New academic year starting!

 

 

With RADAR workshops, Critical Link 8, EIRSS, performing at the Fringe and the Applied Languages and Interpreting Summer School, our summer this year was busy but fun. The “holidays” have traditionally been a creative time in terms of research and impact.

Now Welcome week is here and the campus is buzzing with newly arrived students. There is a truly international mix, and that’s not just LINCS.

Teaching starts on Monday 12th September. In the meantime, we are running events to welcome all LINCS students. From coffee and muffins for 1st year students at the newly-opened Learning Commons, to drinks and nibbles in town for MSc students, we make sure that you are properly welcomed and are ready to start your academic journey with us. Our consistently high NSS results (2nd in Scotland and 6th in UK for student satisfaction!) prove how much we value the student experience.

But we never rest on our laurels.

This year, we are asking new and continuing students to participate in a competition to celebrate European Day of Languages. Students need to answer the questions “Why study languages?” and “The best thing about studying languages is…” for a chance to win Harriet, the Heriot-Watt cow that can also be used as a stress ball. There are 10 cows up for grabs!

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The winning statements will be put on a poster which will be displayed at the LINCS stand during the University Open Day on 23rd September, as part of the celebrations for the European Day of Languages on 26th September.

We have a range of programmes in both languages and cultural studies, as well as some exciting new elective courses to add more flexibility to your degrees and give you more options depending on your needs. More information here for undergraduate and here for postgraduate programmes.

If you’re thinking of joining us, why don’t you come along to one of our Open Days? More info on www.hw.ac.uk/opendays

@HW_LifeinLINCS

#languages

#culturalstudies

 

LINCS 2nd in Scotland and in top 10 UK for student satisfaction!

When deciding on which university to go to, it is important to see what students who are studying your chosen courses think. There are various unofficial online forums and other sources where people discuss their experience in a particular university or course, but nothing is as reliable as the annual National Student Satisfaction survey (NSS).

The NSS has been conducted every year since 2005 and asks the honest, anonymous opinion of about 500,000 students across the UK on their university, the course they studied, the lecturers, the facilities etc. There are 23 standard questions that full-time degree students across the country are asked – anonymously (we mentioned it above, but it’s important).

Our results this year?

For the category of European Languages, 92% of students were satisfied overall with their course.

We are ranked 2nd in Scotland and in the UK Top 10 for overall satisfaction!

Let’s not forget the continuing success of LINCS staff at the annual Learning and Teaching Oscars organised by the Student Union, where students vote for their favourite lecturer in 7 categories across the university’s Scottish campuses (about 500 staff!), so competition is strong! This year, Pablo La Porte, Assistant Professor in Spanish, won the Thinkers Award and Katerina Strani, Assistant Professor in French and Intercultural Studies, was nominated for the Guiding Hand Award.

And last but certainly not least, this year’s Graduating Student Prize for Best Teacher in the School of Management and Languages (this included 4 departments last year, and 5 departments as of this year) has gone to Fanny Chouc, Assistant Professor in French.

Thank you to all our students for voting for us! 

Click here for a list of Undergraduate Programmes and click here for a list Postgraduate Programmes offered in LINCS.

Fresher’s week starts on 05 September and the term starts on 12 September.

See you all then! It’s going to be a fabulous year –

 

Heriot-Watt and University of North Florida Cultural and Linguistic Exchange

by Stacey Webb

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For a BSL version of this post, please click here

I have been working in collaboration with Dr. Suzanne Ehrlich from the University of North Florida (UNF) on a linguistic and cultural exchange opportunity between some of our respective interpreting students. The project was designed to provide an expansive experience in our field of interpreting as well as increasing cultural awareness while exploring Scotland.  Students had the opportunity to connect with leaders, community members and other sign language interpreting students. One of the major highlights of the trip was being able to participate in Critical Link 8, themed “a new generation” aimed at future proofing the profession.

