This week on Adventures on the Bookshelf we bring you a career profile with a difference. Samantha Miller, who studied French and Italian from scratch at Somerville College and graduated in 2011, began her career in the publishing world before changing course and becoming a graphic designer. Here she tells us about her career route and how a languages degree from Oxford prepared her for the working world…
I studied French and Italian at Somerville, graduating in 2011. On my year abroad I got a job at a literary agency in Paris, which I had enjoyed, so after graduating I was keen to work in the publishing industry. After doing an internship at another literary agency in London, I landed a job at a large independent children’s book publisher working in the Foreign Rights department. Rights isn’t an area that many people outside of publishing have heard of, but it’s a really excellent choice for languages students. Basically, you are selling the translation rights to books to foreign publishers around the world. It gives you a broad insight into lots of areas of the business, and usually has good opportunities for foreign travel to international book fairs and to visit other publishing houses around the world.
After staying in the role for over five years, I decided I wanted a job with more creativity and flexibility. I did a three-month intensive graphic design course which taught me how to use design software, and more importantly how to generate ideas and solve design problems in a structured way. I got a job as a junior designer shortly after finishing the course. I now work at a small design and brand consultancy working on projects for large international corporate organisations in sectors such as law, insurance and property. The work is varied and challenging, although the hours are not as forgiving as in the publishing world!
Although I have rarely used any knowledge from my degree directly at work, the skills you gain from presenting your ideas in tutorials, navigating a year abroad, and processing large amounts of information quickly are invaluable. Clear communication and an international outlook are vital components of so many roles, and a languages degree gives you these. Most importantly, Oxford teaches you how to learn. Although it took me a long time to work up to courage to leave my job in publishing and retrain completely, I have found that much of my previous experience is transferable and employers do take this into account when considering candidates who have had career changes.
Last month we featured some of the highly commended entries in our French Flash Fiction contest. Here are some more of the highly commended entries from the Year 7-11 category, chosen from among the nearly six hundred entries we received. Congratulations to all the writers featured here, and we hope you enjoy reading their work, and perhaps get a little inspiration for next year’s contest.
Quelle dommage, pour le fromage!
J’ai rejoint la foule excitée au centre du village. Comme tous les autres, je portais une baguette. C’était la Fête du Fromage Annuelle. Le maire a commencé à parler en grande pompe, “Maintenant, je prononce …”, mais il a terminé avec désespoir, “…il n’y a pas de fromage!” Le souffle collectif a été noyé par le vacarme d’un vaisseau extraterrestre descendant. De sa trappe ouverte vola un déluge de fromages. Puis, une voix a tonné, “Nous n’avons pas encore assez évolué pour apprécier le Camembert, le Comte ou le Cantal. Nous reviendrons dans 5 millions d’années. Continuez faire le fromage!”
— Neelkantha, Year 7, The Perse School
Mont Blanc était une chatte. Une grande chatte. Une grande, grosse chatte. Une grande, grosse chatte affamée. Ses propriétaires bien intentionnés l’avaient soumise à un régime alimentaire strict, mais Mont Blanc avait d’autres idées. Aux grands maux, les grands remèdes; une vie de crime l’appelait! Après avoir mangé sa portion maigre de nourriture hypocalorique, elle est partie pour trouver un vrai repas. Dans la maison voisine habitait la vieille Mme Dupont avec son chat paresseux et pitoyable. Pas de problème pour une chatte débrouillarde… Mont Blanc était une grande, grosse chatte. Une grande, grosse chatte heureuse.
— Mairéad, Year 8, Swavesey Village College
Le papillon s’est perché sur une feuille. Il vient ici tous les jours, avec ses ailes et son festival de couleurs empêchant son rythme de se reposer. On dirait que ça me regarde, comme si elle contemplait quelque chose de lointain, c’est peut-être passé. Être pris au piège dans un cocon ne doit pas être gentil. “Aller. Envolez-vous”, je le dis. “Sois libre!” Bien que je n’ai pas parlé en langage papillon, il a semblé comprendre alors que ses yeux se concentraient sur moi, juste pendant une seconde, avant de reprendre son rythme et de s’envoler. Je n’ai jamais revu ce papillon.
