Erasmus in Madrid: the best year ever!

by Olivia Moran

My name is Olivia Moran and I’ve just started 4th year at Heriot-Watt.  I study in the LINCS department, on the MA (Hons) International Business Management and Languages degree.  I spent my third year studying in Madrid, at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas ICADE, and I can honestly say that it was the best year of my life.

ICADE has a reputation in Spain for being a prestigious university, and it was very different to any uni I’ve seen in the UK.  As it’s run by the Society of Jesus, the main building has a full size chapel and everything.  The professors were great – if they realised that you wanted to learn, they were super patient and willing to help you in any way they could.  The Spanish kids kept to themselves, but I made some great friends amongst the other Erasmus students.

To me, ICADE was more like being at high school than university: the classes were small, generally no more than 20/25 people, and the students were together throughout their four years there, which meant that they all knew each other well.  At first, I was intimidated by these small classes, but I quickly realised just how useful they would be.  The professors got to know us all very quickly, and we were given lots of opportunities to contribute and answer questions.  This helped my Spanish improve much more than if I had been a in a lecture hall with 200 people.

Erasmus students at ICADE can choose from a wide range of courses within the business school.  They also offer Spanish classes especially for the exchange students, which I found incredibly helpful – I managed to reach C1 level by the end of the year!  On the business side, I chose quite a few marketing modules, as that’s the industry I would like to work in when I graduate.  This was very useful, as I learnt a lot about the Spanish techniques, agencies and regulations, which in some cases differ greatly to those in the UK.   I also had the chance to study some quite unique modules – one of my favourite classes was Spanish Foreign Policy, as I love history and have an interest in politics.  It was also fascinating to see how government stances from 50 years ago are still influencing Spanish trade.

Picture4

It took me a while to get used to ICADE – there is no real campus, just a main building for the business and law students, so at times I did miss wandering round Heriot-Watt and admiring the loch, but it was a great opportunity to try something different.  It also means that I really appreciate Heriot-Watt’s beautiful campus now!

For me, the scariest part of the exchange was finding accommodation.  But as soon as I saw my flat, I knew it was meant to be.  My room was really bright, spacious and looked out onto a traditional little street.  I shared the flat with four Spanish girls who spoke no English.  I won’t lie, this was incredibly difficult at the beginning.  However, it was absolutely the BEST decision I could have made.  The girls were so friendly and patient, even with my stuttering Spanish.  That gave me the confidence to speak to them more, and now holding a conversation in Spanish doesn’t make me stress out anymore.  Even better, I’m still in touch with all the girls, which means that I can keep working on my conversational Spanish – when I go back to Madrid in October, I’m actually staying with them instead of forking out for a hotel!

I completely fell in love with Madrid during those 10 months.  I’m actually hoping to get a job there when I graduate – or somewhere in Spain at the very least!  There’s so much to do, whether you like art, history, culture or football.  I went to 10 (yes, ten) Atlético games (including Barcelona and Leicester), spent more hours in the Retiro reading books than I could even count, travelled to Portugal, France and the Netherlands and found so many great little bars and cafés along the way.

Picture1

Rowing around the boat lake in the Retiro is a must for anyone who visits.

Picture2

Sadly the Vicente Calderón is no more, but any Spanish football match is going to be good!

  Picture3

If you have Spanish flatmates, they WILL make you dress up for Carnaval.

You have to make the effort. If you’re willing to speak Spanish, people will welcome you with open arms and make you feel like a part of their community.

Erasmus can be the best year of your life. It was for me!

Marco Polo project: Training Module in Penang

by Katerina Strani

Picture1

John Cleary and Katerina Strani from LINCS led the 2nd Training Module on International Cooperation Agreements and Networks, which is part of the Erasmus+ Marco Polo project (574027-EPP-1-2016-1-ES-EPPKA2-CBHE-JP), led by the University of Seville. The project includes 9 partners from Spain, the UK, Austria, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, and seeks to strengthen International Cooperation amongst Higher Education Institutions by establishing new mechanisms to exchange experiences and good practices, providing training to HEI staff, creating a framework for mobility of students and staff, and fostering research abilities by creating international research groups.

The 2nd Training Module on International Cooperation Agreements and Networks took place on 21st – 25th August at Universiti Sains Malaysia, in Penang, Malaysia. The first day was spent presenting the participating institutions: the hosts, Universiti Sains Malaysia, the University of Malaya, Prince of Songkla University, Naresuan University, Hanoi University, PTIT and Heriot-Watt University. On the second day, John and Katerina led discussions on internationalisation in the Higher Education sector and what this means for individual institutions. Differences in conceptualisations, priorities and strategies already started to emerge. The day continued with an interactive workshop on international cooperation agreements and networks and a subsequent talk by Dr Khairul Anuar Che Azmi from the USM legal office. The workshops continued on template agreements, analysing risk and developing institutional strategies for network building and internationalisation.