I am personally grateful to all the people who helped make this week a success and I hope that it was a memorable experience for everyone. I first got to meet the American students from UNF the over the previous weekend, where they got to experience some Scottish sunshine..some Scottish rain and of course farmers markets, bagpipes and the castle!  Edinburgh is a beautiful city, and I loved seeing them take in the place I have made my home.  To wrap your head around of what this experience included here is a recap of the week:

Monday June 27:  Students both ASL and BSL had been eagerly awaiting the introduction of the buddies.  All students were put into pairs! Although we didn’t expect them to be “buddy/buddy” or think that friendships would form over night, we wanted to make sure they knew that they had at least one person to go to with questions, comments and concerns but also to engage in collaborative reflection with. We provided some thought provoking questions to ask each other as well as several activities throughout the day that we hoped would initiate conversations around sign languages and the interpreting profession in both American and Scottish contexts. Students from UNF and HW met for the first time at the Edinburgh Business School Cafe (EBS).  We figured coffee and bacon rolls can only make a day start a little brighter!  After a brief induction, the tutors left the students to find their way to their classes.  Students were then provided a brief introduction to the language of the other country.

Heriot-Watt’s Gary Quinn spent two hours with the American students teaching them some basic communication strategies in BSL, while Suzanne Erhlich, from UNF, and I taught the local HW students some American Sign Language.  These language introductions went over really well, and students were eager to begin practicing with their buddies.  After these initial classes, Yvonne Waddle, Heriot-Watt PhD student and local BSL/English Interpreter, volunteered her time to the students to teach Scottish words and phrases.  It was important to show the students just how different English speaking countries are- yes they may share a similar language, but there are so many words, phrases, and cultural rhetoric that is actually not shared across the ocean.  People often assume that when you move to an English speaking country it will be just like home- and from my own personal experience, I can assure them it is not! This class was a hit amongst the students, and I caught a few of them using their new Scottish words and phrases throughout the rest of the week!

Fanny Chouc, from the French section, assisted us by running a mini conference that focused on the pros and cons of technology.  Mavis Lasne, PhD student participated in the conference and gave a speech in Chinese, where MSC student volunteers ,interpreted her speech into English, and our students then interpreted it into ASL and BSL.  Interventions were also provided in BSL, ASL and English.

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Yes, it was a jam packed and we are not even close to being done yet! After the mini conference,  students were sent off for some reflection time- clear set time to be without teaching and without their tutors. They could meet with their buddies and use the time to “soak it all in”, make mental notes of what they learned from the day, and ultimately get to know each other. Heriot-Watt has a beautiful grounds and I am sure many of their paths have been a source of inspiration amongst many of our students and staff.

Later that evening, students headed to the city centre, where we embarked on a private tour city  tour with Sandemans New Edinburgh Tours .  We invited friends from the Deaf Community, some local and some from abroad abroad.  A local interpreter, Katy Smilie, volunteered her time to interpret the tour into BSL, and I worked into ASL.  We learned stories of Deacan Broadie, Maggie Dixon, and Greyfriars Bobby- a true Edinburgh experience!  Thanks to Brian Marshall, he was also able to share with us (and the guide) the location of the first Deaf Club, and even pointed out the grave site of Walter Giekie, a famous Edinburgh Artist and former star pupil of the Braidwood school. It was fantastic to have Deaf locals on our tour.

We then headed to the Grassmarket for dinner.  All 30 of us made it to the Beehive Inn and I have to take a moment to thank the staff, as they were all fantastic! I am personally grateful to them as I know it can be difficult to manage such a large group.

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Tuesday 28 June:  You thought Monday was packed….  On Tuesday morning, we embarked on a tour with Rabbies on a all day excursion of Scotland.  With two busses full,  the students and invited members from the Deaf Community made there way to Dunkleld, Hermitage waterfalls, Pitlochry, the Queen’s View, Loch Tay/Kenmore and ended at The Famous Grouse Distillery.

