Review: Languages and Diplomacy Careers Conference



Sarah Jack

On Tuesday 25th October, language students and polyglots alike gathered in Parliament Hall to attend the School of Modern Languages conference: Languages and Diplomacy. The conference’s panel was made up of five speakers all with varying experiences and backgrounds in languages, through which each has applied their linguistic knowledge to diplomatic careers in very different ways.

The first speaker, Dr Tomasz Kamusella, a lecturer of Modern History here at the University, recounted his story of upbringing and education in Poland during a highly politically charged period for the country, and of his work in court interpreting before continuing his academic career.

Paul Kaye, Languages Officer at the European Commission, has worked with the EU in Belgium for many years, having begun his career there translating various Slavic languages picked up during his time working in English teaching in Slovenia. Currently operating through the EU outreach programme, he provided students with a presentation on EU jobs and employment opportunities during the conference, a highly interesting and informative experience for those attending, despite forthcoming Brexit limitations on British citizens.

Thirdly, St Andrews graduate John Edward spoke about both his previous work in the Scottish European Parliament’s Office and current work as director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools. He spoke very positively about the usefulness of languages across many work domains, and finished by sharing his own experience of learning three foreign languages purely through emersion experiences, and assuring us all that language learning “is like riding a bike”.

Emmanuel Cocher optimised his diplomacy skills, making the entire audience laugh with tales of his early interest in diplomacy, including formally addressing the cars passing outside his grandparents’ house in France at the age of ten and his first experience of the UK during a school exchange, in which he learned the hard way about cultural adaptation when he was caught with his head in his host family’s bread tin. He went on to highlight the vast array of work available through diplomacy and insisted the importance of an early start in the field for those serious about pursuing a diplomatic career.

The final speaker, Alasdair Gordon-Gibson, outlined his adventure between leaving St Andrews with an undergraduate degree and returning now many years later as a PhD candidate, involving various military operations through the Red Cross in Lebanon, demonstrating just how unexpected the places a languages degree will take you can be.

The event was put together by the School of Modern Languages President, Oscar Hodgson. Speaking to The Interpreter, he expressed his satisfaction at the event’s proceedings:

“The primary aim of the event was to give students a more first-hand insight into the multitude of career paths that a degree in Modern languages could lead to – it was evident from each of the presentations that there is no “right way” to proceed post-graduation. So don’t panic! The guest speakers were impressed with the turnout and the variety of languages that we study here in St. Andrews.”

When asked about future career events organised by the school, he confirmed “I am currently in the process of organising a similar event for the beginning of next semester. The Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate has said that she would like to come along so I am exploring possibilities with additional speakers from varying fields.”

All in all, the conference was a fantastic opportunity for students to hear about the often surprising career opportunities for language graduates. We look forward to future careers events organised through the department (hopefully with a more gender balanced panel as representative of the school’s student body).

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