Category Archives: Student life

Year Abroad Glossary

Posted By Rowan Lyster, in her third year at Somerville College reading French and Linguistics, and currently on her year abroad on a university exchange in Montpellier, France. This is an extract from rowanlyster.blogspot.fr

This is a brief guide to some new concepts and words I’ve been introduced to during my year abroad in France. I can’t guarantee the accuracy of my definitions; Google translate may be useful if you want to actually learn new words…

 

La grève: A spontaneous gathering where hundreds of students come together in peace and harmony to make avant-garde sound art using klaxons, megaphones and fire alarms. And occasionally bongos. Sometimes culminates in a fun-filled parade along the tramway, encouraging the bemused citizens of Montpellier to take life at a slower pace by stopping the entire transport system.

 

Erasmus: A magic word which gets you into classes you shouldn’t be going to, and out of work you should be doing. To be applied freely in all circumstances, especially in conjunction with a look of confusion and sadness.

 

Dessin d’ObservationAn ‘art’ class I attend which, going by the lessons so far, consists of tracing and colouring. Lessons incorporate an element of orienteering, due to the fact that the classroom changes most weeks.

 

Emploi du Temps (Timetable): An elusive, possibly mythical creature; sometimes you think you’ve got it pinned down but it inevitably uses the power of shapeshifting to escape your clutches. Not to be trusted under any circumstances.

 

8h30: A time with which I was not previously familiar, but at which I now have two 3-hour classes. Boo.

 
Certificat Médical: A document which is inexplicably required if you want to do any form of organised sport, up to and including ‘relaxing stretches’. I mean, seriously? Each sport must be individually specified on the certificate in order for it to be valid. At my doctor’s appointment to get this, I was asked about my entire medical history (including frankly VERY personal information), told I should have had every vaccination under the sun, and warned about the dangers of going out late at night. I was also asked to do 30 squats with my arms stuck out, before having literally every inch of my torso listened to with a stethoscope.

 

La Météo: A wildly inaccurate source of information about the weather. The only guarantee is that it will in no way correspond to what you can see out of the window. Fortunately it is usually pessimistic; last weekend’s “storms” were actually a few minutes of light drizzle. Speaking of which…

 
La Pluie: A distant memory.

 
L’Hiver: The time of year where you occasionally have to wear jeans and maybe even a jacket. Extremely distressing for those who grew up in the south of French.

 
Being ‘Englished’: When you speak to someone in your best French and they insist on replying in English, despite your obvious exasperation and refusal to go along with it. Happens less and less as time goes on, which is gratifying.

 
Cousine/CuisineTwo words I can’t seem to distinguish in French. This is a surprisingly big problem as my cousin is also here; often results in people wondering why I spend so much time with my kitchen.

 

Email: Apparently not really a thing in France, given the number of replies I have received to the hundreds of emails I’ve sent. May try carrier pigeon if this continues.

 
Dimanche: A weekly precursor of the apocalypse, during which everything closes and the streets become eerily empty. The only sound is the slamming of shutters and the rumbling of my tummy as I realise that I have, once again, forgotten to buy any food.

 

 

Apologies for the lack of pictures in this post, I’m feeling lazy . Here is an autumnal tree from the Botanical Gardens (or ‘Garden of Plants’ as they call it here) to make up for it.

 (Rowan’s previous post on Montpellier student life is here.)

 

 

From Sixth Form to Second Year

posted by Jessica Allen, second-year student of French and German at Jesus College

The Oxford modern languages degree places considerable emphasis on the study of literature. With most schools teaching very little or even no literature as part of their modern languages curriculum, it can be very difficult to know where to start. Here I’m going to share my own literary journey thus far to hopefully inspire those who are still at school to develop their interests and to not be intimidated by the really quite challenging task of tackling their first foreign novel.

This story actually begins with my discovery of German literature. I was fifteen years old and inspired by the fleeting reference to Kafka in Bridget Jones’ Diary to read some of his work in the original German. My German teacher told me that this would be impossible for someone who hadn’t even done her GCSEs, so, determined to prove her wrong, I spent three months teaching myself advanced German grammar and reading children’s books. Then suddenly I was reading Kafka’s works and understanding them in German. I felt a great sense of achievement and knew then that what I wanted to study was German literature.