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We owe a big thank you to the UNF students for making this tour possible. Ultimately the 6 students on this trip funded the opportunity for all of the HW students and Deaf Community members attend without cost of their own.  This is great example of reciprocity, a value that we hope remains with each one of our students as they continue to navigate their futures as professional sign language interpreters.

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This trip was also special for me on a personal level; my first interpreter educator was also on board, Melissa Smith, from San Diego, California.  She has inspired me as both an interpreter and an educator.  To  be able to introduce her to my own students was was incredibly meaningful.

The tour took us to some really beautiful places. Katy Smilie again, volunteered to interpret, but also the students tried their best interpreting from time to time to keep communication accessible.  It was truly a lovely day; and has Robbie Burns once said, “Wherever I wander, where ever I rove, the hills of the Highlands for ever I love.”

 

Wednesday 28 June-  Friday 1 July:  Critical Link!!! One of the main reasons this week was selected for this linguistic and cultural exchange was that Critical LInk 8 was being held in the James Watt Centre at Heriot-Watt University. I have heard nothing but amazing things about this conference, so the students were not only the ones excited to go.  Personally, I feel it is really important for students to go ahead and attend professional conferences, especially international ones, to truly jump start their professional journeys. It is in these contexts, students are engaged in true experiential learning- where they see that all of the “stuff” their tutors are trying so hard to teach them is real and meaningful to the professionals and not simply “stuff” you learn for the sake of being a student.

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The Conference provided interpreting in British Sign Language and International Sign Language, additionally, there were other sign languages in use (e.g. American Sign Language and Norwegian Sign Language), which provided students even more insight to how different sign languages are from country to country. They were also starstruck- the names they have only read in books, journal articles and seen/heard about in lectures came to life.

Me:  “Did you know you were just sitting by Debra Russell?”

Student: “I was?! Stacey, I feel like I am at Disneyland!”

Other students came up to me and told me how many people they had met.  Talking to them you would think they were actually in Hollywood! It truly was special, because if you are going to have any celebrity idols- I think the ones in our profession are pretty great!

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To celebrate the success of our week, we headed for one last dinner together.  Toasts of thanks, laughter and even a few tears the students were delighted with the week.  To top the evening off, Franz Pöchhacker joined us at Checkpoint in Edinburgh!

The week was perfect blend of sign language, interpreting, deaf community and other  professionals within the field of interpreting/translation (spoken and signed).  Friendships were formed and memories were made.  One of the students from UNF shared with me that the experience was in fact  “life changing”– and that is why we teach, right? Yes, that is why we go above and beyond to create meaningful learning experiences for our students. I am so thankful to everyone who helped make this week great, your efforts are much appreciated and please know they made a direct impact on the 13 students who participated in this exchange!

In closing..

So as you can see the Heriot-Watt BSL section has been busy!

Over the past several months staff, students and the local Deaf community have been meeting on the 3rd Tuesday of the Month for a meal.  We have been going to Entwine, however, recently it has closed down.  I am working on finding a new place and I think we will be meeting at CheckPoint, but will keep you all posted via Facebook.

As always, remember it takes a village to raise a sign language and in staying with the critical link 8 theme, we humbly invite you to join us in future proofing the next generation of interpreters.

 

1st cohort of graduates of Undergraduate BSL programme!

