Q&A with Kelsey Suggitt

Kelsey is a student at the University of Portsmouth studying BA (Hons) Combined Modern Languages. She has just started her Year Abroad and is spending the first semester in Murcia, Spain and the second semester in Aix-en-Provence, France.

Here, she talks about what led her to choosing her dissertation topic – the Assimilation of the Pieds Noirs (the colonists of French Algeria until Algeria gained independence in 1962) into French society after the Algerian War – and how she finds her language content modules and studying languages at uni.

How and why did you choose Portsmouth?

I typed ‘languages’ into the UCAS search and looked for all the universities on the South Coast because I knew I wanted to be there. Portsmouth offered this course which gave me the chance to do French and another language, so I chose Spanish.

Did you start Spanish from scratch?

Yes, and after two years I’m now technically fluent.

Did you consider the content units when you looked at courses?

Not at all, I just knew I wanted to do French and I wanted to go on a Year Abroad-that was it!

What modules do you enjoy?

I love the history modules. I did History A-level and afterwards thought ‘I’m never going to use this again’ but actually I have! I mainly chose History units as I would like to become a historical writer, a profession I never would have considered before university.

What module did you enjoy but thought you wouldn’t?

French History from 1931 to 1962, I really enjoyed it as we learnt about World War II but focused on the Vichy Regime and De Gaulle when he suddenly came along and made a speech about how history was written and re-written over and over again. It was good not to learn about the Germans and the British and the Home Front for once!

What led you to choosing this topic for your dissertation?

I took a French history module where immigration came up, and then it kept popping up again and again in other modules, especially the pieds noirs. It twigged that I enjoyed learning about these people because they don’t exist in any other culture due to the way French immigration works and I just wanted to learn more about them.

What lecture or seminar sticks out in your mind?

One on 5th Republic of France. A group of us were sat discussing the essay questions and the lecturer was telling us about how neurotic French historians really were and how normal our ‘crazy’ lecturers were in comparison. It was a light-bulb moment as I’d been told at school ‘uni lecturers won’t talk to you, you don’t get close to them or have the same relationship as you do with a teacher’ but it’s not true. Uni lecturers value the hard-workers and those who are really interested in their course topics, you just have to go to them; they don’t come to you.

How do you manage the workload?

I go to every single lecture and seminar as I worked out that it cost me about £100 a week! That way it’s not so bad if I don’t do all the reading. I tend to skim read the chapter to get the gist of it. I only go into the nitty gritty bits for essays or if I have time. I’ve found I work well under pressure, especially when the deadline nears for an essay.

How many hours did you do?

About 18 hours a week last year and 2-3 of them were independent study. I was part of the women’s rugby team, too so that took up my evenings.

Where do you work best?

In the library. I always go there to write essays and work as I can sit and zone out. I get loads done just by finding somewhere quiet.

What has been the best part of your degree so far?

Being able to choose exactly what I want to do. I have to do French language, Spanish language and a dissertation but the flexibility of a language degree means I can choose anything for the other modules from French and Spanish history to Politics and Economics. I try to make my modules linked to what I want to do but I also aim to broaden myself which is why I chose Philosophy.

Did you have any previous cultural knowledge before studying your unit?

No, I didn’t have a clue! But I figured it out quickly, because the lecturers are passionate about helping us understand the way they think, not just cultural basics. For example, my Spanish teacher told me not to eat or lick my fingers in the street as apparently it’s disgusting. Whilst in Spain a few months later I found myself walking down the street eating a bag of crisps! It dawned on me and I thought ‘I’m doing this all wrong’ and put them away immediately. But if you look as you walk down a Spanish street she was completely right – they don’t eat as they walk!

What do you plan to do in the future?

Become a historical writer which involves writing for journals. After my degree I’m going to do a PGCE so I can teach part-time to fund the master’s and PhD I need to do to be a historical writer. I’ve already chosen to do my master’s in Francophone Africa at Portsmouth.

Does the requirement of extra study to be a historical writer put you off?

Not at all. I figured it’s what I really want to do so it’s worth doing properly!

Uni lecturers value the hard-workers and those who are really interested in their course topics, you just have to go to them; they don’t come to you.