— Anoushka, Year 8, The Queens School, Chester
Au Secours ! Les murs se referment ! Je crie « Au secours !» Personne ne m’entend. Mon corps commence à se replier. Tout est ténèbres ! Mes genoux se pressent contre mes côtes. J’entends les gens qui passent mais ils ne font rien d’autre que ; risent et fixent, fixent et risent. Un tintement ! Un euro tombe dans mon béret. « Merci monsieur ! » Il dit « Pas de problème monsieur, J’adore les mimes comme vous! »
— Sulemaan, Year 11, St Albans School
Mamadou titubait nu-pieds à travers la savane. La chaleur du soleil de midi était insupportable. Les taons rongeaient chaque centimètre de peau exposé, et la sangle en cuir rêche que portait son fusil d’assaut frottait contre son épaule. Il jeta un coup d’œil au soldat à sa gauche. Non. Ce n’était pas un soldat. C’était un enfant, pas plus de quatorze ans. Mamadou regarda le visage de ce garçon, innocent, terrifié et épuisé, et il s’est mis à pleurer silencieusement. Ils continuèrent de marcher.
— Joshua, Year 11, City of London Freemen’s School
Il était une fois, il y a habité une sorcière. Cette sorcière peut prédire le futur et elle savait comment le monde a commencé. Elle savait pourquoi la mer a pleuré avec des larmes salées et elle a composé la chanson des oiseaux. Un jour, un petit enfant a demandé elle, “Madame, savez-vous absolument tout?” Elle a répondu, “Non, je n’ai compris jamais pourquoi les gens du monde ne sont pas amicaux, pourquoi ils semblent détester des gens différents quand nous partageons tous le même cœur. Si tu peux apprendre ça, mon fils, tu seras plus sage que moi”.
— Isabel, Year 11, Wycombe Abbey School
Elle se jeta en avant, les orteils pointus, le corps parfaitement aligné. Ses yeux se croisèrent, concentrés sur le fond de la piscine. Encore trois mètres à laisser tomber. Toute erreur, lui coûtera la médaille dont son pays a besoin. Un mot simple, avec une grande signification – ‘focus’; continuait à rejouer dans son esprit. Un mètre à faire, mais du coin de l’oeil, elle aperçoit une silhouette, une silhouette qui devait disparaître il y a cinq ans … son père. La focalisation est perdue, la forme estropiée, la médaille n’est plus une possibilité.
— Giulia, Year 11, Channing School
L’obsession peut nous pousser à aller très loin, même si cela signifie que nous nous soumettons au couteau, ou nous nous enterrons sous terre. Et l’amour? C’est la pire obsession de toutes. Mireille l’a appris trop tard. Harcelée au collège, négligée à la maison, toujours seule, elle est tombée amoureuse de la Mort. Elle espérait qu’elle punirait les brutes: leur ferait payer ce qu’ils avaient fait. Alors, avec un couteau en main, elle est allée pour le rencontrer. Maintenant Mireille est allongée, froide, sous la terre, dans les bras de la Mort. Et le monde continue sans elle.
— Jenna Mae, Year 11, Skipton Girls’ High School
Stay tuned to see the runners up in the older category later this month!
Here are some of our highly commended entries from the Year 7-11 category of the French Flash Fiction contest (other highly commended entries will be posted in the next few weeks.) As you’ll see, they have a huge variety of styles, moods and subjects, showing how much thought and imagination has gone into their creation. There has also clearly been a lot of care and effort from the writers in expressing themselves in good, clear French. The French is not always perfect – although it is always of an impressive standard for the level of study the writer has reached! – but in every case you can see the enthusiasm for language as the writer tries to tell an ambitious story in a foreign language. Congratulations to all the writers featured here, and we hope you enjoy the stories.