June has been an exciting month for the BSL section within LINCS: graduations, conferences and student visitors that have kept us very busy!  Assistant Professor in BSL Stacey Webb will be reporting on these in the next few weeks. First up – graduations!
For the BSL version of this post, please click here
Graduations
Over the past few weeks, family and friends have gathered to attend graduations across Scotland’s universities.  Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh campus, held 10 graduations to commence and celebrate its 2016 graduates.  It is a very exciting time because you get to see years of hard work and dedication pay off, as students walk the stage to have their achieved degrees confirmed. Their smiling faces radiate joy and accomplishment- and often what the graduates miss, is the faces of their biggest fans- mums and dads, husbands, wives, partners and best friends.  In fact, I had the best view in the house, facing the auditorium as part of the academic procession. I was able to watch smiles, happy tears and warm embraces throughout the celebration.
For those attending the LINCS SML graduation at Heriot-Watt on 24 June, you should count yourself lucky, for rumours have it, this was the most exciting graduation of the week! Graduates, friends and family members didn’t hold back their cheers, whoops and applause. Twenty students walked the stage with a connection to our BSL section, representing three different LINCS programmes:
As you can imagine there certainly was a sign language presence in the auditorium.  In fact, Professor Williams, the University Principal gave special acknowledgement to the BSL programme grads, emphasizing the importance of their future endeavors as British Sign Language/English Interpreters. We wish everyone who graduated much success in the future, and we look forward to seeing all of them accomplish great things!
1st cohort of graduates from the BSL Interpreting Course with members of staff
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Back Row: Gary Quinn, Yvonne Waddell, Graham Turner, Greg Colquhoun, Scott Ellerington, Helena Laverty, Marion Fletcher, Rachel Evans, Stacey Webb
Front Row: Virginia Dugo, Lisa Li, Jemina Napier, Jill Gallacher, Sam Rojas, Rachel Amey, Jude Caldwell, Marie Elliot, Grace McBride, Svenja Wurm
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Dr. Robyn Dean with supervisor Graham Turner!      
 
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EUMASLI Graduates: Yvonne Jobse, Emmy
Kauling, Brett Best, Ellen Nauta, Muffy Cave

 

 

LINCS students win prestigious scholarship

by Kendra Jaudzin

Four undergraduate students from LINCS were successful in their application for a competitive scholarship offered by the German Academic Exchange Service, ‘Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst’ (DAAD) !! The scholarships will enable Sophie Adlington (Year 2), Ashton Murrel, Martin Rawlings and Anna Krajewski (all Year 1) to attend a 4-week-summer university course this summer at a German university of their choice with a focus on German language and culture.

Congratulations to our students!

The DAAD Summer University Scholarships are open to Heriot-Watt students of all disciplines with an intermediate level of German. Scholarships applications open up in November each year.

For more information contact the DAAD-Lektorin in LINCS, Kendra Jaudzin (k.jaudzin@hw.ac.uk)

 

EIRSS 2016 programme updated!

This year’s Edinburgh Interpreting Research Summer School (EIRSS) is taking place on 04 – 08 July 2016, right after Critical Link 8.

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We are delighted to have Daniel Gile as our guest speaker again this year. Professor Gile was also our guest speaker in the inaugural EIRSS in 2013.

The EIRSS is designed to offer intensive research training for existing and future scholars in any field of interpreting. Relevant to researchers interested in Conference Interpreting (CI) and Public Service Interpreting (PSI) alike, for both spoken and signed languages, EIRSS includes lectures on the state of the art in CI and PSI research, seminars on methodology  and research design and a round-table discussion. Suggested reading lists and other materials for personal study are also provided. EIRSS 2016 fits in nicely with this year’s CL8 theme, so if you are attending both, you pay a reduced fee for EIRSS.

The five-day programme includes guest lectures from world-leading figures in interpreting research as well as seminars by Heriot-Watt academics, librarians and research managers. Participants also have the opportunity to network with world-renowned researchers in the field of Interpreting as well as the chance to showcase their own projects and receive feedback from the expert staff in LINCS.

The updated programme can be found here

For more information about the EIRSS, please click here

To register, please click here – EARLY BIRD ENDS ON MAY 13th !!

Looking forward to meeting you and talking about research in Interpreting Studies!

eirss@hw.ac.uk

#EIRSS2016

Heriot-Watt University BSL interpreting and community placements

By Jemina Napier

 <Click here to see this blog post in BSL>

 

As many people in the Scottish Deaf community and BSL/English interpreting profession will know, this year is the first time that we have a group BSL/English interpreting students completing their final year of studying in a 4-year undergraduate programme. This is the only university in Scotland that offers a training programme that is approved by the Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters (SASLI) and the National Registers of Communication Professionals with working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD) as a route to professional qualification and registration to practice as a sign language interpreter. The first group of students will graduate in June 2016.

