Aston student blogger reporting from Austria

Christmas is everywhere! Birmingham is not the only place that can be proud of its beautiful Christmas market. Linz, the third-largest city in Austria, can also make you feel like Christmas was just a few days away. Beatrice from England has just had the chance to experience that first hand, enjoying Bauernkrapfen, berry punch and beautiful Christmas lights.

She is currently on her year abroad and has been blogging and vlogging about her experiences as a teaching assistant in Austria:

Guest Blogger: German@Aston student Marcus Begley on the many things you get out of a Year Abroad

img_5871I remember looking around Aston University on an open day, hearing about the compulsory Third Year Abroad and being terrified at the idea of spending up to a whole year in a foreign country. Yet before I knew it, as I was squeezing piles of clothes into a suitcase far too small, this prospect had become very real.

The Year Abroad experience begins early in second year, almost a whole year before actually beginning it. The fact that there are several options of how to spend a Year Abroad means that you really can build a Year Abroad around you – I was given the option of studying at a university, working for a German company or teaching English in a German school. After a little research I opted for the latter – I wanted to ‘test the water’ in terms of teaching and see if it was something I would like to do as a career and coupled with, not only the pay, but also the hours worked, this seemed the best option for me. Next up was to select where I would like to be placed. I chose my preferred three ‘Bundesländer’ and I was fortunate to receive my first choice – Bavaria.

bayernFollowing completion of second year, things started to feel very real. With only a few months before I literally moved country for nine months, I was feeling apprehensive. Over the summer I began searching for accommodation whilst also keeping in close contact with the schools I was to work at. My Year Abroad began early in September 2013 and safe to say, I was very nervous as I left England knowing I wouldn’t be returning until Christmas. My immediate impressions of Germany were very positive. Despite being initially overwhelmed by the language, and my lack of ability in speaking it, the culture is very similar to England and the people were, in total contrast to the largely upheld stereotype, really quite friendly.

Within a few months I felt I was beginning to find my feet in this new country and I was enjoying my work in the school(s!). As a native English speaker, I proved to be pretty popular with teachers and students alike and this made me feel very welcome. I was very surprised at just how high the standard of English is in Germany, considering it’s learnt as a second language. Many young students had better second language skills than I did! One great thing about my role as a British Council English Teaching Assistant was the amount of free time I got. I was able to use this time well and spent almost every weekend visiting somewhere new, whether that be a German city or a neighbouring country. I began to appreciate just how many amazing places and attractions Germany has to offer, whilst also really enjoying constantly improving my knowledge of German culture, history and lifestyle. Christmas time brought with it the opportunity to sample ‘real’ German Christmas markets for the first time, and this was just one particular highlight for me.

As I returned to Germany following the Christmas break, I felt easier knowing where I was going and what to expect. The second half of my Year Abroad just flew by, but once again, I feel I really made the most of it. Although I spoke a lot of English during my Year Abroad (which could be perhaps considered a disadvantage of the role of a Teaching Assistant), in the final few months before coming home, I really began to notice an improvement in my German language. In any European country, because of the high standard of English, for native English speakers it becomes fairly easy to get by without speaking a word of that countrys’ language. I really had to make an effort to ensure I did indeed speak German at every available opportunity but also found that simple things like reading newspapers and listening to radio, activities which require a little more effort back home in England, were good ways of practising.

At the end of the Year Abroad, without sounding too clichéd, I really did feel I was returning to the UK, a different person. A more mature, grown up, wiser person. Whilst the Year Abroad isn’t always easy, isn’t always fun (in fact at times it can be very lonely and challenging), it offers something that can’t be matched. From my Year Abroad, I’ve learnt that there is a lot more to teaching than meets the eye and it’s unlikely that I will be becoming a teacher anytime soon, but I’ve also learnt so much about people and cultures – And perhaps most reassuringly, my love for Germany has grown.

11.07.13-mjs_ft_study-abroad-3_23945506_586_366_80_s_c1The Third Year Abroad is something that Aston prides itself upon, especially in the language department. Yet it is only after doing a Year Abroad, having these wonderful experiences, developing and learning the way I have done, that I understand why the Year Abroad receives so much focus and emphasis. I’ve learnt that it is a vital part of a degree, and not just for language students. Obviously the development of language skills is a massive part of the Year Abroad for a language student and it is common knowledge that the best way to learn a language is to spend time in a country that speaks it as you are constantly surrounded by it and immersed in the culture of the language. But the independence, the confidence, the personal development and new skills that one learns through spending time abroad cannot be underestimated. Not only that, but the Year Abroad offers the chance to appreciate not only another culture, but equally, your own culture, in a way that is impossible without spending time surrounded by another.

