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!


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!

Linguamania at the Museum

Consider this phrase: Creative Multi-lingualism. So many things right with every single part of this!  It’s also the name of a new, exciting, and high-profile project between six top UK and US universities, led by our very own, ever-enthusiastic language champion, Katrin Kohl.

Linguamania – going mad for languages

Harry Potter and the ‘Rosetta Stone’ – students rewrite a children’s classic

Creative Multilingualism kicked off in style with Linguamania – another great name! On 27 January, the venerable Ashmolean Museum in Oxford pulled out all the stops – and even the disco lights! – for this packed “Live Friday” event, celebrating all things language with music, theatre, taster sessions, and interactive art. Language-lovers of all ages enjoyed writing a new, multilingual Harry Potter chapter, laughed as Ovid’s Apollo chased Daphne to Benny Hill music, and hummed-and-drummed away to Samba rhythms, before writing their own name in Elvish. Yes, Elvish! Should you ever have moaned that “young people just don’t care about languages these days” – well, Linguamania would have persuaded you otherwise in a second. Local schools arrived by the busload, and students took naturally to getting creative around languages. Some even felt a touch of poetic inspiration: “Learning a language is like a rollercoaster, because it’s fun – especially with friends!”, says a Year 9 student. His friend chips in: “A foreign language is the key to a whole new world!”

Languages – ticking all the boxes?

Multilingual metaphors are discussed at the conference

How to get other young people on board with the idea that languages are a massively useful skill was a recurring theme the following day during the partner conference, Languages and Creativity. The state of languages in UK schools caused debate on-(and particularly off-)podium. “Languages are taught so badly in our schools,” some complained. “These days it’s all just about ticking boxes!” Not everybody agreed: “Let’s not blame exams, or teachers, or kids. The hard work, dedication, creativity, and enthusiasm that goes on in language teaching (and learning!) in our schools is truly awesome. Yes, we need to highlight this fact, and yes, we need to foster languages – but mainly we need to support each other in our common goal.” On one thing, though, we’re definitely all on the same page: Languages – ticking all the boxes!

Pig oder Schwein, das ist die Frage! Multilingual metaphor in action!

To find out more about Creative Multilingualism, and to follow the project on Twitter and Facebook, go to

Heike Krüsemann, OGP Coordinator

To sign up for Heike’s newsletter ‘Joining up German teaching in the UK’ – top tips, events and resources from the world of German teaching, click here; to see past newsletter editions click here.







Wust – one letter away from ‘Wurst’ and ‘Wüste’

Back in Februrary, on the way to our Kneipenquiz at a local school, OGN Coordinator Nicola discovered that one of our Ambassadors, Chris, had spent his summer in a place she knew very well indeed – in Wust.  Where?  Wust.  (I’ll leave Chris to explain…)  Between us we have spent three summers in Wust and wanted to take the opportunity to introduce this wonderful little place to a wider audience, and hopefully persuade more students to make the journey Wust-wards. Over to Chris…

Nestled deep in the countryside of Saxony-Anhalt, Wust is a small village in the former East Germany. That description generally draws some pretty bemused looks, and you’re probably wondering what the attraction could be for your average 20-year-old student. Well, I’ve now spent two pretty incredible summers in Wust, and have every intention of going back for a third time –  this post hopefully will give some idea of what is so special about the place!

This tiny village just west of Berlin comes alive for four weeks in July and August, when it hosts the Sommerschule Wust. Every summer, hundreds of Germans (the Teilnehmer) flock to Wust, keen to learn English. The summer school is open to all, from eight-year olds to eighty-year olds, from absolute beginners to fluent English teachers. They come from all over, mainly from ‘die neuen Bundesländer’ but also from as far away as Düsseldorf and even the Ivory Coast!

Leafy, sleepy Wust, home of the Sommerschule Wust

And who teaches them? This pleasure falls to a team of teachers (Dozenten) drawn (mostly) from Oxford, Cambridge and Brown Universities. The Dozenten are a very mixed bunch, usually, but not always, language students, with a variety of skills and interests, covering everything from highland dancing to macro-economics.  There’s no Wust ‘type’, and everyone quickly forms lasting friendships. The Dozenten live with local families – a great opportunity to sample German cuisine (yes, there is more to it than potatoes and pork!) and to practise your German.

A typical day in Wust starts bright and early with Morgenappell at 08:45 before the first lesson starts at 09:00. Teilnehmer have three language classes every morning, each with a different Dozent. You’re free to teach whatever and however you like, as long as it gets the class speaking English! In the afternoon, we offer a variety of ‘workshops’ about different topics. There are some which run every year, such as ‘Road Trip Around the UK/USA’, Film, ‘Dancing with the Stars’, Choir, and Literature, but there is also plenty of room for new innovations, depending on your interests – hence Salsa, Scottish Politics, and Euclidean Geometry were also on offer in 2016.

The highlight of the day is usually the evening activities on the Sportplatz. Each evening has a theme – such as 4th July or ‘British Day’ – and there’s always sufficient opportunity to make a fool of yourself playing volleyball or learning ceilidh dancing, while eating more Wurst and drinking more beer than you thought humanly possible! Rehearsals for the bilingual theatre production also take place in the evening: the Summer School’s annual play is something of a community event in the local area. Both Teilnehmer and Dozenten take to the stage for what is always an incredible production.

Teilnehmer at the Sommerschule Wust gather at the Sportplatz to enjoy the evening activities

You may be wondering why such a small village hosts such a big event. It all came about as the result of the efforts of Maria von Katte, who is now something of a local celebrity. Frau von Katte gained her D.Phil (doctorate) at St Hugh’s College, Oxford in the 1960s, and, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, returned to her familial homeland, determined to help the local community adapt to life post-Wende. The first Summer School was planned as a small course for local teachers run by two professors and a handful of students. Yet interest proved so great that it quickly evolved into two three-week courses, each for 200 Teilnehmer, run by three Professors and 30 Dozenten! The organisers had no doubt that the Summer School would catch on, owing to its informal and innovative atmosphere.  Indeed, last year, Wust celebrated its 25th anniversary, and it looks set to continue for another 25 years in pretty much the same spirit. Not least because once you’ve been, few can resist the temptation of going back – some of the Teilnehmer have been coming almost every year since 1991!

So, to summarise – Wust: found in the middle of a Wüste, famous for its Wurst, and an experience I would heartily recommend. We’ll be recruiting once again from Oxford this year – keep an eye out for the adverts around February time!

 Chris Ellison, 3rd-year French and German, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford

[Although the text and all its imperfections are my own, I must give credit to two true ‘Wusties’ for their help: Scott Usatorres for his excellent photos and Michael Laver for the punny title.]