All posts by Schools Liaison

2024 Oxford Language Teachers’ Conference

We are delighted to share details about this year’s Language Teachers’ Conference which will take place on Friday 27 and Saturday 28 September 2024 at Somerville College, Oxford.

Somerville College
Credit: ©OUImages/John Cairns Photography

Our annual conference has developed out of the Sir Robert Taylor Society (named after the founder of the Faculty’s Languages Library), a network of teachers of Modern Foreign Languages in secondary schools, academics from the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages at the University of Oxford, and others interested in MFL.

This conference is now a core aspect of the Faculty’s Schools Liaison work, and provides a unique forum for interaction and exchange between the University and teachers. It offers teachers the chance to spend a night in an Oxford college, to attend various taster lectures and discussions, and to ask our academics and admissions tutors questions about our courses, research, and supporting students’ applications to Oxford.

Photo from the roundtable discussion at our 2023 Language Teachers’ Conference

2024 Programme

We are pleased to be holding the conference at Somerville College once again after a couple of wonderful years at St Anne’s. Somerville was established in 1879 as a hall for women, who were barred from the university at the time, and throughout its history it has remained committed to equality. Today, Somerville marries beautiful architecture with a proud emphasis on inclusivity and diversity.

The full provisional event programme can be found here and more information about the conference is available here.

A particular highlight of this year’s programme is scheduled for Saturday morning when delegates will experience an example of the creative translation workshops offered to schools by The Queen’s College Translation Exchange. The workshops are designed to make translation accessible and creative for school pupils by using the Stephen Spender Trust’s ‘Decode – Translate – Create’ method.  

Dr Charlotte Ryland talking about the language outreach and advocacy work carried out by The Queen’s Translation Exchange and the Stephen Spender Trust at the 2023 Language Teachers’ Conference.

Delegate rates and booking

Below are the various rates and ticket options available for both state and independent school teachers.

State school rateIndependent school rate
Full conference, including accommodation and breakfast£150£300
Full conference, excluding accommodation£100£200
Friday only£50£100
Saturday only£50£100

Please visit our online bookings webpage to secure your place. You will need to create an account (or log in if you’ve used our website before) and select the right rate for your school type and length of attendance. Bookings will close on 13th September.

If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact us at schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk.

We look forward to seeing you in September!

2024 Flash Fiction Competition Results

In December 2023, we launched our annual Flash Fiction competitions, which closed at the end of March. The competitions were open to students in Years 7 to 13, who were tasked with writing a short story of no more than 100 words in French and/or Spanish.

We had an incredible response, with entries coming in from all areas across the country! In total, we received over 1200 submissions across the two languages!

We would like to thank everyone who entered the competition and commend you all for your hard work and creativity in writing a piece of fiction in a different language. This is a challenging exercise, and a significant achievement – congratulations all!

We are delighted to be able to announce the winners, runners up, and highly commended entries for each language below. We will be publishing the stories over the summer so you can read them for yourselves.

French

In the Years 7-9 category, the winner is James Best. The runners-up are Zaynab Chaudhry and Simeon Molloy.

The judges also identified the following entrants as highly commended: Neela Alagar, Nicholas Bailey, Prayaan Sharma, Hassan Chaudhry, Grace Cao, Helene Leonard, Antoine Carmody-Portier, Bo Celeste Lawson, Vishnu Vardhan, Beemu Padmanaban, and Louis Koller.

In the Years 10-11 category, the winner is Tony Shi. The runner up is Vaishni Jeyananthan.

The judges also identified the following entrants as highly commended: Mia Wildgoose, Nia Mohlala, Ritisha Agarwal, Capree Chong, Eshaal Riaz, DingDing Zhou, Daisy Apfel, Darwin Armstrong Farr, Lucy Nguyen, and Katya Hanbury.

In the Years 12-13 category, the winner is Hannah Gleeson. The runner ups are Zac Henderson-Lea and Ashley Woo.