I was also curious about French, the other language I was studying. I wanted to do the same thing, although I had no natural starting point to lead me into the literature. So one lunchtime I went into the school library and headed over to the solitary shelf of French literature. I picked up Diderot’s Supplément au voyage de Bougainville, mainly because it was the shortest. It was also the best introduction to French literature I could have had at the age of sixteen. From next year, this will be a prescribed text for first years at Oxford, therefore it’s an ideal book for those who are just starting their literary studies. It’s written in dialogue form and when I read it for the first time I had never seen anything like it, which instantly made it more interesting. It also means that it’s easier to understand it, for the two opposing points of view are always clearly represented by the dialogue participants, and it’s certainly easier to get through than a six hundred page novel. When I first read it I was ignorant of the context in which it was written and applied the book’s lesson about universal values and a return to nature to my own teenage existence. It all began to truly make sense as I found out about the original context of the text: it was written in the eighteenth century in order to criticise the social and political structures in France prior to the Revolution by comparing them to the basic moral codes based upon nature which governed Tahiti. I began to actively consider the concept of universal values and luckily my google searches led me to more eighteenth century texts which explore similar themes in the same context: Voltaire’s Candide, Montesquieu’s Lettres Persanes and Rousseau’s Le Contrat social. I devoured them and eventually made them the subject of my EPQ (Extended Project Qualification). I had fallen in love and I knew that wherever I went to university, there had to be lots of eighteenth century French literature. So if you’re in sixth form, I would definitely recommend these texts as a way into French literature. Eighteenth century French is often easier to understand than that of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, plus the idea of challenging a long-established regime and system of values as expressed in these texts certainly appeals to frustrated teenagers.

 

So where did I go from there? Well I spent the rest of sixth form reading any French and German literature I could find. This was helpful not just in terms of my Oxford application, because it gave me plenty of ways to show that I was interested in taking languages further, but also because when I arrived here for first year I wasn’t daunted by the reading list or by the task of tackling foreign texts because I’d already been doing it for a couple of years. Okay, as a second year I now look back and laugh at the naïve and simplistic views of these texts that I often expressed whilst still at school, but even as you progress through Oxford your thought process is always changing and it’s often fun to contrast your current interpretation with your previous. Above all, I genuinely enjoyed discovering the wonders of French literature and it is certainly the best way to practice your language skills outside of the classroom, as teachers always encourage you to do. So my advice to sixth formers is to read any French texts which take your fancy and hopefully find some that really interest you. Don’t worry if you don’t understand certain phrases or references and try to work on grammar and vocabulary before you do it, however tedious it might seem, because it all really helps in the long run!

The Year Abroad Game

Posted By Rowan Lyster, a third year at Somerville College, reading French and Linguistics, and is currently on her year abroad in Montpellier, France. This is an extract from rowanlyster.blogspot.fr

I’ve decided it’s time that the secret competitiveness of being-on-a-year-abroad was made official, and have created the Year Abroad Game. Rewards are measured in smug-points; any inconsistencies in the rules are down to artistic licence (and definitely not the fact I couldn’t be bothered to make up a proper scoring system).

START: You find yourself trapped in a foreign land where nobody has heard of Doctor Who. Will you survive? 

Gain 5 points for each cool attraction you discover in your new hometown.

Such as the ice rink, which has a disco section complete with a light tunnel and hills. In classic French style, this is completely dark, and full of terrifyingly reckless locals. Great fun, despite frequent near-death experiences.

Gain 2 points (and a few pounds) every time you sample a local foodstuff

such as crêpes, of which I’ve eaten a shocking number since discovering the heaven-in-a-pancake that is Nutella with Speculoos-spread.

Gain 10 points if you wring a smile out of one of the bitter and twisted administrators you’ll no doubt encounter.

Such as the receptionist of my accommodation, who regularly tells off residents for the heinous crime of asking for our post. After a determined campaign of sickly sweet bonjour’s, I miraculously got a friendly smile back.

Lose 15 points and go back 3 spaces if you let out a snarky comment to one of the bitter and twisted administrators who’ll no doubt be pointlessly rude to you. 

Believe me, the former is ultimately a better way of getting things done.

Gain 30 points if you get a non-disastrous haircut during your time abroad.

I managed this the other day, despite an alarming lack of French hairdressing vocabulary. Aside from nearly accepting an unwanted fringe, it went surprisingly well!

Gain 20 points if you go on a spontaneous trip with no particular destination in mind. 

We accidentally did this after attempting to go to Nîmes by bus (it turns out there is no bus to Nîmes, despite the confident assertions of 6-8 locals who sent us on a frankly impressive wild goose chase). After giving up on Nîmes, we hopped on a bus and ended up in Pézenas, a gorgeous town an hour or so away.