Adventures of German a placement student

Our placement student Marcus is currently working as a British Council teaching assistant in Regensburg, Germany, and has been blogging about his experiences in the southern wilds of Germany for the past year. His latest post lists “50 things we’ve learned about the Germans” and covers a wide range of topics, from bikes to yoghurt, from Glühwein to Lederhosen. Here’s a taste of his post, to read more, simply follow the link at the bottom:

50 things we’ve learnt about the Germans

So after spending over 9 months here in Germany we feel qualified to share a few observations that we’ve made about Germans. Whilst Germany is really very similar to England, there are lots of cultural differences that struck us as noteworthy. We managed to narrow these differences down to 50 observations and below are a list of things we have noticed during our time here – things that we find good, bad, maybe just strange. We (Lois and I) hope you enjoy this post. (Obviously this post shouldn’t be taken too seriously and is a light hearted look at certain parts of German society and different behaviours. Some of these observations are sweeping generalisations and unfair stereotypes and we understand this – please don’t be offended!)

1.       Germans love ‘kaffee und kuchen’

‘Kaffee und kuchen’ or ‘Coffee and cake’ is an important part of the day for many Germans. No matter what day of the week, if you walk past a German café you are sure to see some people enjoying this traditional German pastime. Moreover, it is often the case that people enjoy ‘kaffee und kuchen’ several times a week, if not every day! We’re aware coffee and cake is also popular in the UK, but here you can’t walk down a high-street without passing several signs advertising this popular German afternoon affair. (We’ve come to understand why this is so popular – German cake is delicious!)

To find out more, click here!

Aston German Graduate Wins Prestigious Scholarship

Dr. Stefan Manz, Head of German and dissertation supervisor, congratulating Jekaterina on a student prize during the graduation ceremony in 2013
Dr. Stefan Manz, Head of German and dissertation supervisor, congratulating Jekaterina on a student prize during the graduation ceremony in 2013

Aston Graduate Jekaterina Grigorjeva awarded Euro 29,500 to do Master of Public Policy in Berlin

We are proud to announce a fantastic student achievement. Jekaterina graduated from our International Business and Modern Languages (German) programme in 2013. She writes about her grant, her aspirations, and the support she received from Aston:


Being a convinced European my biggest aspiration has always been to contribute to the development of the common European foreign policy. By winning the Future of Europe Stipend I am now able to hit the envisaged road by undertaking my studies in Master of Public Policy at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. I am expecting it to be a very intense, highly demanding degree, which should prepare me for the real world of policy making. Prior to the beginning of my studies in September 2014, I will be working for a member of the German Parliament on an International Parliamentary Scholarship provided by the German government to young people from 28 different countries.

After passing my final year exams at Aston in May 2013, I moved to Germany where I started my job in Mergers & Acquisitions at E.ON SE. After completing an acquisition project of a UK-based energy efficiency company I decided to move to Berlin to undertake a new position, also with E.ON, however in Political Affairs & Corporate Communications, where I am working at the moment.

I would have never been where I am now without the support of Aston University lecturers, who always believed in me. My applications have always been strong thanks to the recommendations and references I received from them. And even now, after I left Aston, I can still rely on valuable advice from my lecturers. I am also absolutely convinced that without the guidance from my dissertation supervisor during the final year of my studies I would have never remained as focused on my objectives as I am now.


Aston on tour – Das Auslandsjahr


As you might know, Aston University offers a wide range of opportunities to go abroad. This provides you with an excellent chance to get to know other cultures, improve your language skills, earn valuable work experiences and last but not least gain friends for life.

A stay abroad further offers you the chance to get an insight into the working culture of other countries. By doing a placement year in a German company, you will, for example, be able to tell whether German punctuality is reality or just a myth. You will also learn about work ethics and typical work environments. As an Erasmus student or as a teaching assistant you will get to know the German educational system and you will be  able to meet a lot of people your own age.

If you are an Aston student who is living in another country right now and writing a blog, feel free to send us the web address so that others can read about what you are doing and how you experience life in your new ‘Heimat’.

Some students already sent us a link to their blog, so take a look at what a placement year can be like:

Apprentice Contender and Aston Graduate Nick Holzherr to survive third round of the show

“German lecturers at Aston University are all proud to see Nick performing well on The Apprentice”, says Stefan Manz, Head of German. He was an outstanding student on our International Business and German programme, graduating with a First Class degree. During his four years with us he perfected all the skills that are necessary to do well in professional life: team-work, leadership, communicating, thinking outside the box – and he’s just a really nice guy. Go for it, Nick!

