Catriona Gillham

Why did you choose the University of Bristol and your subject?

I wanted a challenge.

What were the best things about studying Modern Languages here?

The Russian department at Bristol was small and intimate, and all the lecturers and language teachers did their very best to give us confidence in what is a relatively difficult language to learn and a challenging culture to understand.

They were patient and understanding, and encouraged even the more nervous of us to explore and express our ideas on difficult Russian literature.

The opportunity to learn Czech alongside my other languages was a huge bonus, as very few UK universities offer the language as a subject, and having a rare Slavonic language like that is a huge asset to potential employers – it is the main reason that I was offered a job as a translator at the European Parliament.

What did you gain from your work placement or year abroad?

Spending time in France and Russia was a daunting prospect for me and at times very difficult, but it opened my eyes to other cultures and taught me to see things from a different perspective.

This is a particularly important skill now, at a time when European politics has become ever more inward-looking: developing mutual understanding between cultures is perhaps the only way we can tackle overly nationalist sentiment and the contagious fear of the ‘other’.

How do you think your degree has helped you to fulfil your career plans?

There is no doubt that the study of Slavic languages alongside French, a key European language, is the reason I was offered a job translating for the European Parliament.

A solid grounding in two Slavonic languages has also made it possible for me to pick up others – I now also work with Slovak and Polish, and will soon begin studying Bulgarian.

The MA in Translation is another huge asset, not only did I learn in detail about the challenges of translation and how to tackle them; including linguistic aspects, cultural aspects and technical (IT) aspects; it was also an excellent opportunity to further improve my comprehension of Russian and Czech.

This has given me huge confidence as a translator, and helped me to prepare for the EU entrance exams.

What was your biggest achievement as a student at Bristol?

Life at Bristol really helped me to find a good life-work balance and gave me the chance to try out new things – the range of activities and societies gave me plenty of opportunities to meet new (like-minded) people and pick up new skills.

I tried singing for the first time at the University Church Choir and the Russian choir during my BA. Now, I am in three choirs, regularly sing in amateur musical theatre productions and have been awarded a place at the Luxembourg Conservatoire for singing!

I would never have discovered my passion for singing had it not been for the plethora of high-quality choirs at the university, many of which are led by the university’s talented music students.

The Latin and ballroom dance society (BULABDS) was also a thrilling experience – it is extremely difficult to find such high-quality training and so many shows, balls and competition opportunities outside the university circuit.

University is definitely the perfect place to develop new skills and discover hidden talents on a shoestring – that’s the biggest thing I will miss about life at Bristol!

Student details

Catriona Gillham, BA French and Russian, MA Translation (Russian and Czech) (alumnus)

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