Городской вуз международного партнерства / Государственная лицензия АБ 0137478
Международная аккредитация ACBSP (США) / Институциональная и специализированная аккредитация НКАОКО (Казахстан)

Taylor Solway

THE USEFULNESS OF THE YEAR ABROAD SCHEME

Taylor SolwayCambridge Year Abroad Student at the Kazakh-American Free University Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan

One of the main reasons I wanted to do a degree in Russian and German at Cambridge University was because of the belief held by the university that spending time abroad to help with language study needed to be an integral part of doing a degree in modern languages. Little did I know as I applied to do advanced German and beginner’s Russian in 2002 that three years later I would find myself at the Kazakh-American Free University (KAFU) in Ust Kamenogorsk for twelve months! After spending two months here I am more convinced than ever that Cambridge University’s policy of sending language students abroad for their third year is a good idea. I aim to discuss here the details of the scheme in general, why I think the scheme is helpful as part of a four year undergraduate degree and the specific benefits reaped from spending a year working with KAFU.

In order to understand Cambridge University’s year abroad scheme, it is important to look at the nature of the degree in Modern and Medieval Languages (MML) as a whole. Unlike in Kazakhstan, where students specialise in translation and interpreting or teaching foreign languages at undergraduate level, the Cambridge MML degree aims to be a much broader and more general degree. Everyone specialises in two languages initially, but over the course of the degree it is possible to lean more heavily towards just one language. The course has a very broad scope and each individual student is given a large amount of choice of what to specialise in. We have language classes (grammar, listening, speaking, reading and writing), translation in and out of the languages studied and courses in literature, history, philosophy and linguistics. One of the main reasons the scope of the degree is able to be so large is because of the year abroad. It is taken for granted that a lot of the burden of  language acquisition work can fall on the year abroad, thus freeing up space for us to specialize heavily in the non-linguistic aspects of the languages studied for the three years in which we are in Cambridge itself. The belief is that what takes months of learning in a classroom setting may take just days or weeks in a native speaker setting. It is assumed that the students will gain fluency, accuracy and idiom while overseas, so that attention can be shifted to literature, history and philosophy while we are at Cambridge. While in Cambridge, I have been able to take courses in Russian Literature from Kievan Rus’ to the Emancipation of the Serfs, Structures and Varieties of German and an Introduction to Linguistic Theory as well as language classes because here I can focus on the practical side of language learning.

The aims of the year abroad are two-fold, namely to gain fluency and accuracy in the language spoken in the country you have chosen to go to, and to gain an understanding of the history, culture and mindset of the people in your country. It is the task of the student to find a placement either teaching English, studying at a university or doing work experience. Over the course of the year we are required to do a dissertation or translation project as well. At the end of our year abroad we will also have an important oral exam and written exam in the language studied. It will also be expected that we will have acquired a large enough vocabulary to face a very challenging translation exam.

For my year abroad I decided to come to both study and teach at KAFU for 13 months for several reasons. Firstly, I had noticed that I had not had a chance to hear the whole story about the Russian-speaking world at Cambridge, as teachers were tending to focus on Russia itself, in particular, on St Petersburg and Moscow. I wanted to find out about what was going on in the parts of the Russian-speaking world that are not always making the headlines. I also was wanted to see how Russian culture merges with Central Asian culture, and attitudes towards the Russian language in an ex-Soviet republic. This and much more had grabbed my interest. KAFU sounded like a good place to come to, as I would have the opportunity both to teach and study here, with a system already in place for receiving foreign staff.

Although I have only been here for little over two months, I am already starting to see personal benefits of the year abroad scheme. I have been teaching English Speaking and Listening to students on the American Program, and this has given me a good opportunity to get to know students here, and to share our ideas and viewpoints on topics covered in class. It is often when I am explaining something about British and American culture that I gain an insight into Kazakh culture from the reactions I get from my students!

I also consider it a real privilege to be able to go along to linguistics classes in Russian at KAFU.  Although they are challenging, they are certainly helping me with my Russian skills, particularly in understanding academic Russian. The small class size is also ideal- with a group of five students, it is easier to ask for help and participate in the lessons. Due to the very nature of linguistics, it has been useful for us as a class to compare different aspects of the nature of English with Russian. I am also pleased because what I am learning about the structure and varieties of Russian here will be very helpful in my final year of study at Cambridge where I plan to do courses in the History of the Russian Language and Comparative Linguistics of Slavonic Languages.

There has been lot more to my Year Abroad so far though than just studying and teaching at KAFU Language cannot be learned from a textbook alone, rather it is a means by which people interact with each other and build up meaningful relationships. Relationships with students and teachers that are beginning to extend beyond the classroom are giving a purpose to my study of Russian, as the language becomes a means by which I form friendships with people here and grow in an understanding of and appreciation for the culture. It is in living day in, day out with a fellow teacher at KAFU that I am having an opportunity to practice my Russian whilst learning about the way of life here. As we share ideas inside and outside the classroom I believe I, for one, am being helped to see what it really means to be a global citizen. The fear of an unknown culture is slowly turning to acceptance and appreciation of a different but equally valid culture. I believe I will leave KAFU taking a lot more with me than just language skills, but rather, going as a different person, affected by every aspect of life here.

It is clear that the year abroad scheme has great academic merit, as language students immersed in a foreign language for a year cannot help but improve in their language skills. However, the scope of the year abroad scheme goes well beyond that. While spending a year abroad, students are able to reap the rewards of the long and hard hours they have spent in the classroom or with head in the dictionary. At last they have a chance to use their language skills to build up cross-cultural friendships and an understanding of a different culture that they will take with them for life. Far from being an end in itself, language provides a doorway for them into previously undiscovered worlds.

2005 year

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