Monsieur Mystère est le meilleur détective français, toutes les énigmes qu’ on lui donne il sait les résoudre en un éclair. Alerte ! Le trophé de la coupe du monde de football a disparu; Didier Deschamps le capitaine est inconsolable… Trois joueurs sont suspectés de l’avoir volé pour son or: Mbappé, Pogba et Griezman. Monsieur Mystère les interviewe, il remarque Mbappe a une nouvelle Lamborghini ayant des roues en or, Pogba a des nouvelles dents en or et Griezman a un nouveau ballon d’or. Lequel suspectes- tu…?
Aucun ! C’est Gareth Southgate qui la subtilisé pour 2022 !
Sean, Year 7, Trinity Catholic High School
Un jour, un chat, une souris et un chien vivent dans une maison. Le chat a très faim. La souris a mangé du fromage. Le chat a mangé la souris. Le chien a poursuivi le chat. Le chat est très gros car il a mangé la souris. De plus, le chat est très lent. Il était très facile pour le chien de manger le chat. Et ensuite? Ensuite, la maison a mangé le chien et tout ce qui se trouvait à l’intérieur.
Ansh, Year 8, Hill House School
Amabel s’est réveillée pendant la nuit. Après être descendue les escaliers, elle est sortie de la maison. Elle ne voulait pas partir longtemps, et elle savait certainement qu’elle reviendrait avant que ses frères ne se lèvent.
Elle a commencé à suivre un vieux sentier. Amabel a marché jusqu’à la rivière. Comme elle venait de se réveiller, elle était encore fatiguée et s’est assise près de l’eau. La fille regardait le ciel, qui passait d’un noir à un rose orange.
À son avis, le lever de soleil était la plus belle chose de sa vie.
Jeong, Year 8, Milbourne Lodge School
Ils viennent. Comme ils sont venus des centaines de fois. Sculptés en mes heures de veille, me hantant en mes heures de sommeil. Je tourne un coin et sprinte loin de les soucis que me consomment: mes devoirs, mes examens, la pression et mes relations; dans le monde vrai. Je vérifie ma montre. 3:00 du matin. Mes problèmes intérieurs me sont réveillé encore. Je sais que je devrait dire à quelqu’un, mes parents peut-être. Mais je dois le regarder en face seul. Ma tête tourne et je m’endors encore, dans mon monde imaginaire, où mes diables attendent pour moi.
Jack, Year 9, The Judd School
Le rêve Je me suis assise sur mon lit. Je pense et pense, encore et encore. Ce jour-là, qui marque l’histoire avec un sourire malicieux. Les cicatrices qui restent peintes sur mon corps. Je me souviens de son visage, pâle mais doux. Comme une rose blanche pure émergeant du sol pour la première fois dans le temps. La pensée qui me hante et se moque de ma douleur. Les mains tremblantes, je prends mon visage et je pleure, les larmes de l’océan. J’imagine un monde vide, sans tristesse et sans haine, mais je sais dans mon cœur que je rêve.
Jasmine, Year 9, Cheltenham Ladies College
La lumière passait à travers les stores de mes fenêtres; un lever du soleil jaune terne éclairait les murs lavandes. Je me suis faite tremper dans la chaleur de mon lit avant de marcher vers ma salle de bain. Alors que mon pied a touché le sol frais, des sensations glaciales ont été envoyées en haut de mes jambes et je me suis regardée dans le miroir. Les poches sous les yeux étaient intensifiées, ressemblant aux contusions plutôt qu’à un manque de sommeil. C’étais confuse. Je ne pourrais que me souvenir d’une chose; combien mon coeur me fait mal.
Tilly, Year 10, Colston’s Girls’ School
C’était le jour où les étoiles ont commencé de tomber. Ils sont tombés tranquillement. Brûlants, brillants, comme les larmes coulant d’un visage seul. Je les ai regardés avec un émerveillement féroce, bouche bée. Le sol soi-même sous mes pieds, qui avait été fiable jusqu’à maintenant, était en train de vibrer, même de trembler. Je ne pouvais ni souffler ni sentir l’air frais, mais plûtot, il y avait une odeur trenchante et tordue, le sang brulé. Ca m’a fait piqué, ça m’a attaqué. Alors, tout est devenu un noir affreux, pendant que le monde tel que je le connais était terminé.