The judges also identified the following entrants as highly commended: Nigelle Niyodusenga, Massimo Mitchell, Rain Kaur, Grace Dobson, Harriet Palfreyman, Aaron Butters, Eleanor McQuinn, Caitlin Graeff, Sally Codling, and Jovian Yan.

The French judging panel were very impressed with this year’s submitted stories, and commented the following about all the entries:

We are thrilled to share our excitement about the entries for the 2024 Flash Fiction competition. A heartfelt thank you to everyone who participated and contributed to the competition!

We were impressed by the variety in your stories and by how much emotion and detail could be packed into just 100 words. Your stories made us laugh, gasp, reflect, and sometimes even tear up. We read tales that spanned from light-hearted daily occurrences to epic medieval duels and forbidden werewolf romances, from futuristic visions of 2050 to unexpected encounters with demon snowmen and talking ants. We encountered characters from all walks of life and visited settings that ranged from the familiar to the extraordinary. Along the way, we met a crocodile in the Thames, a sentient piece of bread, and many other memorable figures that made your stories so engaging.

We truly enjoyed reading your stories and want to commend each of you for your creativity and effort. Thank you for making this competition such a wonderful experience, and congratulations to all of you.

Spanish

In the Years 7-9 category, the winner is Sayuri Bansal. The runners up are Chloe Crowther and Donatella Ferrito Innamorato.

The judges also identified the following entrants as highly commended: Keira Moyes, Zara Amjad, Avy Abdulrazzaq, Ayomide Adesola, Chloe Lei, Amelie Thompson, Harry Clogger, Zeynep Yesilirmak, and Keira De Castro.

In the Years 10-11 category, the winner is Charlotte Jory. The runners up are DingDing Zhou and Xander McComb.

The judges also identified the following entrants as highly commended: Sophie Lonsdale, Siri Krznaric, Tiana Majumder, Atharv Kokate, Chloe Skelton, Anonymous, River Lee, Kumar Banerji Ballester, Annabel Hogan, and Jonathan Visan-Gherghe.

In the Years 12-13 category, the winner is Isobel Gurnett. The runners up are Daniel Enrique Ascencio Lopez and Aidan Brooke.

The judges also identified the following entrants as highly commended: Maria-Magdalena Covasa, Nihika Koranne, Noor Ullah, Oliver John, Rabia Chowdhury, Sadie Greenwood, Anonymous, Sophie Welberry-Smith, Valentino Ordonez Imafidon, and Velislava Koleva.

Our Spanish judging panel in particular have been extremely impressed with this year’s entries, and have commented the following about all the stories they read:

As always, we were captivated by the creativity of the many entries and thrilled to see a lot of very promising stories. It was a hard job choosing from so many markedly different pieces, some of which were humorous or haunting, serious or silly, but all entertaining. This year, there were quite a few that engaged intertextually with other works in English and Spanish literature as well as classical literature and myth and it was particularly good to see how your wider reading has been channelled into your own imaginative responses to the sources.

Huge congratulations everyone – you should be very proud of your achievement!

NEW ARRANGEMENTS FOR OXFORD’S ADMISSIONS TESTS

Please find below an important update about the University’s arrangement for this year’s admissions tests. For the sake of comprehensive information sharing, the post includes information about all admissions tests, not just the test for Modern Languages.

As you may know, tests form one part of Oxford’s admissions process and are used alongside a range of information to help us assess candidates’ academic potential and suitability for many of our courses. We have been very grateful for your patience while we have been putting in place our arrangements for our admissions tests for 2024 and are delighted to let you know that Oxford has appointed global assessment leader Pearson VUE to manage the delivery of these tests.

