Life after German Studies – Teil 3!

This week, in our last blog post in this series, two more graduates of German Studies talk about their experiences and choices after finishing their studies, which have taken them in very different directions.

20170404_182728 (2)Sarah Sheppard

I chose French, German, English and History for A Level and was completely torn about which combination to choose for university, until I realised that studying modern languages meant I could combine all four quite easily.

Languages beyond GCSE suddenly meant more than vocabulary lists, grammar, food, and trips. It meant studying literature, history, politics, philosophy, culture. I did as eclectic  a mix of these as possible when studying French and German (and a little bit of Dutch) at Cambridge, where I met all kinds of interesting people and also got to spend three incredible summers teaching English at a summer school in rural former East Germany (Sommerschule Wust – see the recent OGN blog post). I spent my year abroad in Vienna, where besides eating cake, I also studied Swedish and History at the university there.

Having specialised in German, I then spent a year in French-speaking Switzerland, teaching English in several rural secondary schools.  I was living just half an hour from German-speaking cantons, however, so I got very good at switching between two languages and also picked up some Swiss German. After that I did a Master’s degree in modern languages at Oxford where I got to use my French and German for research, including handling books first published in the eighteenth century.

Eventually I decided classrooms were way more fun than libraries as I spent part of my time as Master’s student helping out at a local secondary school once a week.  So I stayed on at university to do a PGCE (just one of many routes into teaching), which made me think hard about how people actually learn languages and how to inspire the next generation of linguists. I now teach both French and German at a state secondary school, where I get to use both my languages every day, where I am never, ever bored, and where I get to pass on my love of all things Deutsch and français.

 

20170404_182728 (2).jpgIvo Brook

I didn’t take the what are perhaps the stereotypically expected paths of a language graduate when I left university (I studied History & German at Sheffield University) – neither teaching nor translation work really appealed to me. After an MA in Creative Industries in London, I worked my way through a stint as a researcher for a legal directory and somehow a job or so later found myself working as a B2B conference producer – first in IT and then aviation engineering. But the door to this career was opened by my degree in German. Despite English being the lingua franca of most industries, many events are still conducted in the local language and I started with a focus on DACH-area events [DACH = Germany (D), Austria (A), Switzerland (CH)]. This has led to a career that takes me on trips to various corners of the world each year – and while I may not be using my German on a daily basis, the stereotype of the German engineer is not dead and I have plenty of opportunities to practise.

Many thanks to all of the contributors to this series of blog posts. Have you recently graduated with a degree in German or you took German as part of your degree? Or did you learn German later? Tell us about why you studied German and where it has taken you now – we’d love to hear from you! Comment below or email the OGN team!

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More Life after a German degree…

Thinking about studying German at university?  Already a Germanist and wondering where your degree might take you?  Last week we heard from two recent graduates – this week we find out from two more graduates about the importance of German and languages in what they have done after finishing their degrees.  

 

20170329_115314Sarah-Jane Legge

Studying German at Oxford is challenging. There are no two ways about it.  Or at least that’s what I found in my four years there.  Sometimes I wanted to scream and cry and pull my hair out and quite frankly just pack it in when I just didn’t get it.  But those years were also the best four years of my life where I got to delve into another language’s literature and discover great stories and poems, find new favourite writers (I genuinely still read Rilke’s poetry), and battle (sometimes fruitlessly!) with translations.  It might sound corny but my German tutorials were also somewhere I found great friends, where we supported one another through hard times, both academic and otherwise, came out the other side, and are still going strong.  I also had the chance to call Berlin my home for six of the most amazing months of my life during my year abroad.  Although (sadly) I do not work in a job where I get to use my German, I do work in one where I speak and write French (the other language I toiled away at in Oxford) on a daily basis.  Whilst I may not use German in my day to day life, it is my languages degree that got me where I am today.  It has made me more confident, more determined and taught me to believe in myself so that I finally (and rather tardily) realised that I actually love studying, just in time to embark on another degree.

Alex R.