Students heading out on interpreting work placement for the first time

From January – May 2016 it is the current 4th year students’ final semester and one of the compulsory requirements is for students to complete an interpreting work placement. During this placement students will be shadowing professional interpreters in real interpreting assignments.

The aim of the interpreting work placement is to:

  1. To give students the opportunity to access authentic ‘real-world’ interpreting situations
  2. To provide students with the opportunity to observe the professional practice of qualified interpreters at work
  3. To facilitate the opportunity for students to try interpreting in ‘real-world’ interpreting situations, in a safe and supported environment, where appropriate and with the agreement of all parties
  4. To enable students to discuss, critique and reflect on their observations of other interpreters and their own professional practice

 

The interpreting work placement will take place in two 1-week blocks (22-26 February and 4-8 April).

The organisation of the interpreting work placement would not be possible without the support of the key organisations SASLI and NRCPD who have endorsed that interpreters can received Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points for acting as mentors.

But even more importantly, it could not take place without the collaboration and support of professional sign language interpreters in Scotland, who are giving their time, energy and commitment to supporting these students. We would like to specifically thank the list of interpreters below who have agreed to take on students this year:

  1. Paul Belmonte (Edinburgh)
  2. Andy Carmichael (Edinburgh)
  3. Lesley Crerar (Aberdeen)
  4. Andrew Dewey (Ayr)
  5. Linda Duncan (Fife)
  6. Marion Fletcher (Edinburgh)
  7. Rebecca Goodall (Inverness)
  8. Donna Jewell (Falkirk)
  9. Brenda Mackay (Fife)
  10. Paula Marshall (Denny)
  11. Robert McCourt (Glasgow)
  12. Mary McDevitt (Falkirk)
  13. Drena O’Malley (Glasgow)
  14. Mark Sherwin (Edinburgh)
  15. Linda Thomson (Glasgow)
  16. Helen Dunipace
  17. Yvonne Waddell

 

We know that there are many more interpreters all over Scotland that might be interested in becoming a student mentor, and in future years we will be looking for more mentors as student numbers increase, so if you are interested please contact Jemina Napier as the interpreting placement coordinator by email.

We would also like to thank Deaf BSL users in Scotland in advance for their support of our students, and hope that you will encourage them in their efforts to develop their skills to become professional interpreters. The students to look out for are:

  1. Rachel Amey
  2. Jude Caldwell
  3. Greg Colquhoun
  4. Niamh Cochrane
  5. Virginia Dugo
  6. Scott Ellerington
  7. Rachel Evans
  8. Jill Gallacher
  9. Nadia Krupova
  10. Helena Laverty
  11. Lisa Li
  12. Grace McNeill
  13. Samuel Rojas
  14. Marie Elliott

Community placement

We would also like to acknowledge the support of all the organisations throughout the UK that are providing community work placement experiences for our 3rd year students. The 3rd year placement is different from the 4th year placement as it takes place over a whole year, and students are required to work in two different organisations where BSL is used every day so that they can have immersion in the language and culture of Deaf people every day. While on placement, the students do project work or other tasks (but not interpreting) and participate in general organizational activities.

This year is the second year that organisations have hosted students on community work placements, and we are appreciative of the efforts that the organisations go to in order to support our students to develop their BSL skills and Deaf community and cultural awareness.

It has been a steep learning curve for us at Heriot-Watt University and also for our community organisation partners, as this is a new approach to sign language interpreter training and as far as we know Heriot-Watt University is the first programme in the world to require students to take a 1-year language immersion community placement. We could not make this happen without the close collaboration with Deaf BSL users and Deaf community organisations.