All tests will be online and delivered via Pearson VUE’s established network of test centres. It remains the case that in 2024 there will be no charge for candidates to register for Oxford’s own tests. This year’s tests will take place between 21-31 October and are as follows:

  • Ancient History and Classical Archaeology Admissions Test (AHCAAT) – NEW
  • Biomedical Sciences Admissions Test (BMSAT) – NEW
  • Classics Admissions Test (CAT)
  • History Admissions Test (HAT)
  • Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT)
  • Modern Languages Admissions Test (MLAT)
  • Philosophy Test (PHILAT)
  • Physics Admissions test for Physics, Engineering and Materials Science (PAT)
  • Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)

Individual test dates will be confirmed via ox.ac.uk/tests as soon as possible.

Candidates for all of the above Oxford tests will be able to register themselves free of charge with Pearson VUE between 15 August and 4 October. When registering, students will be able to request the access arrangements which are normally available to them for public examinations taken in their school or college.

In 2024, in place of the BMAT, Oxford will use the Pearson VUE UCAT (University Clinical Aptitude Test) for Medicine, with arrangements and charges as advertised by Pearson VUE.

As in other years, candidates for Law will take the Pearson VUE LNAT, with arrangements and charges as advertised by Pearson VUE.

Detailed candidate guidance on test preparation will be available shortly via ox.ac.uk/tests and there will be a sample test provided. Although it will not be possible for individual candidates’ sample tests to be marked, worked answers and mark schemes will be supplied, where possible. This sample test will allow students to explore the test platform and, in most cases, is likely to be based on the 2023 test paper. In the meantime, for current Oxford tests, candidates may find the existing practice materials on the individual test pages useful.

In 2024 there will be no English Literature Test for candidates for: English Language and Literature, English and History, English and Modern Languages or Classics and English. Candidates for joint schools will still need to take the relevant test for their other subject, if applicable.

There will also be no test for Geography candidates. 

Further details of these arrangements and all information will soon be publicly available via our undergraduate admissions website.

An experience of a lifetime in Argentina

On the blog this week, one of our final year French & Spanish students tells us all about their experience of being an English Language Assistant in two Argentinian schools…

As part of my year abroad, I spent five months in Argentina taking in the beautiful setting, learning a new kind of Spanish and meeting some lifelong friends. I was quite keen to push myself and make the most of the opportunity to go abroad so going to South America was definitely on the top of my list. After having applied to some other programs and been unsuccessful, I found an experience which offered the possibility of teaching English in school. The thought of being placed in ANY part of Argentina (the eighth biggest country worldwide with one of the most varied climates) meant that I was excited yet also nervous about what could lie ahead.

During my time in Argentina, I worked with two institutions in the Buenos Aires province which both offered unique experiences! I stayed at my first institution for two months and it was an amazing private school with some equally incredible teachers. The best thing was being able to share my culture with others as well as form a rapport with the children that I taught.

During my first placement, I had the pleasure to live with a wonderful host family who made me feel welcome despite the fact that I am naturally quite shy and introverted and they were always willing to help me with my Spanish, share their culture and take me in as one of their own. My arrival began with being invited to a quince (a fifteenth birthday party) which was overwhelming yet it meant that I soon made friends. The welcoming and kind-hearted nature of the people meant that I was invited on many outings, meals out and drank a lot of mate (a drink which has the same cultural prestige as a cup of tea in England).

The second institution that I worked with was in a small town of 5000 people in the countryside and whilst I did the same activities in regards to sharing my culture and teaching classes, I had a whole host of new experiences. I lived with two fantastic families who welcomed me as one of their own. Something I still miss to this day is the tasty soup and desserts that were made by Hebe! A memory that I will never forget is that I taught students the moves to the cha-cha slide and the Superman song. Whilst there were times that I missed home, these times were few and far between. I am extremely thankful to have met my supervisor as well as to have had the opportunity to go on outings with different families and of course, drink more mate! I still keep in touch with my supervisor and friends I made there and I hope to visit them again someday.

During my free time, I was able to organise my own travel around Argentina. My favourite trip definitely had to be visiting Iguazú Falls in the north of Argentina which definitely was a sight to behold! I frequently visited Buenos Aires and marvelled at what the city had to offer. Whilst there were some anxieties about being in Argentina as a result of cultural differences and general feelings of homesickness which comes with any experience abroad, I always had support around me whilst I was there and knew that I could contact my tutors back in Oxford in the face of any problems.

