’s first day of school. I get out on the front garden and the neighbours’ door is wide open. Boxes everywhere and just one of them looking after the luggage. Where is everybody else? They have left, moved. The oldest daughter is going as far as Singapore for a new job. I walk through the boxes and the rooms filled with echoes. I see their back garden: remember that barbecue when I first made bruschette for you?

I’m awake now, and my cup is empty. My feelings bittersweet. The empty houses, the departures, all those memories. My mind is getting ready for the annual fair of goodbyes: the graduation of my students. Empty classes, cars full of luggage, memories of the daily conversations we used to have. The melancholy of the end of an era. But at the kitchen sink an old Italian song comes to mind: “Si muore un po’ per poter vivere, la la la” (“You die a little bit in order to live, la la la”). It’s a song of farewell just as today, graduation day, is a day of farewells. Yet today’s goodbyes mark new beginnings.

Paola and Daniela

My students will start a new life, follow new adventures. Many will travel and decide to stay and work overseas. They have learnt to be confident citizens of the world during their time at Reading, and in the Year Abroad, and they know they can be successful wherever they go. Others will move back home, or to a new town, begin a new career or start teachers’ training and postgraduate studies.

Graduation 1

They’ll be smiling today, full of pride and hope, and I will rejoice with them. And there will be pictures of hats thrown in the air, Pimm’s drunk on the lawn, applause and official processions. We will all look smart but unhappy with the size of our hats, there will be last minute pins flying around in the dressing room and girls with uncomfortable shoes. The boys will look surprisingly grown up in their dark suits and today everybody will be wearing sun glasses.

Graduation 2

We will meet parents beaming with joy, and we will tell them how proud we are of their sons and daughters, of their achievements. We will join our students in considering how much they have matured over the last three of four years. There will be hugs, and promises of forever-friendships and I know they’ll be true.

Year after year I see my ex-students chatting and keeping in touch via social networks. Ha! Social networks! Over the last three days so many of my past students have re-published their graduation pictures adding sweet messages.

Graduation 5

Graduation day is not only the fair of goodbyes, as my dream suggested. It is a day for sowing as well as harvesting. Sowing for the future.

Graduation 4

I have decided to defeat my bittersweet melancholy. I’ll add some colour to my outfit. I should be wearing dark according to the etiquette. But my students never wear dark. Today there will be a parade of pastel, bright or even neon colours. I shall wear my flowery dress too, then! And next year the rooms will fill again, new students will arrive. But my teaching will carry the memory and mark of my previous students. Their questions, their reactions have sown seeds in my mind too. And the beautiful conversations with them will live on. I know, this is a very sentimental day, when I will be thanking my students for the beautiful banquet of the last four years. Now it is up to them to share the news of their future adventures.