 

 

Pézenas

Gain 15 points for each new town you visit.

The Nîmes story has a happy ending; we finally made it there (by train) the other day!

 

 

We saw this gem…

 

 

…and this badass.

Gain A MILLION POINTS if you ever manage to actually receive CAF (the French housing allowance).

I was lulled into a false sense of security by a letter saying I’d been approved for this, but apparently that’s just a hilarious prank they like to play before asking you for every document you’ve ever heard of and a lot that you haven’t. On the plus side, there’s free money available to anyone willing to undergo the seven labours of Hercules.

Lose 1 point every time you accidentally insert snippets of English e.g. ‘yknow,’ and ‘like,’ into your target language. 

This is particularly embarrassing in official meetings.

Gain 10 points for each new hobby you take up.

I’ve joined a walking group. Yes, I have become my parents… It’s actually a great way of exploring, as the people with cars drive everyone to somewhere cool.

Gain 15 points per nationality for all the international students you manage to befriend.

So far I’ve met people from Germany, Spain, Italy, Algeria, America, Switzerland, Poland, Brazil and Hungary.

Gain 30 points if you do something ridiculously brave that you’d never do at home.

I went with a German friend to a café that had libre-service instruments, and eventually decided to go for the plunge and play the piano in public. Nobody booed, although hell may have frozen over.

Wild card: OH MY GOD ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN if you completely change your plans for the year. 

By ‘completely’ I mean ‘quite a lot’ – I’m moving house at Christmas and have replaced a lot of my study-time with volunteering-time, which conveniently involves interacting with Actual French People.

Gain 100 points if you get mistaken for a French person by another foreigner.

This has happened to me a few times, albeit briefly. I’m also often asked if I’m German, due to my Nordic good looks (I like to think).

And if you get mistaken for a French person by an Actual French Person

Go home, you have won. 

 

Here’s a bonus picture of the French doing what they do best: taking extremely strange things rather seriously. This man was darting about and pointing at people, occasionally shouting “ACHEVÉ!” all filmed by solemn people in white coats.

 

My Oxford

posted by Helena Kresin, first-year student of French and Spanish at Trinity College

I had always wanted to go to Oxford. The beauty of the town, the rich history and the prospect of being surrounded by so many knowledgeable individuals had attracted me from a young age. Some of my friends were intimidated by all the grandeur, imagining imposing professors and fancy dinners with strict rules of etiquette, but I can tell them now for certain that Oxford is far from intimidating. It is true there are certain quirky traditions that have been kept, such as having to wear gowns on the odd occasion, but these only add to the charm of the institution and serve as a reminder of its unique character.

I could never pretend that Oxford doesn’t involve a lot of work, but this should not be seen as a negative aspect of the University. I was shocked by how quickly I improved after just 8 weeks of my first Oxford term and this was undoubtedly due to the constant practice I had writing essays and doing assignments required for my French and Spanish degree. Being kept constantly busy is – I now realise – a blessing, keeping boredom at bay and allowing constant immersion and thus a deeper understanding of the languages I’m studying. In fact, in many ways, I have found Oxford easier than school. At school, there was sometimes the risk of having a teacher who you worried might not help you achieve the grade you want in your exam. Here, there is never that worry. The tutors are incredibly helpful, being only an email away and generous with the time they devote to clarifying anything you might be confused by. The comments and feedback they have given me have proven extremely useful , being thorough and constructive rather than negatively critical. In addition, being in the city and surrounded by all your friends and other students of similar age has meant that going out and doing things outside of the academic sphere is far easier than it ever was at home. I even go out more than friends at other universities, perhaps owing to the sociable atmosphere of Oxford where everyone seems to make sure they have a good time at all of the many events on offer. It’s also great to be able to do the subjects I love and be surrounded by those who love it just as much as I do, with experts in the field able to answer all the questions you’ve long wanted to have answered.

There is certainly never a dull moment here. The tutorials provoke interesting discussions which encourage you to form you own opinion and essays really allow you to express your individuality. I never thought I would say it, but the lectures have proven fascinating too. All of the lecturers I’ve had have been animated, passionate and ready to impart their vast knowledge on a wide range of topics.

I don’t need reminding of how fortunate I am to be in such a fantastic university. I stand by the view that if every educational institution was like Oxford, everyone would be instilled with the same love for learning that I have developed since being here. The only thing that saddens me is that my studies here will one day come to an end.