Nick studied International Business and Modern Languages at Aston from 2005-2009 and chose the university for its good ranking in graduate employability. He funded a society establishing business links with companies across the West Midlands, which soon became Aston’s biggest student’s society.

As part of his degree, Nick spent some time abroad on a placement in Germany, notably with Deutsche Bank, which gave him first-hand experience with international financial players. He then funded a coffee-business selling high-quality fair-trade coffee named “Go-go Coffee to Go”, the business-plan for which won him the American-German business plan competition. Since 2010, he ventured more into technology and advertisement, he is now linking mini-websites to advertisements via QR codes. Last year, Nick was awarded the title “Birmingham Young Business Personality of the Year”.


The Birmingham Post has recently published an article on the young entrepreneur from Aston: Read the article here.

Guest Blogger: John Rogerson

Personal Profile

Welcome to my guest blog entry avid blog readers! My name is John Rogerson and I am on my year abroad year as part of the International Business and Modern Languages (German) programme at Aston! I am currently pursuing a 1-year internship at E.ON IT working in the “Strategy and Change” function of the organisation.

Life @ E.ON IT

Back in August, I began my internship at E.ON IT in the Group Wide Planning & Solutions unit located in Düsseldorf. The purpose of this department is to support the IT system within E.ON, checking the performance of the IT system on a daily basis thorough Key Performance Indicators as well as making the necessary adjustments to deliver the best IT system possible to employees. A large proportion of my tasks were working with the computer software SAP. Though very technical, there was definite steep learning curve working in this department:

  • Speaking German all day every day – eventually starting to dream in German!
  • Learning the technical concepts within SAP – This was tough going, in both English and German.

Around November time, I decided that I wanted to see more of the E.ON business. I have always had a real enthusiasm for strategy during my studies at Aston and therefore wanted to experience this side of E.ON during my year abroad. After clarifying this with the relevant persons, I moved to Hannover in January and now work in Strategy & Change of the energy conglomerate. After 8 weeks in this department, I can safely say this is an area in which I would look to pursue a future career. Within my role, I am responsible for the communication of the IT strategy of E.ON as well as the roll out of the E.ON ITs Dragons Den concept in Eastern Europe. The E.ON ITs Dragons Den, based on the television programme featuring entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas in order to secure investment finance from a panel of venture capitalists, enables employees to transform any innovative ideas which will benefit the firm into a tangible reality.

When I compare the differences between E.ON IT in Düsseldorf and E.ON IT in Hannover, I would say there is a somewhat laissez faire approach in Hannover. The dress code is more relaxed and there is a stronger emphasis on networking with colleagues.  I would summarise that E.ON IT Düsseldorf is closer to the delineation of what one would call “the corporate culture” which has a strong emphasis on results compared to that of the more “collaborative culture” here in Hannover.

Life Outside of E.ON IT

One real advantage of the working world compared to studying is once you finish work at 6pm the evenings are yours!

With Germanys’ central location in Europe, I real wanted to use this year to see as much of Europe as possible. During my year abroad, I have visited places such as Vienna, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Munich (for the famous Oktoberfest) to name just a few. With the explosion of low cost budget airlines, it makes trips like this affordable. Before I leave for England in August, Zurich, Brussels & Dresden are on my places to see list!

At E.ON IT in Hannover, there is a large emphasis on the recruitment of Duale Studenten. These are basically students who are studying for a bachelor who spend half of their time between working at E.ON and studying at a university near to Hannover. During my time at E.ON, I have been able to meet and get to know lots of the students which has been great, not only to form friendships, but also speak German in a more informal setting outside of the working environment. When I am in Hannover at the weekends, there tends to be some form of a social event with the students which is always good fun.

If I had to name the best thing about Germany, besides the beer, it would have to the food! The more time I spend in Germany, the more attention I have to pay to my growing waistline. From the well known Bretzels and Schweinehaxe to the Christmas specialty Gänsekeule, Germany is a Carnivores’ paradise!

Closing Comments

In order to summarise my blog, I wanted to in a few bullet points explain what is to gain from a year abroad.

  • Deepens your language capabilities – As you speak the language and live the culture day in, day out, this can do nothing but bring positive results for your competency in the target language.
  • Builds your confidence – Being immersed in a new culture, forming new friendships and speaking a foreign language helps strengthen confidence and builds your self esteem.
  • Improves future job prospects – The integral year abroad is highly valued by many employees. And with that bilingual edge, the world is your oyster!

