Maria-Valentina Bruns graduated from her European Studies (German) BA (Hons) in 2018. Here she tells us about student life in the School of European Culture and Languages (SECL).

What do you like about the School of European Culture and Languages (SECL)?

Everyone in SECL is very welcoming and supportive. From the outset, I felt that I had a support network of staff who I could talk to if I needed help. I think that is one of the best things about SECL.

Why did you choose European Studies?

I love languages and have always enjoyed learning them but I wanted to challenge myself by studying a new area. In European Studies, you study comparative politics, the politics of Brexit and of the EU, alongside the language and culture modules for your chosen language, in my case German. I have enjoyed the course and I think the different skills I’ve gained will help improve my employability.

You have been very involved in school life; tell us about that.

I was a School Rep and a Student Ambassador for the School. School Reps are elected by students in the School and represent the views of all students in various committees and meetings. You lobby for things that students want, for example we fought for a student common room and now we have one, which is great.

One project I’m very proud of is the SECL Tandem Language Exchange, which I set up with help from staff in the School. It pairs language students with native speakers of the language they are studying. I speak Spanish so I meet with a student who wants to practise her Spanish. The Exchange has worked well so far and my successor as school rep is keen to keep it going.

As a Student Ambassador, I work with other SECL ambassadors at Open Days and other events. It’s a great way to meet other students and has definitely helped to broaden my understanding of the School. 

I also represented SECL students at Faculty meetings. At first, being in a meeting with quite senior people at the University was quite daunting but as my understanding of SECL and what SECL students want grew, I felt more confident about speaking up and making my case. I loved the experience and I’ve learnt a lot.

What’s the best thing about SECL?

I love the staff; they’re brilliant and their obvious passion for their subjects is inspiring. Our classes are quite small so we get to know our lecturers well. I know that if, in the future, I need to ask for a reference that it will be a personal one, not just a template. The administrative staff are lovely too, helpful and welcoming. You know you can go to them if you have a problem. Of course, I’ve also made great friends in SECL.

What would you change about SECL?

Overall, I think students in the School are satisfied and the School is very good at asking us what we think and listening to what we have to say. Recently, I emailed the Head of School about an issue and he got back to me straightaway and suggested we meet the next day. I think that says a lot about SECL; they make time for you which gives you confidence in the School.

Do you think there is a sense of community within the School?

I do. There’s always lots going on. Attending talks in other subject areas can be fascinating and definitely broadens your horizons. I went to a talk about translating which was really interesting and the School also holds employability fairs. There’s a peer mentoring scheme which worked well for me. And our new common room will be a great place for students to meet.

When we graduate SECL is hosting a lunch for us in the Rose Garden, which is cool. As a student, it’s nice to know that from the beginning to the end the School wants you to feel that you are a part of the community – I definitely feel that I belong, I’m even wearing my SECL hoodie!

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