Unlike most of the other contributors to this blog, I didn’t take a degree in German. Instead I studied chemistry, though having taken German as one of my A-level subjects and with a longstanding fascination for languages, I made sure to keep developing my knowledge of German during my spare time and I was fortunate to have the option of taking a German paper as part of my Finals. This all came in rather handy when I stayed on for a doctorate and found myself working for a German academic in a field where most of the other leading researchers were also German. Although they (mostly) spoke excellent English and published their work in English, having knowledge of their own native language definitely helped me to win “brownie points” and also made networking at conferences that bit easier!
20170329_115314After my DPhil was over I left academia and qualified as a patent attorney, which is a fascinating crossover between the worlds of science, law, and language.  Much of my work involves corresponding with the European Patent Office, which is based in Munich, to argue the merits of my own clients’ patent applications and to defend them against challenges by the Patent Office or by competitors.  I also advise my clients about the validity of their own competitors’ patents and file challenges against those at the Patent Office.  The three official working languages of the European patent system are English, German, and French and, while it’s not essential, it’s definitely helpful to have a working knowledge of at least two of the three. It’s very common to encounter legal, scientific, or industrial documents written in German and being able to read them without the need for a translation is a real time-saver. As part of my job I also attend oral hearings where the merits of a case are argued in person and, while I will always speak in English, I often find myself up against German attorneys who opt to work in their own native language. To be able to understand their submissions without the need for simultaneous interpretation is a definite advantage.
I should point out that having a science degree is a prerequisite to qualify as a patent attorney.  However, my work also brings me into contact with barristers and solicitors specialising in intellectual property, who carry out overlapping or complementary work to my own and who are not required to have a scientific background. The closely related career of a trade mark attorney is also worth considering if you are a language student interested in a legal career and have less of a scientific bent: this is another truly international field of law, in which knowledge of more than one language is a definite asset. In addition to this, many trade mark cases can hinge on an understanding of the impression or meaning that a particular word in one language might convey to a native speaker of another, and so having a good knowledge of phonology and comparative linguistics can be extremely helpful here.
Check out next week’s blog for more insights into the paths German Studies graduates have taken! Have you recently graduated with a degree in German or you took German as part of your studies – or maybe you learned German later in life? Let us know about your experiences and where it has taken you: comment below or send us an email!

Life after a German degree…

Thinking about studying German at university?  Already a Germanist and wondering where your degree might take you?  We caught up with some recent graduates who all studied German, and asked them about their memories of the subject, what they are doing now and how their German degree has helped them in their career so far.  

Laura Probodziak

Since graduating from Oxford with a first class degree in German, I have been extremely grateful to have put the traumatic experience of final exams and the often last minute panic of essay submission firmly behind me. However, since then I have been teaching German – with some French – at various secondary schools in London, and so it has been me inflicting deadlines and assessments on students, which has been an interesting turning of tables! I use German every day in my job as a teacher, which I love. I often find myself referring to the Middle High German (medieval) manifestations of various words or digressing into the cultural heritage of certain idioms: knowledge I gathered during the course of my degree. I even find myself promoting the very course I undertook, bringing students on open days and sharing my experience of Oxford with them. I have also helped with writing personal statements and interview practice – something I never thought I would revisit. Eventually, I hope to return to the world of academia and undertake further German studies, and I have Oxford and the German faculty to thank for piquing my interest, but until then I am and will be reminded every day how useful my degree is to my job and what I can offer the next generation of undergraduates.

 

Sheldonian Cake
The Sheldonian Theatre – where most Oxford students graduate – in cake form!

Ellie

Studying languages (French and German) at university gave me the confidence to live and work abroad. This in itself opened new doors for me and through meeting people from all over Germany and Europe I was able to set myself up as a freelance translator and learn all sorts of vital skills in the process. In the past six months my working life has changed quite dramatically as I recently took on a position in data management, but oddly enough I still use my German regularly as some of our main customers work in Cologne. Studying a language opens doors all over the world; the tricky thing is choosing where you want to go next!

 

Where did your German studies take you professionally and personally? Tell us about it in the comments below!