My advice to anyone considering a degree in Modern Languages is to go for it and make the most of the year abroad! The opportunity to further develop your cultural knowledge through literature alongside the different options available for going abroad is something I will always be grateful for. If you had asked me when I first started my degree whether I would have travelled to Argentina alone, met amazing people and have done the cha-cha slide with students in a small town in Argentina, I would have thought you were crazy. However, that’s something that became a reality and now a fond memory and, I am looking forward to going back one day.

Spotlight on Spanish: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695)

This week’s blog post is written by one of our wonderful student ambassadors, a finalist in French and Spanish. Enjoy!

Before coming to Oxford, if you asked me about feminism, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you a lot other than about the suffragette movement and movements in the 1970s and 80s. However, one of the most rewarding and unexpected things that I have discovered since studying at Oxford is that feminism goes a lot further back than I had ever thought.

As part of my degree in Spanish, I had the opportunity to choose an ‘author paper’ that I would study over my second and final year. This is where you pick two authors and get to know a variety of their works in depth. Having enjoyed studying El médico de su honra by Calderón (a celebrated Spanish playwright) in my first year, I decided to pick a paper which focuses on the golden age (siglo de oro). I continued my studies on Calderón however, I was delighted to find that there was a female author on the syllabus (which is largely male-dominated as a result of contemporary attitudes of the time): Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Although her works are known to provide some challenges with sentence structure and philosophy, I can firmly say that I am glad I took these challenges on.

Sor Juana was born in Mexico and had a desire to learn from a young age. As a result of the misogynistic attitudes of the time, she was unable to attend school. Despite this, she begged her mother to attend but disguised as a male student yet it wasn’t enough. Sor Juana was educated at home and during that time, she learnt how to read and write in Latin by the age of three and in Nahuatl (an Aztec language), she became well-versed in philosophy and wrote an array of poems.

Sor Juana later entered the monastery of the Hieronymite nuns which allowed her to pursue her studies with few limitations. During that time, she amassed a huge collection of books and was supported by the Viceroy and Vicereine of New Spain. The Vicereine Maria Luisa Manrique de Lara y Gonzága, Countess of Paredes was a recurring subject of her love poetry.

One of Sor Juana’s most famous poems ‘Hombres Necios’ (You foolish men) was written in the 1680s. This poem is one of my firm favourites! Published in a society that was extremely patriarchal, this poem criticises the double standards that men imposed on women and advocates the need for women to have more agency in their day-to-day lives. These double standards affected her reputation, her (sexual) freedom as well as her prospects as she would be left in situations that she could not control.

To illustrate her case, Sor Juana makes a strong argument for how double standards imposed on women aren’t just a problem of her time. Through comparing Thaïs (an independent, educated and sexually free woman who often accompanied Alexander the Great) to Lucretia (a woman who was so committed to fidelity to her husband that she killed herself after being abused by another man), Sor Juana demonstrates how there is a double expectation placed on women: they are expected to be sexually free like Thaïs before and then should completely change and be like Lucretia after entering a relationship with a man.

Whilst I have only mentioned one of Sor Juana’s poems, there are so many others that I could have delved into! For anyone who wants to further their interest in women’s writing or feminist works, I would definitely recommend Sor Juana (even if you are not studying Spanish!). There are many accessible English translations of her poetry and works available which also explore other themes such as education, love and philosophy. If you want to learn more about a subject area in general, there are so many beautiful opportunities to do so through literature. Whether it is medieval literature, seventeenth century plays or modern day poetry, there is bound to be a topic or genre that will fascinate you. Whatever the language, there is something for everyone!

Careers with Modern Languages

One of the questions we get asked most often is:

what can you do with a Modern Languages degree?

The simple and honest answer is PRETTY MUCH ANYTHING!