Jessica, Year 11, Wycombe Abbey
La Chose La nuit est tombée ; le couloir est plongé dans l’obscurité. J’éclaire la pancarte à l’aide de ma torche, mais l’écriture est effacée, et ma main tremble trop. J’entre, la porte se plaignant bruyamment. Une odeur âcre me frappe aussitôt. En face de l’entrée se tient une armoire ancestrale ornée d’un miroir. Un vieux lit longe le côté droit de la pièce et – un grincement résonne soudainement. Je me fige. Puis un autre. Les escaliers, je réalise. Mais personne n’habite ici depuis des siècles. Un souffle caresse mon cou. Je regarde mon reflet dans le miroir, et j’hurle.
Lucas, Year 11, The Judd School
Le vieux sorcier habitait dans une maison qui n’existait pas, à Londres, qui existait. Chaque matin à sept heures, il montait au quatre-vingt-dix-neuvième étage et il s’asseyait sur son fauteuil à bascule, en fumant une pipe et lisant un livre. Quand il finissait une page de son livre, il la déchirait et il la pliait pour en faire un oiseau, qui s’envolait. De temps en temps, l’un de ses oiseaux revenait, et il lui demandait où il avait été et où il allait aller ensuite. Un de ces jours, il se disait, il allait les rejoindre.
We were delighted, and quite literally overwhelmed, to receive nearly eight hundred entries to our first Flash Fiction competition in French. We asked you for a story on any subject, written in your best French, and comprising one hundred words or fewer in total. What we got was an astounding variety of creations, showcasing some immensely impressive storytelling imagination. There were spine-chilling tales of the supernatural, surreal dream-narratives, delicate character studies, and little comic masterpieces. A number of themes kept returning, among them: colours, animals, flowers, war, romance and death. There were many credible attempts at creating a cryptic plot or ending with a twist.
Our three judges, Caroline Ridler, Matt Hines and Simon Kemp, enjoyed your endlessly inventive contributions, and had a real struggle to pick our favourites. Finally, we settled on Clementine, Year 10, The Grey Coat Hospital as our winner in the Years 7-11 category, and Alisa, Year 12, Surbiton High School, as the winner of the Year 12-13 category. Congratulations to both of you, and you’ll each be receiving £100 in prize money.
Runner-up among the Year 7-11s is Maddie, Year 9, from Longsands Academy and among the 12-13s is Ben, Year 12, The King’s (The Cathedral) School Peterborough. You’ll each receive the runner-up prize of £25.
We also selected the best of the rest for our Highly Commended category. For Years 7-11, congratulations to:
Matthew, Year 7, King Alfred’s Academy
Neelkantha, Year 7, The Perse School
Sean, Year 7, Trinity Catholic High School
Annoushka, Year 8, The Queen’s School, Chester
Ansh, Year 8, Hill House School
Jeong, Year 8, Milbourne Lodge School
Mairead, Year 8, Swavesey Village College
Jack, Year 9, The Judd School
Jasmine, Year 9, Cheltenham Ladies College
Tilly, Year 10, Colston’s Girls’ School
Giulia, Year 11, Channing School
Isabel, Year 11, Wycombe Abbey School
Jenna, Year 11, Skipton Girls’ High School
Jessica, Year 11, Wycombe Abbey School
Joshua, Year 11, City of London Freemen’s School
Lucas, Year 11, The Judd School
Nicole, Year 11, The Latymer School
Sulemaan, Year 11, St Albans School
And for Years 12-13:
Jemima, Year 12, The Henrietta Barnett School
Ella, Year 13, South Hampstead High School
Hannah, Year 12, Bryanston School
Juliette, Year 12, St Helen’s School
Eleanor, Year 12, Redland Green School
Camille, Year 12, The Latymer School
Katie, Year 12, Skipton Girls’ High School
Vikita, Year 12, St Olave’s and St Saviour’s Grammar School
We’d like to offer our congratulations to all our winners, and our thanks to everyone who entered for all the hard work and imagination you put into your stories. They were a pleasure to read, and we hope you’ll think about entering again next year. We’ll be posting the stories by some of the entrants listed here over the course of the summer, so look out for your entry in the coming weeks. First up, here are the winning stories and the runners up…
FRENCH FLASH FICTION: THE WINNING STORIES
Here are some of the winners of our 2019 French Flash Fiction competition. The standard of entries was incredibly high, but the judges agreed that these stories were particularly outstanding in their imagination and creativity, as well as their enthusiastic engagement with the target language. Writing a complete story in under a hundred words is a tough assignment in any language. Here, in the Years 7-11 category, we have a perfectly formed narrative that will make you dream. Below, in the Years 12-13 category is a story that makes creative use of colloquial French to show a mind in turmoil, and in the winning tale, a story that takes apart the whole premise of the competition. Hope you enjoy them.
