BA Modern Languages
Alex graduated in 2012 with a First Class Honours degree. He had originally applied to do a dual degree in German and Russian but switched to the BA in Modern Languages at the end of his first year. Alex had studied German at school (he already had A Level) but acquired three new languages during the course of his degree (Russian, Polish, Luxembourgish)! He’s now working for an international law company.
‘During Sixth Form I knew I wanted to go to university and study German alongside a new language – the question was: Which language? I wanted a language that had some meat to it, something completely different to anything I had ever studied and that I could get my teeth into. Even now, people often ask me why I chose Russian over, say, Chinese or Japanese, but really it came down to the fact that I find the Russian language more interesting linguistically (as daft as it sounds, I like the look of the alphabet, the way the language sounds, and the fact that Russian cases made German ones look simple!). A couple of language taster sessions later at open days and I decided Russian was for me. Being Sheffield-born (but not bred!) I visited the Sheffield open day and decided that this was the place for me. The course was varied, the staff and people friendly, and the beer cheap.
The first two years of the course flew by. The Russian course moved at a quick but manageable pace and you definitely felt that you were making progress as you tried to cram in as much as you could before heading off for your year abroad. (That’s the bit everybody really does a language degree for – or, at least, the reason I did!) I decided to spend my four months in Yaroslavl, a town about four hours away from Moscow (which sounds like a long way but by Russian standards it’s practically next door).
Once we got to Yaroslavl, I remember us pulling up in the darkness and seeing a huddle of women (our landladies) in their fur hats ready to collect us. I also remember having sudden (but fleeting!) doubts about my choice of Russian as a major language, as I skidded along behind my landlady and her daughter, desperately fumbling for my hat to fend off the minus-25°C February cold.
As cringe-worthy as it may sound, I definitely had some of the best experiences of my life in Russia. We were in uni from 9-2 every day and, after that, basically got let loose to do what we wanted. Most of us headed out to see what we could find and we managed to travel all over the place during our time off (we went to Moscow, St Petersburg, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod and more).
Our experiences basically happened in Russian and those of us who really wanted to make the most of it all came back with a level of Russian that we were very happy with and now had the confidence to use the language in real situations.
During final year thoughts turned to what was going to happen after graduation. I decided to go into law. I managed to get a job as a trainee solicitor with an international law firm and I start as a real employee in September 2014 (by which point the firm will have sponsored me through two years of law school). My employers were very keen on the fact that I’d studied languages, Russian in particular. In fact, every application form I’ve completed has asked about language skills - being able to put something more than GCSE French really makes you stand out, especially if it’s something like Russian. I’m really hoping to use my language skills once I start working and am fairly sure Russian is one of the main reasons I got hired in the first place!
Many graduate application processes also focus a lot on general competence and ability to cope in tricky situations. Being able to fondly reminisce about the friendly Russian militsia coming to visit you on suspicion of being a football hooligan, or not having hot water for a month because the pipes were being “fixed” really makes you stand out with employers - whether the job is directly related to Russian or not.
So, my choice of Russian as one of my major languages at Sheffield wasn’t random, although I’m still not completely sure why I chose it over other languages. But I loved my time studying it at Sheffield and living in Yaroslavl. And I know that it had a direct impact on me being able to pursue the career that I eventually decided on. ‘