Picture2

Picture3

The third day continued with more workshops on teamwork and building trust in cross-cultural teams, as well as building and sustaining virtual networks using social media.

Picture4

All delegates visited the impressive – to say the least – USM’s International Mobility and Collaboration Centre (IMCC).

Here’s how IMCC staff and ‘buddies’ welcomed the delegates:

IMG_2623

The fourth day focused on discussion and reflections on the week’s activities and drew parallels between institutional strategies. It also focused on future collaborations and included meetings with USM Heads of Schools and Departments. We were particularly honoured to have had the opportunity to have a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor of USM Professor Datuk Dr. Asma Ismail and discuss with her the university’s vision, priorities and opportunities for collaboration.

Malaysia (1)

The final day continued the networking activities at a more informal basis and included a tour of Georgetown, the capital city of Penang. Georgetown is unique in its diversity and richness in culture, heritage, architecture and food. The oldest portion of the city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A blend of Chinese shophouses (“clan jetties”), Chinese temples, Hindu temples and Mosques Georgetown has also retained some colonial-style buildings, English street names and an Anglican church, St George’s (unsurprisingly). The Street of Harmony is testimony to the matchless diversity of the city.

Picture5

Picture6

Picture7

A promising project module that establishes important international networks could not have taken place in a better setting than unique Penang, in an unparalleled environment of rich cultural  heritage, tremendous hospitality an and mouthwatering food.

Terima kasih !

Picture8

 

Picture9 Picture10

Moving Languages Newsletter – Summer 2017

Moving Languages_Logo_white backgr

by Katerina Strani

This newsletter is also available in Finnish, Italian and Swedish.

Moving Languages is an Erasmus+ international project with partners in 6 EU countries. In this project, we are developing a mobile application for refugees, migrants and other language learners who have just arrived in their new country in Europe and want to learn English, Spanish, Italian, German, Swedish, or Finnish. We understand that people coming to Europe speak different languages and have different backgrounds and cultures. That is why we are offering translations in over 20 languages in our mobile application, as well as dedicated, localised “Culture” categories. We hope that this application will help the users learn the new language and key cultural concepts in their host countries. Designed to cater to different levels of linguistic competence, the Moving Languages application will also be useful for people who have already been living and working in their new home country for some time.

The content of the mobile application covers topics that are important during the first steps of living in the host country, with over 6,000 study items and over 3,000 illustrations for easy concept recognition. The categories include basic words as well as more specialised vocabulary related to studies, employment, healthcare, legal and administration issues and others.

The Moving Languages application will be available for download for free from all major app stores from June 2018.

Our project reports

O1 Report on immigrants, native languages and needs analysis for the applications

The partners conducted desk research about immigration in their own country. Needs analysis was conducted to get more information from stakeholders on what they would find relevant in a new language app. Based on this research, we selected the languages into which the Moving Languages application would be translated.

O2 Report on the mobile language solutions

The partners researched the availability of language apps in their countries. The collective report is a summary of what is available, the content and the cost of the language applications for Android and iOS. Based on this research, we have selected the most relevant exercise types, language content and game flow for our mobile app.

Mobile application development

We are already prototyping the app for both Android and iOs phones. You can find the details of the mobile application development on our project website, in the news section.

Project meetings

We have already had 3 project meetings: in Helsinki, Palermo and Malmö. You can read
more about them on our website in the news section.

Next steps

The next important stage of the app development is working on the Audio materials. The audio will be recorded by native speakers of each language in the project partner countries.

If you are interested in the project and would like to receive updates about our mobile application, check out our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter

erasmus-logo
This is an Erasmus+ international project

Moving Languages Project

Moving Languages_Logo_white backgr

A mobile phone is proven to be a crucial tool for newly arrived migrants’ and refugees’ wellbeing and integration into their host country.

Dr Katerina Strani from LINCS is leading the UK team of the Moving Languages project. Moving Languages is a 27-month Erasmus+ project (2016-1-FI01-KA204-022678) led by Learnmera Oy in Finland. It has six partners in Finland, Sweden, Spain, Austria, Italy and the UK. The aim of the project is to develop a language app for newly arrived migrants.

Migration in the EU has been rapidly growing in recent times, especially in light of the troubled political situation in Middle Eastern countries. For this reason, it is of great importance to provide tools to support the integration of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe.