Winner : Clementine , Year 10
Je suis le mur blanc propre d’un jeune couple chic qui veut montrer sa réussite au monde.
Enlevez ma peau: vous verrez le papier peint des années 70, orné de fleurs jaunes géantes. Reniflez un peu: l’odeur de nicotine du papa, une cigarette toujours à la main depuis qu’il a perdu son travail.
Encore une couche; vous devriez voir le chintz de la famille qui a connu une peur constante. Examinez de près – les tâches de brûlure de la bombe tombée en 41.
Enfin, le vert foncé d’une époque de paix; la dame toujours vêtue en noir, son visage abaissé.
Winner: Alisa, Year 12
La seule acception est les simples traces noires sur le papier. J’avais toujours pensé. D’autres ont toujours essayé de construire quelque chose de plus importante de ce qu’ils étaient. En voyant ces lettres comme elles sont en réalité, nous aurions gagné plus de contentement d’elles que d’imaginer de ce qu’elles pourraient devenir. Eux, ils ne veulent pas me comprendre, comme c’est le cas avec la pipe. René Magritte m’a dit: ceci n’est pas une pipe. Je vous dirais: ceci n’est pas une conte. Ceci n’est que des mots. Vous n’êtes pas comme les autres? Vous me comprendrez?
Runner-Up: Ben, Year 12
Je pense plus que j’aie envie de vivre.
En fait, à l’heure actuelle c’est la seule chose dont je peux être certain.
Des nuits blanches se passent sans cesse, voilées par les somnifères qui n’entraînent que la paralysie. J’y repose regardant le plafond et je hurle ton nom jusqu’à ce que ma gorge saigne.
Moi, chuis mort de trouille par l’idée de mourir, mais j’mourrais mille morts si ça signifiait que je pouvais te voir une dernière fois.
Je suppose que je ferais mieux de m’habituer à jouer le second rôle.
Je veux pas me réveiller.
If you entered our Spanish competition you can expect to hear from us very soon!
This week we bring you another career profile by a recent graduate. Elena, from Somerset, studied French and German at Wadham College and graduated in 2011. She now works at the Department for Transport as Head of Drones Policy & Legislation. Here, Elena tells us more…
In my year abroad I did an internship with a German MP in Berlin and at university I’d always been interested in politics, volunteering and trying to improve things around me. After I graduated that led to 2 years working for Student Hubs and Hub Commercial Ventures, the charity and social enterprise company behind Oxford Hub and the Turl Street Kitchen. That taught me a lot about grassroots working and campaigning, and following that I joined the Civil Service Fast Stream. I was put on a series of placements across Government, and also a secondment to Shelter the housing charity. I worked on a range of interesting projects, from tax policy to military procurements, and eventually ended up working for the Transport Secretary of State’s special advisers. After that I specifically requested an EU-related role and was given a role coordinating the UK’s response to the EU Aviation Strategy. I used my languages quite a bit in this role, making friends with my French and German counterparts in particular, when I attended EU workshops on policies and negotiations. I also got to participate in a 2 week Commission-run training course, where they introduced Member State civil servants to the EU. My favourite session was one with some European Commission interpreters where we all got to have a go at interpreting a live speech.