Graham H. Turner, Coordinator of the BSL Community Work Placements notes that:

“Heriot-Watt’s BSL team members have many years’ experience of interpreter education. We were very conscious of the widespread feeling that university-educated interpreters tend to know what to do in the classroom, but do not have the kind of profound appreciation of Deaf lives that comes from being close to the ‘beating heart’ of the community. Our partners are working with us to change that. We simply couldn’t create on our campus the kind of learning experience that they can offer. If our programme fully achieves its aims, it will be in no small part because of the contribution partner organisations are making to developing the interpreters that they wish to work with in the future.”

So we would like to thank all of the organisations listed below who have so far hosted students on community work placement:

Action on Deafness (Leicester)
Birmingham Institute of the Deaf (BID)
British Deaf Association (BDA Scotland & Northern Ireland)
Deaf Action (Edinburgh)
Deaf Connections (Glasgow)
Deaf Direct (Worcester)
Deafness Support Network (Northwich)
DeafPlus (London)
Deafway (Preston)
Deaf Links (Dundee)
Donaldsons School (Linlithgow)
Hampshire Deaf Association – Sonus (Southampton)
Manchester Deaf Centre (Manchester)
National Deaf Services/National Deaf CAMHS (London)
Nottinghamshire Deaf Society (Nottingham)
Royal Association for Deaf People (RAD) (London, Kent & Colchester)
Ericsson Access Services (formerly RedBee Media) (London)
Remark! (London)
Scottish Council on Deafness (Glasgow)
SignVideo (London & Glasgow)
Solar Bear (Glasgow)

 

We are always looking for new community partners, so any interested organisations can contact Graham H. Turner by email.

Finally, Gary Quinn, the Head of the BSL section at Heriot-Watt University says:

“As programme coordinator, I would like to thank all the interpreters and staff in the community organisations that are supporting the degree at Heriot-Watt University by giving our students the opportunity to develop more ‘real-life’ awareness of the Deaf and Interpreting communities in the UK. I know the students have appreciated your efforts to support their learning and each of you has contributed a vital part to our students’ development, which will undoubtedly make our graduates better prepared for the professional world of BSL/English Interpreting.”

In sum, we would like to acknowledge and thank everyone who has direct involvement in supporting students studying BSL/English interpreting at Heriot-Watt University and we wish our 4th year students who are about to go out on interpreting placement the best of luck and hope that they have a positive experience.

 

A taste of the real thing

by Fanny Chouc

Heriot-Watt’s interpreting students were given a great opportunity to apply their skills to a real-life setting thanks to Heriot-Watt Engage. They interpreted for the Illuminations event, which was held on campus on Wednesday 02 December to mark the end of the UN Year of Light.

As part of this event, Professor Jim Al-Khalili gave a fascinating talk on the history of optics, looking at all the scientists who contributed to the build up towards our current understanding of Light. Students were given a unique chance to interpret his speech into French, Spanish, German and British Sign Language, working either in booths or in front of the stage.

All students involved have been training as interpreters, but this was, for most, their first experience outside a classroom environment. And what an experience! They provided simultaneous interpreting to a live and e-audience (the event was streamed online), in an auditorium set to welcome 450 people. A particularly daunting prospect for our BSL students, as they were facing a particularly large audience! Students in the booths also took on a challenge for their first taste of professional interpreting: they volunteered knowing that the topic would be challenging, and in some cases, they were working into their B language.

So how beneficial was this first taste of the real things? Student volunteers saw this as a very good reminder of the key skills highlighted in class, with one of them saying: “it reminded me how important it is to stay informed not only in the field of politics and current affairs but also in the field of science”.  They also valued the chance to put their skills to the test in a real, live setting, stressing that “from a learner’s point of view it was very useful to be given the chance to interpret in a professional context in front of a live audience”. And this opportunity also enabled them to make the link between preparation and the actual interpreting process.  But most importantly, they enjoyed this chance to put their skills to the test, with one of them stating that “it was fun and a great opportunity”.

