A life of adventure and learning awaits for MRes graduate, Sophie.
Following on from the Meet our Graduates series earlier this year, we wanted to introduce you to Sophie Stevens who has recently completed her MRes.
Sophie’s journey started with the University of Portsmouth in 2016. She went on to complete BA (Hons) English Literature in 2020 and returned for her MRes.
In September, Sophie had a fresh start and returned to explore more of Germany after having successfully applied to the British Council for their highly competitive Teaching English Abroad Scheme. We met with her to hear all about her latest adventure living abroad and what the future holds:
I was a shrinking violet in my first year and seldom went to clubs and bars. I preferred instead to stay inside and focus on my work, reading and writing my time away. As a literature lover, I enjoyed it.
Come second year, I became more social, joining societies and meeting many more new friends than I had during the first year. I began to appreciate the social side of university a lot more and the growth in mental well-being that comes with having people to talk to. This appreciation of a social network grew ever further with my exchange year abroad to Germany. I had a limited amount of time with my new friends that I had met over there so I took the opportunity to see them multiple times a week. We partied hard and lived young!
My third year was as quiet as the first, however. Mostly because I now had a dissertation to focus on but also because the coronavirus pandemic hit a while later, so I was shut off from these social events. I was back reading and writing alone and loving it as much as I always had.
My exchange trip to Germany
The idea to take an exchange trip to Germany was quite impulsive since I had never so much as taken a holiday abroad before going, so I took the chance to spend nine whole months in the city of Kiel in the northeast. It took a great deal of courage to take that step and many people would not be open to such a lifestyle change, especially those as shy as I was at the time. It was too good an opportunity to pass up so I flew out in late August 2018 and could not speak a word of German before deciding to go. I experienced mild culture shock but, surprisingly, no homesickness which was a sign that it was a good choice to have gone on the exchange.
I took part in a month-long German intensive course through September 2018. This not only vastly improved my language skills, but I also met a group of friends from all over Europe. Within the first few weeks, we had hosted dinner parties and cooked a meal each from our culture. I made a full English breakfast (using German sausages, but one must use what’s at their disposal!) This was a great experience and I gained a lot of cultural awareness that I had previously lacked.
Alongside socialising and studying Law, I took the opportunity to travel. I visited various cities in the north of Germany, including Schleswig, Lübeck, Hamburg and Berlin. I also visited the Bergen-Belsen memorial camp in Celle. This was such a profound experience and set me up well to write my dissertation on Holocaust literature upon my return to England for my third year.
My MRes research was based upon popular culture depictions of the Auschwitz concentration camp in literature. My project focused on how Holocaust education in England suffered because of cheap and inaccurate depictions of the Holocaust in popular literature, and how the marketing of these books attracts readers further to these substandard books, while they reject true-to-life memoirs which adhere much closer to the historical reality.
Teaching English Abroad scheme
In December 2021, I applied for the British Council - Teaching English Abroad scheme. The process was fairly simple. They asked why I wished to go on the placement and what they expected I might gain from it. I referred back to my German exchange trip and how my language skills and cultural awareness had grown exponentially while there. I explained that I wished to go back to Germany to improve my language skills further and also to enjoy more of the country – there is so much history there!
Teaching is something I know I’ll be good at since I love sharing knowledge and enthusiasm for everything and anything. By applying for a teaching assistantship in Germany, I could have the best of both worlds – teaching and travel! I found out in mid-May 2021 that I had been accepted to teach in a school in Rheinland - the complete opposite end of the country to where I was in 2018 during my Erasmus year. In September, I made the move and started my new job.
I’m loving it so far and it’s nice to be in another part of the country. It's been a bit of a challenge to become accustomed to the different accent (it's much harsher in the South), but I'm learning fast. I'm even subconsciously picking up the accent, changing from my usual "high German" to the harsher sounds of the Rheinland. It makes me feel more settled in, though, so it's quite a blessing. The culture is as I remember it from a few years ago - lots of coffee and cake dates and a keen focus on cycling and keeping fit!
My new job is also great. I work in a 'Gymnasium', which is sort of like a secondary school. The youngest class I take is the 5th grade (10 year olds) and they're adorable. Their English is already quite good and they have lots of questions for me about myself and England. The oldest class I take is the 11th grade (16-17 years old) and their English is much more advanced, since they're sitting their A-Level equivalent. In these classes, we discuss much more in-depth topics, such as the political situation in England, the effects of Brexit on England and Europe and various other cultural things. I recently created a presentation all about tea and, of all the outlandish and surreal things I've done in my life - being a British person in a foreign country giving a 40-minute PowerPoint presentation about tea was definitely the most metaphysical thing I've ever done. I caught myself halfway through and realised I was actually quite excited to be doing that - I have definitely fulfilled this long-standing stereotype on behalf of England!
My favourite thing so far has been enjoying all the German snacks I used to enjoy before. There are these little chocolate-dipped wafers called "Schoko Waffel-Röllchen" (literally: little chocolate waffle rolls) which come in a carton of about 20. Guaranteed, by the time I've put my grocery shopping away, the box is half-empty already - they're delightful!
In 2023, I hope to have made progress on my creative endeavours. I'm a creative writer in my spare time, working on all sorts of things such as poetry and short stories. The reason I was keen to take a part-time job at the moment was to give myself the free time to truly devote myself to this. I hope 2023 brings prosperity in this regard and I can look into publishing some things I've been working on for years.
Besides that, I am leaning towards applying for a PhD and this partly influenced my desire to return to Germany. My MRes specialism was Holocaust Literature and I've conveniently ended up in a part of the country with a rich Jewish history so I might find some inspiration here in the coming months.