Student rage over government cuts

Student protests about the latest government cuts got out of control yesterday.

Thousands of students (an estimated number of 50,000) went to London to show their outrage about the government’s plans of raising tuition fees up to £10,000 a year.

In the beginning, the protest was peaceful but got out of hand when several protestors stormed Milbank Tower, the Conservatives’ party headquarters in Central London. The crowd destroyed the foyer’s windows and occupied parts of the building so that police had to evacuate it.

All in all, officials seemed to be unable to cope with the students’ resistance and it took them hours to control the situation.

Several protesters have been arrested and taken into custody.

The protest was the first reaction to the cuts announced by the government a few weeks ago.

What do you think about the protest and reactions? Is violence a necessary means to show your anger or do peaceful protests have to be enough?

Read more about Wednesday’s actions and watch a short news clip at Tagesschau.

British Council Assistantship Programme may become victim of spending cuts!

An unexpected – and potentially very damaging – consequence of the recent budget cuts to education has recently come to light: the Department for Education has suspended recruitment for the British Council Assistantship programme for 2011-12, which means that it is likely none of this year’s Second-Year students and those who come after them will be able to spend their Year Abroad teaching at German / French / Spanish schools. At Aston University alone, this would mean that about one third of Year Abroad placements would be lost.

An article in the Independent from Oct 23 explains that the “British Council, which runs the programme, was forced to suspend next year’s selection process following George Osborne’s budget cuts”. (Find the complete article here.)

In fact, as the British Council website says:

“Recruitment is not open for candidates in England and Wales (undergraduates studying languages at a university in England or Wales or independent applicants living in England or Wales). The Language Assistants programme is managed for England and Wales by the British Council on behalf of the Department for Education (DfE). As the programme is funded by the DfE, it is subject to the current government review of all public spending and at this stage we are unable to open recruitment for English Language Assistant placements in 2011-12. As soon as we are advised of the outcome by DfE, we will update the guidance on this site. Please return to this page to check on progress in due course.”

Academics from around the country are warning that the suspension of the British Council Assistantship programme could have disastrous effects for both the undergraduate student experience, since many modern language students spend their compulsive Year Abroad teaching at primary or secondary schools abroad, and for the future of modern language teaching in the UK, which was already hugely affected by the previous government’s decision to no longer require a modern foreign language at A-level and is now under threat by further cuts in education spending. Not all language students who spend their year teaching make teaching their career, but a good deal of them do go on to study for the Postgraduate Certificate in Primary or Secondary Education (PGCE), and for them, their experience of teaching abroad is invaluable as a basis for their later professional career. Among those who spent a year teaching abroad as part of the programme are former language assistants Fiona Bruce, Rory Bremner and J.K. Rowling.

If you want to support those who call for the DfE to reinstate the programme, there are various ways of voicing your support:

Please contact the DfE Public Enquiry Unit

Telephone: 0870 000 2288
Fax: 01928 794 248

You could also contact your MP or write to your MEP.

It has also been suggested that people (e.g. former language assistants or teachers who cooperate with schools abroad) should use their contacts with German/Austrian schools to ask them to send letters of support of the Assistantship scheme to the Department for Education or the British Council. They should fax their letter to the DfE Public Enquiry Unit at: +44-1928 794 248.

We have asked our students to comment on this worrying new development – so watch this space and leave your own comments!

Sorry, non comprendo, I’m British

Andrew McDermott’s Interview in Times Higher Education

Our third-year IBML student Andrew McDermott, who is currently doing his internship at the Deutsche Bank AG in Frankfurt, was interviewed by Matthew Reisz last week, from The Times Higher Education ( In a special report on Britain’s linguistic skills gap, Matthew Reisz discovers that, globally speaking, Brits are missing out.

Andrew McDermott has published some reflections about learning and studying German on our blog. He especially writes about the importance of language skills in everyday communication as well as in modern business contexts. Andrew thinks that many British pupils are unmotivated to learn languages because of the rigid specifications of exam boards. Moreover, he wonders, “why the overwhelming advantages aren’t explained, drilled in even, to the pupils learning, or thinking of learning, a foreign language at school”.

For him, learning German has always been great: “summer courses abroad, meeting countless new foreign friends and a chance to really get to know a foreign culture and society (…)”. But he also thinks that languages offer great carrier opportunities and open new doors. Pupils should be made aware of that as early as possible.

Read Andrew’s post here.