After this, I moved onto another role in the Aviation team – I now lead the team doing policy & legislation for the leisure and commercial use of drones in the UK. It’s a new emerging technology and poses quite a challenge to regulators because of it. As well as developing and implementing new UK legislation for drones, we do a lot of international work on it, including feeding into new EU rules in this area. I’ve occasionally used my languages then, although sadly not as much as I’d like.
A languages degree hasn’t been essential to any of the work I’ve done since I’ve left university. But it gave me skills I’ve used ever since. My time studying French & German gave me excellent writing and communication skills, which is crucial in the civil service, given how much we do is written. It also gave me an appreciation for different and wider perspectives, and the difficulties of communication, which has helped me immeasurably in dealing with challenging situations and interactions. Finally, although language skills haven’t been a requirement of any job I’ve worked in yet, it might well be in the future. There are lots of civil service jobs that do require language skills, and this seems likely to increase as the UK civil service grows its EU and international expertise post-Brexit. Having language skills will increase the number of jobs open to me.
The Virtual Book Club is back, and this episode features a discussion of a text in French. Here, Junior Research Fellow, Macs, talks to undergraduates Isobel and Hector about a short extract from Rachid Boudjedra’s Topographie idéale pour une agression caractérisée (Paris: Denoël, 1975, pp. 173-4).
They consider questions such as:
What is the style of this passage? Is it difficult to read and understand and if so, why?
Is there a relationship between the style and what’s happening in the excerpt?
What kinds of translation take place in this passage?
How does the protagonist respond to the image of the lotus? Is it right to say that he’s reading the advertisement even though he’s supposedly illiterate? Is he misreading it? What would a “correct” reading of this advertisement look like?
What language skills are required to read a map or an advertisement?
If you would like to be sent a copy of the text so you can follow the discussion, please email us at email@example.com
The next episode will be on German, and will be a special tie-in with this year’s German Classic Prize. Stay tuned…
This week on the blog we bring you another career profile from one of our recent graduates. Ellie, who studied French at St Anne’s College, now works as an actor in London. Acting is, perhaps, not a career many of us would automatically associate with Modern Languages. However, did you know that many famous actors are multilingual? As well as speaking English, Jodie Foster, Kristin Scott Thomas, Bradley Cooper, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt all speak French. Colin Firth speaks fluent Italian, Gwyneth Paltrow speaks Spanish, and Sandra Bullock speaks German. Meanwhile, some actors speak a whole range of languages: Natalie Portman (Hebrew, German, Spanish, Japanese); Viggo Mortensen (Danish, Spanish, French, Italian, Arabic, Catalan, Norwegian, Swedish); Penélope Cruz (Italian, Spanish). And these are to name just a few!
Ellie tells us how languages are giving her a boost when it comes to a career in acting…
Name: Ellie Shaw
Profession: Actor and Singer
Studied: French sole, 2012-2016
After graduating with a degree in French in 2016, I trained as an actor and singer at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama where I earned an MA. I’m now building my career as an actor in London, and I also currently work at the Tate Modern and the Barbican Centre. When I initially undertook my actor training I never thought languages would be immediately useful, but countless directors and my agent have all really emphasised the utility of having foreign languages at hand. As an actress in London it makes me stand out. In fact, I just wrapped a short film where I was speaking French and I’m about to do a self-tape for my agent for an audition for a feature set in France; fluent French is a must for this role. Indirectly, learning a foreign language and going on a year abroad equips you with the kind of confidence to get any job you want – for me, it’s standing on stage or in front of a panel making a fool of yourself fearlessly. You learn to process written information more quickly and understand nuances in communication more effectively. It’s also – most importantly – part of my long-running campaign to marry Timothee Chalamet.
Ellie is currently starring as Daisy Buchanan in the immersive theatre show The Great Gatsby.
Bonus… Here’s a video of Viggo Mortensen speaking seven languages!
