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Escaping the bubble

Undergraduates studying Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge spend their third year living abroad.

We asked three Pembroke students currently on their year abroad to give us an update at different points in their adventure. Here’s what they had to say:

Ellie Gould (2012),, August 2014

BolognaAs anyone who has been seduced by the deceptively difficult task of learning another language will know, there is only one way to really conquer the nuances of a foreign tongue, and that is to live abroad. It’s something the Modern and Medieval Languages department seem to know all too well, and so they require each undergraduate to spend at least 8 months of their third year working or studying abroad. Having taken up Italian ab initio in my first year, I was reluctant to give it up so soon, so I elected to split my year and spend time in both Italy and France, a choice which I gather is becoming increasingly common.

The whole adventure began on the ultra-glamorous Ryanair website, booking a flight that had two qualities unlike any of my previous budget flights. It is a one-way flight, and I will be flying alone. I feel a (hopefully quite natural) mixture of excitement and fear reading this sentence back, though I am calmed by the thought that the first 6 months of my year will be spent studying at the University of Bologna, by most accounts the oldest university in the world and certainly one of the prettiest. I will be focusing on cinema, with a paper on how directors adapt literature for the screen, as well as continuing with French literature and brushing up on my Italian language. My love of cinema also inspired my year abroad project, an 8000-word dissertation which acts as a paper for Part II, in which I will be focusing on metacinema through the likes of Godard, Truffaut and Varda. After my stay in Bologna, I am looking to find an internship or job in the media, television or film in France from late February or March. So far, my search for such a position has unfortunately been unsuccessful, so if there are any Valencians living in France who might know of any such positions I’d love to hear from you! I’ll also be documenting the highs and lows of my year abroad on my blog (pretentious artsy title gratuit):


Walter Myer (2012),, October 2014

Walter 2Hermann Hesse once wrote that by constantly stripping off layers of the self, we achieve immortality. If true, MMLers ought to have rather high life expectancies. For the third year of my degree, I’ve left Cambridge to work in Paris and Hamburg for my year abroad. The homesickness hurts, but the surprise challenge has been trying to ‘be myself’ in a foreign culture. I’ve begun to learn how much of my personality is monolingual, and how constant translation can make you feel wooden. However, the silver lining is clear – you’re given the chance to review and reinvent the way you think. And the prospect of returning to university a changed person is frightening, but energising at the same time.


Steph Spreadborough (2012),, November 2014

Steph‘Steph, as far as I can tell you’ve been on holiday permanently for the past two months.’ My friends’ attitude towards my year abroad has changed drastically over the past few months. At the end of second year they were all falling over themselves to congratulate me on my bravery for not only entering The Real World but moving abroad, to somewhere with a foreign language, on my own. My reply was always pointing out that I’m not particularly brave: it’s an essential part of my degree. Also, that I was just as really flipping terrified as they’d be. I’ve now been a Wiener for just over three months and I’m loving it. My friends’ opinions have clearly changed too, as highlighted by the number of accusations I’m basically on holiday. At the time I didn’t really have any defence: I’m absolutely loving my work with a children’s theatre company; I’ve met some really lovely people (and have yet to run into any of the typically grumpy Viennese ones); and done lots of undeniably touristy things, including weekends away to Munich (*Oktoberfest) and Budapest. I’ve been to a black tie ball in the Town Hall, been a guest at fancy event with Arianna Huffington (Post) as the keynote speaker and spent a morning at work trying to find my boss a donkey for her house in the mountains, which I was also invited to visit.

But it’s not all a holiday. Finding a flat was three weeks of pure stress and more time spent watching DVDs in a hotel room on my own in my pyjamas than I’m willing to own up to. Navigating the various levels of bureaucracy required to register to live here in the right order can best be described as working my way through the levels of a particularly tricky and inflexible computer game. Working in a German-speaking environment has taken some getting used to as well, although I’ve thankfully got over the ‘psyching myself up before every phone call’ stage. I guess that’s called progress. The part I’ve found hardest, though, has definitely being away from Pembroke. Don’t get me wrong, you can keep your essay deadlines and frying pan bans, but there’s something about the sense of community in the library at quarter to midnight; something about going to dinner in a gown and trying not to giggle during grace; something about the beautiful, crazy, intelligent, incredible group of people that I’m fortunate enough to call my friends who make Pembroke what it is, that don’t quite work over Skype. Vienna, you’re spoiling me, but I guess absence makes the heart grow fonder; I haven’t quite escaped the bubble just yet.


To find out more about studying Modern and Medieval Languages at Pembroke, see our website.

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