Deciding to get a first

I have decided to get a first in my degree program. For those of you unfamiliar with the UK degree grades this is the equivalent to getting a 4.0 on the US scale. Why have I decided to do this?

John F. Kennedy once said “Once you say you’re going to settle for second, that’s what happens to you in life.” I don’t want to settle, I want to achieve.

So far, looking back at my average grade, I’m achieving a 2:2. That’s not good enough. I know I’m capable of better (in fact, my marks in several subjects show it), but I’m letting myself be dragged down by some subjects. So, how am I going to achieve this?

Step 1 involved reading “How to become a straight A student” by Cal Newport. I’ve been reading Cal’s website for years, so when Amazon gave me a €10 a few weeks back I decided to order a copy of this and give it a chance. It’s safe to say, I was impressed. To start with the book is easy to read – so many “how to study books” are painful to get through. I read this book in less than a day, picking it up between classes and on the bus home. Secondly the advice is good. It turns out I already followed the advice in the module I scored the highest marks in last year, so I know it works. But now what works has been explained properly to me, so I know that if I keep doing it I can achieve the same results in all my subjects.

I don’t return to university until September, this means I have 4 months (and 10 days as of today) to get ready for next year, and to revise what I learnt in the 2 years before my 2 years abroad. Thankfully I can basically boil this down to “French and German”. Unfortunately I also failed Spanish in my second year and I’m required to re-take the module in September and then take the exam. However, regardless of how good the grade I achieve is, the maximum number of points I can be awarded is 40 – the pass mark. So I will revise the basics for that and then make sure I attend the classes and do all the homework.

I have the recommended grammar books for both French and German, and when I get to my parents house (where they are) in about 3 weeks time I will sit down and make a list of what I should already know and start quizzing myself. Vocabulary is just flashcards, and as I’ve been living in French and German-speaking countries I just need to practice some writing every day. I’ll probably use MacJournal on my laptop to write short diary entries in French and German every day (though maybe I’ll post them on WordPress so people can correct them if they choose).

To achieve a first I need to achieve a minimum average grade of 70, (69 is a 2:1), however I only need the 70 in 100 out of 120 credits. My dissertation (which I’m working on right now) is worth 40 credits, and then French, German, Communication Theory and Interpreting are worth 20 credits each. So even if I don’t do well in one module, I can make it up with the others. I’ve already checked out what exams, coursework and speaking exams I have for which subject so now I just need to work for it.

And this post has ended up much longer than originally intended, but now you can keep track of me! If you have any advice then please feel free to share.

Choosing a Masters

One of the biggest things I’ve been worrying about for the last year is what I’m going to do after I graduate. There are so many options and trying to narrow it down has been really hard. Eventually I hit upon the idea of being a conference interpreter, but then I had to figure out where to study.

Naturally the first place I looked for courses was in the UK, I realised that the course fees are horrific (somewhere between £5,000 and £7,000) and that furthermore I would be forced to take a bank loan to finance it. This would be a loan where the interest was paid while I was studying and for 1-2 months after graduation, but the maximum loan amount was £10,000. As I was looking at Bath and Westminster I would then have to take another loan to finance accommodation. As such I quickly came to the conclusion that the UK was a non-starter.

I spent a few days just thinking about options, such as taking a year or two to work and just earn money to pay for the masters, or studying elsewhere. Eventually I stumbled across the EU website where they advertise their competitions for interpreters and there was a link to AIIC (global association of conference interpreters) approved courses for translation – salvation!

After getting over the shock that neither of the courses I was looking at were AIIC approved I set to looking at French and German-speaking countries. I learnt that I might well be eligible for a stipend of €750/month from the DAAD to study in Germany, and that depending on the state there might be further grants. As such I narrowed it down to 2 courses.

I am currently on my second year abroad in Rheinland-Pfalz, so this is an area that I’m quite famililar with, so I was very happy to find that the University of Mainz offers a MA program in Conference Interpreting. The other option I found that really appealed was the University in Heidelberg, but how do you choose?

Step 1 was having a look at costs. Studying in Germany is cheap, really cheap. Heidelberg looked like it would be cheaper to start with until I double checked which campus Mainz would teach at, it’s not the main campus (about an hour away by train in fact!) and as such the accommodation there would be much cheaper – around €200 a month. Tuition fees aren’t really something Germans come across except for non-consecutive masters, you just pay an administration fee and for a semester ticket (free local transport) every semester which adds up to around €300. But apart from costs how could I make a decision?

I went back to the AIIC website and printed out the full information for each course I was looking at, printed it (so I can show it to colleagues/professors) and compared the ticks and crosses. Not only does Mainz have more ticks than Heidelberg, it offers both French and German to English translation – Heidelberg offers German to English but only French to German which would require a dramatically improved level of German before I could start the course. The only catch? According to the AIIC less than 30% of the people who apply to Mainz are accepted onto the course.

How am I going to become one of those 30%? The exam is a spoken exam, you actually sit 1 exam per (foreign) language you intend to study, from their website the content is mostly on your ability to communicate and understand within that language, and you need to be a level C1 speaker (see the European levels here). Therefore I immediately emailed my university to change my module option for next year, I’ve asked to interpreting in German if I can (French as a back-up) and upon arrival in September I intend to ask the French teacher if I can attend those classes too, at least the practice ones. I’m hoping that if I can practice interpreting at an undergraduate level (it’s a sort of taster course), then my knowledge and understanding of the languages will improve and I can really shine in the interview. Thankfully after spending more than 2 years living abroad in 3 countries I should be at level C1 for both French and German – so it’s just a case of finding the mistakes I make and the gaps in my knowledge and working on those.

Won’t it be hard to study in a foreign country? By the time I return to university in September I will have spent 2 years and 3 months living and working abroad in French and German-speaking countries. Additionally I’ve also taken some evening classes here in Germany which gave me a taste of what it will be like. I’m not expecting it to be a walk in the park, but what post-graduate study is? And while it may be hard to get started at first, I often find that by challenging myself I do rather well.

So that’s a little bit of my crazyness out of my head and onto the world-wide internet. If anyone has any comments or advice to share then please leave them below!

Note: The difference between a consecutive and a non-consecutive masters is that consecutive builds upon the knowledge from your bachelor’s degree. Anyone with a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) can choose to study a non-consecutive program.