This week in our series on career profiles, we’re speaking to Gemma Tidman, who studied French at Worcester College and graduated in 2011. Having attended a big comprehensive school in a small village in Somerset, Gemma now researches and teaches French literature at St John’s College, Oxford. She tells us a bit about her route into an academic job…
During my degree, I figured out that I wanted a number of things from a career: the ability to use my language skills on a regular basis, to travel, to meet interesting people and to continue learning new things. I also knew that I loved my degree, that I enjoyed academic writing, and during my year abroad I learned that I really liked teaching (I was an English-language teaching assistant in a lycée in South-West France). I wasn’t sure what all this meant in terms of a career, but it sounded like these were things I could keep doing during a Master’s, so that’s where I started. I did the Oxford Master’s course in the European Enlightenment (2011-12), and had some brilliant tutors who inspired in me a love of eighteenth-century French literature and cultural history.
After the Master’s, I still wasn’t sure what to do next. I applied for a PhD, but in the end decided that I needed to try something beyond university. So, I took a job at the Wallace Collection, in London – a national museum that specialises in eighteenth-century French visual and decorative arts, among other things. I worked with a great team of people, on projects involving marketing, public engagement, and fundraising. I loved the job! I got to use my French skills now and then, and to pursue my interest in eighteenth-century France. But, after six months or so, I realised that I missed teaching and research. So, in 2013 I decided to go back to university… and I began a PhD in French, back in Oxford.
My PhD looked at the history of how literature was taught in France, during the second half of the eighteenth century (If you’re interested, you can read more about it here). But a PhD is more than just the 80,000 words you produce at the end of four years: it’s also four years of great experiences. During the PhD I spent a year living in Paris, where I taught at a French university. I spent afternoons conducting research on 250-year-old handwritten papers, held in archives in a castle. I had a month as a visiting student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, working with wonderful academics and students. And I got the chance to do more teaching, which I loved. I also had the time to pursue other projects I cared about: I became involved in university widening participation and outreach work, and I took up triathlon!
After my PhD, I managed to land a one-year research and teaching post at Worcester College: back where I started as an undergraduate. If you had told me, when I began my BA in 2007, that I would be working there as an academic a decade later, I never would have believed you. After that, I moved to my current post at St John’s College. In spite of (or perhaps because of?) some long, hard days of reading, thinking, writing…and sometimes deleting it all and starting again… I love what I do. I’m lucky to work with great colleagues and students, on a subject that I’m passionate about, and to get to contribute to the way we think about, and teach, French literature and cultural history.
I’d say to anyone wondering whether they have ‘the right’ profile for academia that there is no ‘right profile’. I’m from a first-generation, comprehensive school background; I didn’t always know I wanted to be an academic; I didn’t go straight through from undergraduate to PhD: and I’ve made it this far. Most people know that getting into academia isn’t plain sailing – there are many hurdles to face, from securing postgraduate funding to dealing with tough peer reviews, from long, long hours to finding a permanent post in a competitive field. In all of this, there can be a lot of luck involved, and you’ll need to be prepared to put in some years of groundwork (in terms of further study, fixed contract posts, etc) before you – hopefully – begin to see it pay off. But in terms of the skills you need, if you’re resilient, up for some hard work, and above all if you love reading and writing about your subject, they’re probably the major things you need. To all budding academics: go for it!
Last year on Adventures on the Bookshelf, we heard from one of our students, Hector, who was on his year abroad in Chile. Because he studies both French and Spanish, Hector split his year abroad between French- and Spanish-speaking countries. Over the next two weeks, Hector tells us more about the French part of his year abroad, spent in Paris…
It was not by design that I ended up living in five different Paris quartiers* over the summer of my third year abroad. But it gave me an insight into the City of Light which I wouldn’t otherwise have had, even with my excursions by day as a runner-people-watcher, and by night as a keen flâneur**. After a year teaching English in Chile for the Spanish half of my degree, the French half was immediately indispensable as I navigated my way from Charles de Gaulle airport to my first digs.