Language learning is one of the key priorities of successful integration. Mobile applications are an effective educational source that can be specifically designed for migrants and refugees, as a considerable percentage of them are digitally literate, own smartphones and are looking for new opportunities online in their host countries.

This project provides a gamified language-learning solution. It is available in English, Spanish, Italian, German, Swedish, Finnish and the three languages most widely spoken by refugees/migrants in the partner countries. The application will not only help them to learn the local language(s), but it will also introduce them to new cultural concepts in their host countries.

Designed to cater to different levels of linguistic competence, this application will also be useful for people who have already been living and working in their new home country for some time. The content of the mobile application covers topics that are essential during the first steps of living in the host country. It contains 2,000-2,500 illustrated vocabulary items for easy concept recognition. This free application will be available for download from all major app stores from June 2018.

The Moving Languages project started in September 2016 and it will finish in November 2018. For more information, please visit the project website http://movinglanguages.eu or contact Dr Katerina Strani.

DESIGNS: Employment in Deaf signing communities

by Jemina Napier

Designs

Click here to see post in BSL.

On 12th and 13th January 2017, the kick-off meeting for the DESIGNs project (Deaf Employment for Sign Language Users in the EU) took place in Dublin, Ireland.

The 30-month project is modeled on the recently completed Justisigns project, which was funded through the European Commission’s former Leonardo Da Vinci Lifelong Learning programme and produced a range of resources for Deaf communities, sign language interpreters and police officers relating to deaf people’s access to justice in police settings (see here for video summarizing key outcomes).

The DESIGNS project is funded through the current European Commission’s ERASMUS+ Key Action 2 Strategic Partnerships, and brings together 7 partners from 4 EU countries who are renowned experts in the fields of Deaf Studies research, education and training, employment, sign language interpreting and Deaf community advocacy.

The project is promoted by the Interesource Group Ireland, and the partners are the Centre for Deaf Studies at Trinity College Dublin (Ireland), the Department of Languages & Intercultural Studies at Heriot-Watt University (UK), the Deaf Studies Group at the Humboldt University of Berlin (Germany), the European Union of the Deaf and the European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters (Belgium) and AHEAD – Association for Higher Education, Access and Disability (Ireland).

There is a direct link between early education, attainment of professional and/or educational qualifications, advancement into the labour market and social inclusion. Apart from financial autonomy, work and paid employment serves to develop a sense of belonging with positive mental health benefits and identification with the wider community (National Disability Authority, 2005). However, Deaf people continue to face barriers in education, employment and access to services such in healthcare, legal and social welfare settings.

In a report on poverty in the Deaf community, Conama and Grehan (2001) state that Deaf people experience higher rates of poverty, social exclusion and employment. Factors such leaving school with no examination nor qualifications, inadequate support for the use of sign language has resulted in a worrying picture and 80% of Deaf adults have literacy problems compared to 25% of the population as a whole.

Research and data on unemployment is under reported and inaccurate. “Deafness and hearing loss” is often used to report data, and sign language users who are Deaf is under-researched. The World Federation of the Deaf also reports that figures on (un)employment are inaccurate and difficult to quantify (Hauland & Allen, 2009).

The overall aim of the project is to create research-driven, evidence-based VET and CPD training resources and exchange best practices across Europe to facilitate greater participation of Deaf sign language users in employment.

This will be achieved by developing the following work package products:

  1. Creating training packages for deaf job seekers who are reported to be un- or under-employed;
  2. Creating training packages for employers to increase their awareness of deaf job applicants and job candidates to so that deaf job applicants have a better chance in succeeding in employment
  3. Creating training packages for sign language interpreters as part of their continuous professional development to understand the nature of interpreting in employment settings

The kick off meeting in Dublin involved the research consortium getting together to discuss and plan project milestones and tasks. In addition, a ‘townhall’ meeting was held in cooperation with the Irish Deaf Society at Deaf Village Ireland, to launch the project to local Deaf community members by giving an overview of various issues related to deaf people and employment and a description of the project. The event was live streamed through the Irish Deaf Society’s Facebook page, and the video can still be seen with presentations interpreted between English and International Sign.

The research input from Heriot-Watt University is being led by Professor Jemina Napier and a deaf research assistant will join the team at a later date. A newly arrived deaf PhD student – Mette Sommer –  will be conducting research on the lived experiences of deaf people at work – so her research will also complement the DESIGNS project.

The goal will be for Heriot-Watt University to cooperate with key stakeholder organisations in Scotland, including the British Deaf Association, Action on Hearing Loss, the Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters and the Association of Sign Language Interpreters UK, Deaf Action’s Employability Service.

A community information event will be hosted at Heriot-Watt University sometime in the coming months, so keep an eye out for information about the event and the project.

 

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!