Like many Humanities degrees, studying Modern Languages equips you with the kinds of skills and aptitudes that employers from a range of different sectors want to see job applicants exhibit, such as:

  • Communication
  • Critical analysis
  • Ability to work independently and in a team
  • Creativity
  • Synthesising information

BUT the great thing about Modern Languages graduates is that they are often equipped with an extra set of skills which can also be applied to various different jobs and careers, such as:

  • Problem solving;
  • Valuing different viewpoints;
  • Cultural awareness and understanding;
  • Perseverance and self-reflection;
  • Thinking on your feet;
  • on top of the ability to speak one or two additional languages!

This is mostly thanks to the opportunities experienced by students on their years abroad as well as the challenges of studying a subject which encompasses so many elements – from tackling intricate translations to analysing medieval literature to debating a current affairs topic in the target language.

Just as a Modern Languages degree is varied, so are the career opportunities available. While some move into careers in education or translation, our graduates in recent years have also gone on to work in the following sectors (to name just a handful):

  • Law
  • Advertising
  • Publishing
  • Gallery curation
  • App development
  • Management consultancy

Don’t believe us? Check out the videos below to listen to alumni talking about their experiences of graduating from a Modern Languages degree and moving into the world of work!

With a Modern Languages degree, the world is your oyster!

Stephen Spender Prize 2024

Calling MFL, EAL and English teachers! Bring creative translation into the classroom this summer with the Stephen Spender Prize 2024

The Stephen Spender Prize is an annual competition for poetry in translation, with strands for pupils, teachers and individual young people, as well as a special rotating Spotlight highlighting a language widely spoken in the UK. The competition is open for entries from 1 May to 31 July and is free to enter for all schools and teachers in the UK and Ireland.

Whether you’re an MLF, EAL or English teacher, and whatever the languages taught and spoken in your school community, the prize is a perfect way to engage students of all ages this summer term.

Teachers are invited to register here to receive classroom inspiration and activity ideas throughout the prize window, and you can follow all the latest news on our website and social media channels. (X: @StephenSpender| Facebook: @StephenSpenderTrust | Instagram: @stephenspendertrust)

Here’s a list of the categories for 2024:

Ready to start planning and working on your entries? Head to our Guide for Teachers for all the key information about the prize at a glance, explore our Bank of Suggested Poems for poem inspiration, and find poetry workshops, worksheets, lesson plans and more in our Prize Resources hub.

To help you spread the word ahead of the launch, you can also download a free Stephen Spender Prize 2024 poster to display around your school, sixth form or university buildings.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email us at prize@stephen-spender.org. We hope that many of you and your students will get involved!

Testimonial: from Open Day attendee to current student!

On the blog this week, first-year student ambassador, Laurence, describes his experience of attending our Modern Languages Open Day in 2022, and how it led him to where he is today.

I feel so grateful to be where I am today, a student of Philosophy and French at St John’s College. My journey into university language study began at the Faculty Open Day in May of 2022, when I was in Year 12. A couple of months prior, I had woken up one day and decided that I could not graduate with a law degree at 21, start training for the world of work, and never broaden my horizons beyond that. French was my favourite subject at school, and I had a passion for literature and culture as well as a budding desire to travel. I switched my application preparation towards languages, and the Open Day was my first port of call.

As an Oxford Bursary recipient from a state comprehensive in Coventry, I remember feeling awe when I arrived with my mum at the Exam Schools, where we listened to a range of different talks. It was refreshing to talk to other young people who had a passion for languages: MFL learning in my school had suffered from a chronic lack of interest. I particularly enjoyed the variety of sessions at the Open Day, from talks on French specifically, linguistics, and Italian, another language I was considering. Talks from tutors were highly informative regarding the literature/language balance as well as studying a language with philosophy, with personal touches about their own research interests that could not be so easily gleaned from the university website. I loved the excitement in the atmosphere around the Open Day, even the sun was out on the High Street!