The feedback from the audience was also very positive, especially considering that some of these students only started their simultaneous interpreting training three months ago: they kept going, providing a clear and lively rendition of Prof Al-Khalili’s speech in the target languages, and coming up with clever strategies to convey the sometimes technical explanations of this well-known scientist, delivering a pleasant and efficient version of the speech in the various languages.

In the end, this proved to be a very successful experience for all, and a very good warm-up in preparation for our annual multilingual debates, scheduled for Wednesday 23rd March.

The topics chosen this year are: “This House believes that new technologies are killing real human interactions” (morning debate) and “This House believes that accessing public services in your native language should be a recognized and implemented human right” (afternoon debate). And as last year, it will also be possible to follow the event online and to listen to the interpreters in the booths or watch BSL interpreters at work. Note that the BSL interpreting will be provided for the first time by Heriot-Watt students: the first ever cohort on our M.A. in BSL interpreting has reached their final year and they’ll be joining their peers in our annual events. So save the date, and check this link if you are interested in the live streaming.

 

 

De Perdidos, Al Río

by Calum O’Donnell, 4th year student in LINCS

Going to Heriot-Watt University was one of the better decisions I’ve made with regards to my academic career. Perhaps the best decision, however, was choosing Interpretation and Translation, a subject that presented the opportunity to experience life abroad.

In August 2013 I embarked on a journey that would take me to the Spanish capital city of Madrid. I was to spend five months there as an undergraduate exchange student on the Erasmus programme, and it would end up being some of the greatest months of my life. Be it cheering on Cristiano Ronaldo in the world famous Santiago Bernabéu, bustling my way down the Gran Via or the rumbling chaos of the metro system, Madrid was a vibrant city that you can’t help but love. Not to mention, the city of Madrid was so excited about my arrival, they preemptively called a Metro station after me in my honour, ‘Metro O’Donnell’.

My first impressions were the same as every young, naïve student on their year abroad. Excited to be there, but intimidated by the prospect that I had to do everything myself. I’d scoured the internet for weeks before my departure, looking up tips, hints and must-do’s for when I arrived, but nothing can prepare you for stepping off the plane and realising that you’re quite literally thousands of miles outside your comfort zone. ­

I remember my first few days in the city; hurtling by in a blur of broken, nervously spoken Spanish, an astounding ability to seemingly spend money as if it was going out of fashion and an even better ability to find myself lost and sweaty in amongst the locals, even though whatever map I was reading was telling me, quite clearly, that I was in the right place.

Some of the biggest learning curves happened for me during my first month of living abroad. Things that seemed so difficult at the time such as; getting myself a sim card, viewing flats, organising my University enrolment or even ordering at restaurants and shops, are now things that happen naturally when I’m in Spain. I remember vividly stumbling through my personal details and my need for a sim card at the Orange phone shop during one of my first weeks in the country. The rookie mistake of rehearsing conversations in my head before they happened hindered me at the start of my trip, it was difficult for me to just let go and trust my ability to listen and understand in Spanish, even if during the first weeks I had no idea what was being said to me.

Organising myself and being sensible about getting the most out of my year abroad experience was pretty important to me, and this meant meeting as many people as I could and trying to have as much fun with learning the Spanish language and culture as I could.

So before leaving for Spain I’d made a short list of things to do, detailing my need to:

  1. Find a flat.
  2. Enrol in University.
  3. Improve my Spanish.

The first item ticked off of this list, rather unsurprisingly, was Find a flat. I’d met up for some viewings with an older gentleman by the name of Arturo, who said he had a perfect flat for what I was looking for. Situated in the infamous Arguelles, near the heart of the city, with two English boys and a Venezuelan lad who could speak less English than I could Spanish. The flat was on Calle Andres Mellado, and it was as good as home. Later in my stay, the flat would affectionately be referred to as ‘El Palacio’, which, rather obviously, translates as the Palace, but it never seemed to catch on with the locals or my friends… Funny that.