These were a single room on the fourth floor of a hostel on Boulevard Barbès, in the 18th of the 20 Parisian arrondissements***. My colleagues at the production company at which I was interning, HENRY TV on Place de la République, were somewhat shocked when I told them where I was living, since the area can be ‘chaud’**** come nightfall. Sure, I saw (and heard) a certain amount of that from my window on Friday evenings, but variety is the spice of life in the 18th: the African markets of the Goutte d’Or are cheek by jowl with such iconic sights as Montmartre, the Sacré Cœur, and the Moulin Rouge.
The African theme continued at my next residence: flat-sitting for friends in the Grandes-Carrières quarter, also in the northern 18th arrondissement, where there is a significant population of Senegalese origin. It was in a Senegalese restaurant when my parents were visiting that we enjoyed our best ever dining experience. Instead of just talking amongst ourselves, as is the norm when going out for an average meal in the UK, we were engaged in conversation and banter over delicious fare by other diners keen to share their culture with us, an unusual addition to the clientele.
As well as flat-sitting, my third pied à terre involved cat-sitting and plant-sitting for friends on holiday in Italy. The Parisian-born cats, Attila and Maurice, though initially somewhat sceptical of me on arrival – as were their human counterparts – warmed to me, and Attila even became quite affectionate despite his war-like name. The flat’s central location in Le Marais (‘The Marsh’) of the 3rd arrondissement, offers far more than its name might suggest. One of the most historic and traditionally aristocratic parts of Paris, the Marais now boasts vibrant LGBTQ+, Jewish, and East Asian communities, as well as plenty of trendy bars and some of the only remaining medieval architecture in the city.
Check back next week to hear about the rest of Hector’s Parisian adventures….
Explanation of vocabulary * quartier: Each arrondissement (see below) is split into quarters, or ‘quartiers’. There are also historical ‘quartiers’, which often do not map onto the administrative ‘quartiers’ – it all adds to the fun of navigating the city!
** flâneur: a stroller or walker. This comes from the verb ‘flâner’, meaning to stroll or saunter. The ‘flâneur’ became a famous figure in the nineteenth century, associated with people watching and urban exploration.
*** arrondissement: Paris is split into twenty administrative districts, called ‘arrondissements’
**** chaud: this can have several meanings in French, but in this context it means that the area can be a bit risky
This year, instead of our usual French Film competition, we will be running a Flash Fiction Competition in both French and Spanish. If you are in Years 7-13, you are invited to send us a very short story to be in with a chance of winning up to £100. Read on to find out more…
What is Flash Fiction?
We’re looking for a complete story, written in French or Spanish, using NO MORE THAN 100 WORDS.
How short can it be?
Well, candidates for the World’s Shortest Story include a six-word story in English by Ernest Hemingway:
‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’
Or a seven-word story in Spanish by Augusto Monterroso, called El dinosaurio:
‘Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí.’
You don’t have to be as brief as that, but anything from six to a hundred words will do. Just not a single word more.
What are the judges looking for?
We’ll be looking for imagination and creativity, as well as your ability to write in French or Spanish. Your use of French or Spanish will be considered in the context of your age and year group: in other words, we will not expect younger pupils to compete against older pupils linguistically.
What do I win?
There are two categories: Years 7-11 and Years 12-13. A first prize of £100 will be awarded to the winning entry in each category, with runner-up prizes of £25. The winning entries will be published on our website.
How do I enter?
The deadline for submissions is noon on Sunday 31st March 2019.
If you would like to submit a story in French please do so via our online sumission portal here.
If you would like to submit a story in Spanish please do so here.
You may only submit one story per language but you are welcome to submit one story in French AND one story in Spanish if you would like to. Your submission should be uploaded as a Word document or pdf.
You will then be sent an automated email (check your spam folder if you can’t find this), which will include a link to validate your email address. Please click this link, which will take you to the Modern Languages Faculty website (you will be given an option to sign up to the newsletter. You do not have to sign up to the newsletter in order to enter the competition, although you are welcome to do so). Once you have clicked the confirmation link in the email, your entry has been submitted.
If you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
A blog for students and teachers of Years 11 to 13, and anyone else with an interest in Modern Foreign Languages and Cultures, written by the staff and students of Oxford University. Updated every Wednesday!
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