The Examination Schools in the sunshine at the 2022 Open Day
Photo by John Cairns

I decided that a languages degree was for me, and after further discussions with ambassadors (French and Philosophy is a great combination, they said), we headed home. I remember on the train we even met a woman whose daughter had just graduated in French, it seemed like a sign! I would certainly say that the Open Day stoked my interest in languages further and convinced me, through the emphasis on literature and culture as well as the sheer range of degree options available, that it was a better option than Cambridge or any other university.

Laurence with two other prospective students at the 2022 Modern Languages Open Day
Photo by John Cairns

I have now finished two terms as a student here, and the experience has been everything that the Open Day promised, and more. I believe that the tutorial system is especially well adapted for subjects like English and languages because both tutor and student can pore over the text together. I think the Faculty does well at advertising this as what sets Oxford apart from other universities. 

I have enjoyed much of the early modern content, including Montaigne and Racine, which may be the focus of my Authors Paper next year – although with the input of the philosophy side, Diderot and Pascal also sound tempting. I’m also excited to look into potential linguistics or cinema papers later in my degree. The language side of the degree has also been engaging: the expertise of my native speaker teachers has shown me a new way to reach fluency beyond learning cast iron grammar rules, namely a sensitivity to context, culture, and idiom.

I feel like I have personally travelled a long way since the Open Day, now a languages ambassador myself. Grateful for the opportunity to help others to discover languages too, getting to give back through this outreach work is the greatest privilege.

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You can still sign up to attend our Open Day on Saturday 11 May! The programme and booking link can be found here. The deadline to register your place is 8 May – don’t miss out!

Reminder: Modern Languages Open Day!

It’s not too late to register your place at our Modern Languages Open Day at the beautiful Examination Schools (75 – 81 High St, Oxford) on Saturday 11th May!

Modern Languages Open Day 2022
photo (c) John Cairns

This annual event is a fantastic opportunity for students who are interested in learning more about our language courses, or who are still considering their options, as the Open Day will cover ALL of our languages: French, German*, Spanish, Italian*, Russian*, Portuguese*, Modern Greek*, Czech*, and Polish*. Most of our Joint School degree subjects – English, History, Philosophy etc. – will also be represented at the event.

*All of these languages can be studied here at Oxford from beginners’ level. 

Our Modern Languages Open Day is aimed primarily at Year 12 students and their parents/guardians/teachers, but Year 11 students who are starting to think about university study are equally welcome to attend.

Modern Languages Open Day 2022
photo (c) John Cairns

The Open Day will offer an overview of our Modern Languages courses and a general Q&A for prospective students in the morning*, with individual language sessions and a parents’/guardians’/teachers’ Q&A session occurring in the afternoon. Tutors and current students from the Faculty will be available throughout the day to answer questions from prospective applicants and their companions.

*Please note that, due to restricted places, only one parent/guardian/teacher may accompany each student for the morning session.

You can view the full event programme here.

Modern Languages Open Day 2022
photo (c) John Cairns

Booking your place at this event is compulsory – you can register your attendance here. Bookings will close at midnight on 8th May 2024.

We look forward to welcoming you to Oxford in May!

We’re in Baltic business, people! The *new* beginners’ Russian year abroad

In this week’s blog post, third-year French and Beginners’ Russian student, Catrin, tell us all about her year abroad spent in Tallinn, Estonia!

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the beginners’ Russian cohort spends the year abroad in Tallinn, Estonia, engaging in an intensive language programme for eight months. At first, it disappointed me that I would not experience the legend that is the traditional Russian ab initio year abroad to Yaroslavl’ (seriously, it’s described like folklore in the department), spending a long winter only 270km outside of Moscow with a firm and matronly ’babushka’. However, this disappointment was of course dwarfed by the gravity of the situation in Ukraine and my sympathies for those living through the atrocities.