Getting a well-situated flat with three good guys was the best thing I could have done for myself. It meant that missing a metro or coming home when the sun was rising presented little problem. We were a 15-minute walk from the Gran Via (which made life very easy), a 54-second walk to the door of the Metro station (yes, I counted it) and a 10-minute walk from our local gym (which we never used), the Palace was the perfect place for me. Life was good. I’d managed to cross off the first item on my list and I’d barely been there a week. I was good at this Year Abroad stuff.

Enrolling at my chosen Spanish institution however, the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, was something that had to be seen to be believed. A myriad of emails and notices (all in Spanish…of course) were sent to my student account about enrolling on a Tuesday at an obscure building on the University’s campus at Cantoblanco, about 30-minutes north of Madrid. I headed up and tried my best to navigate my way through the sea of bodies chittering Spanish slang and the confusing signage that seemed to dominate the campus, but failed to find the room. I’d asked for directions several times, but the flurry of Spanish that was aimed my way was unintelligible to me at the time. I was slowly discovering that ‘pánico ciego’ was an adequate way to describe my mental state and perhaps my facial expression when attempting to understand the rapid fire of words that the Spaniards said to me, ‘pánico ciego’ in English, by the way, means blind panic.

However, once enrolled (tick no.2 off of that list!) and attending classes, life became considerably easier. The lecturers in each of my classes spoke clearly, concisely and I found myself grinning ear to ear when I understood complex phrases or laughing along with the class. Soon, conversations with other Spaniards become natural and I even started to hum along to Spanish songs when out and about…the same ones I air-guitar’d to back at the Palace. There were several classes I looked forward to each week, ranging from Lenguas en Contextos (Languages in Context) and Literaturas Europeas (European Literature), the one that I liked the most was Traducción General (General Translation). There was a great atmosphere in the class and everyone loved the fact that there were two native English speakers to keep them all right, even if they were from Fife and Glasgow, respectively. The work ethic that I encountered in each of the classes was pretty incredible. Every class had a studious attitude and they focussed a lot on the work they did outside of class. One thing I came to hate, however, was the gentle hum of whispered conversations whenever the lecturers would speak, which appeared to be a done thing in Spain… I can only imagine the look on one of my current lecturer’s faces if I decided it acceptable to conduct a mini-conference during their class.  I’m a stalwart for manners, and this pushed me close to the edge!

Making friends as native English speakers was something that, luckily, came quite easily. People quickly realised that I wasn’t from Madrid (or Spain, for that matter), and after making several guesses at French, English or Irish, they would often remark enthusiastically on how cool it was to have a Scottish person at the University, although pronouncing ‘Callum’ proved to be quite a challenge for most. The Erasmus Student Network (ESN) organised many social outings and these really helped me to immerse myself in all aspects of Spanish culture. I feel my year wouldn’t have been quite the same without them all. I found a whole host of people who wanted to do similar things to me, be it heading out into the bright city lights during the day, or braving the crazy Spanish party lifestyle by night. The ESN society was something that I didn’t expect to be so helpful and fun, but not only were they there to help us enjoy ourselves in Madrid but they were there if we ever needed a solution a Spanish problem or a friendly face to chat to. The experience with the ESN in Spain led me to enquire more about the ESN back at Heriot Watt and will be a good break from my fourth year studies this year.

All in all, it was an incredible five months for me in Madrid. I’ve been back several times since, and I’ve yet to spend a penny on accommodation. People are always so warm and welcoming when I go back, and I credit it all to my year abroad. Meeting new people and hearing their stories are one of the reasons I decided to study languages in the first place, and there is truly no better place to do this than on your year abroad. It amazes me how small the world becomes the older I get. Technology and cheap air travel make keeping in touch with friends, old and new, easier than ever. If you’re lucky enough to be sent by your university on a year abroad, make sure you challenge yourself. As they say, if you’re not living life on the edge, you’re probably taking up too much room.

Hasta luego!