Summary: Bethany joined the University to study English Language and Literature, but after taking a Discovery Module in Portuguese she decided to change her degree to Joint Honours BA English and Portuguese.
I grew up in London and worked for a few years after I finished my A levels so I didn’t actually start my degree until I was 23. Apart from dabbling in Spanish at secondary school, I had never really studied a foreign language before so I decided to take Portuguese as Discovery Module in my first year. I fell in love with it immediately and ended up getting all of my best marks in it! At the end of the first year I decided to change my degree from BA English Literature and Language to a Joint Honours BA in English and Portuguese.
I was originally attracted to my course because of the wide range of English modules available. Unlike many other red brick universities that offer a degree in traditional English literature like Shakespeare and Chaucer, I was attracted to the course at Leeds because of its diversity: it offers many modules in foreign and modern literatures, something I have always been interested in. The choice available really helps you to shape the degree around your own interests. The Portuguese side of things was also appealing because the staff were so friendly and helpful. In the School of English there are a lot of other students in your year of study, but the Portuguese syndicate only included around 30 other students so it had a much more relaxed and informal atmosphere. There were often cultural events organised for the students and lots of one to one help, which I really valued. As a joint honours student I have focused my English studies around African and postcolonial literature, which has fit in really well with my Portuguese culture modules that centre around twentieth century film and literature from Brazil, Mozambique and Angola as well as the other Lusophone countries. Learning about the Portuguese colonial era in detail has really helped me to better understand the postcolonial movement in general.
During my year abroad I studied in Porto in Portugal. It is an amazing city to visit and it was an incredible experience. I lived with a Portuguese family and formed some really strong relationships. I was lucky enough to travel with them to the remoter parts of Portugal which tourists would rarely have the chance to visit. I also experienced some of the really authentic aspects of Portuguese culture, such as their incredible cooking! While studying in Porto, I had to give a 10 minute presentation in Portuguese to a lecture theatre of Portuguese students – it was a pretty daunting prospect but I did it and gained so much confidence as a result – now the idea of a presentation in English seems like nothing! I have also really enjoyed my final year of study. The fact that all of the students now speak fluently after a year abroad means that we can enjoy weekly debates in contemporary topics. It has been particularly interesting to study Portuguese at such an exciting moment in Brazil’s history.
During the summer after my year abroad, I won a grant from the Leeds Alumni Fund that allowed me to travel and volunteer in Brazil for two months. I was based in a favela community in Rio de Janeiro and gave arts and crafts classes to the children there during the week. It was an emotionally tough but rewarding experience. I used my weekends to travel to different areas of the country, like Foz de Iguacu on the border of Argentina, which has the largest waterfalls in the world.
I was worried that having spent a few years out of education I would find it really difficult to get back into it again, but I was surprised at the level of support on offer – not only from the tutors but from the other students too. There were also lots of social events going on in both Schools so it was really easy to meet people and make friends.
Leeds is a culturally rich city which always has something going on. There is also a vibrant music scene with lots of gigs and concerts happening all the time. The night life is really good too, and the new Trinity centre is great for food and shopping. Leeds University Union offers a ridiculous amount of clubs and societies: whatever your hobby or interest is in, there is bound to be a club for it (there is even a Harry Potter society!) When I came to Leeds I wanted to take up something new and I was particularly interested in learning a new martial art. I got involved with the Aikido club in my first year and have really enjoyed the team atmosphere and learning a new discipline during my degree. I met a lot of my friends in the club, including my partner!
I will graduate this year and I am seeking a career working in Global Human Resources as I want to continue to use my language skills and engage with people from different cultures.