When I left the UK for my first semester, with two large suitcases and no expectations, I was yet to know the magic of Russia’s tiny neighbour; I was yet to learn the intricacies and nuances of life in a post-Soviet country, and I was yet to feel that I had truly built a life and home for myself abroad. All these things had become true as my time in Estonia came to an end in May of 2023.

The language course provided by the organisation ‘LanguageLink’ in Tallinn is the same as the one previously given in Yaroslavl’. There are daily lessons in literature, translation, grammar, essay writing and speaking. The lessons take up half a day, in a morning or afternoon slot, and in them we covered a wide range of themes. The courses are all provided by native Russian speakers, but what made the lessons all the more interesting and unique was the politicised lens through which Russian as a language is considered in Estonia. In 2011, nearly 50% of Tallinn’s inhabitants spoke Russian as their first language and the vast majority of Estonians are fluent in, or can at least understand, Russian. Relations with the language were already strained after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the re-adoption of Estonian as the country’s official language and were then made even more precarious following the invasion of Ukraine.

Our teachers had very personal stories and interesting views on their relationship with Estonia and the Estonian language: some had lived and worked in Estonia their whole lives, and others had moved to Tallinn more recently following the start of the war. A particularly memorable lesson included a discussion about the implications of displaying a destroyed Russian tank in the capital’s ‘Freedom Square’, with plaques in Estonian, Russian and English explaining the choice to put it on show. We pondered the task of translating and conveying the message in three different languages in such a tense political climate.

I loved the afternoons and weekends we spent in Tallinn, and given that our classes only took place in the morning, we had lots of free time to fill with many cultural activities… and cinnamon buns. Tallinn itself is very architecturally interesting, like a cultural canvas onto which various eras of history have been painted and blended together. You can spend hours wandering around the picturesque medieval Old Town and traditional wooden houses in the neighbouring creative district, or get swept up in the remains of the Soviet era the traces it left (including the derelict Linnahall, which for you Christopher Nolan fans, is used in the film ‘Tenet’).

Alternatively, you could lean into a more modern, slightly Scandinavian way of life. All of this together is what makes it Estonian. Some of my favourite habits included a weekly trip to a coffee shop with a friend after our Friday morning class, taking turns to pick a new café and explore new districts by the very efficient Tallinn public transport system, as well as a Sunday afternoon trip to the sauna to go ice-swimming in the capital’s seaplane harbour.

Many of us lived in the east of Tallinn in Lasnamäe, often called ‘the Russian ghetto’ given the high number of Russian speakers living in the area. Many lived with babushkas, but a friend and I lived with a man who trained Ukranian soldiers and ran a metal-for-furniture business on the side (whatever floats your boat?). We enjoyed conversations about his work and his family, which was spread between Estonia and Ukraine. His mother came to stay with us for a month from Kyiv, and we really enjoyed learning about her life and interests in a mishmash of Russian and Estonian, which she was learning at the time.

However much I loved Tallinn, one of the best things about it was how easy it was to leave. As in, it has excellent (and cheap) transport links to many parts of Estonia and other capital cities. The ferry trip to Helsinki is around £25 and takes two hours, other Baltic capitals are easily reachable by bus- although the overnight trip home from Vilnius to Tallinn is not the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had. One reading week at the end of March was enough time for a whistle-stop tour of Scandinavia by train: a friend and I interrailed from Helsinki to Kemi in the north of Finland, across the north of Sweden, before seeing Trondheim and Oslo in Norway, finally making our way down to Copenhagen. Many of our classmates travelled further afield to Georgia, Uzbekistan and Hungary during these reading weeks.

Although not what I expected when I originally applied to study Russian at Oxford, my time in Tallinn was formative, fulfilling and most importantly, fun. The beginners’ Russian year abroad seems highly structured, with little space to make it your own, but all our cohort came home with different experiences, stories and memories. Looking back, I realise that Tallinn to me was originally a ‘plan B’, an alternative, and a place I never would have considered home. How wrong I was!

Catrin, French and Beginners’ Russian

You can read more about Catrin’s year abroad experiences in Estonia here on the blog.