One of the greatest difficulties I faced in my teenage years was finding my “passion”. Growing up in a small city in Romania, I was not particularly interested in any subject offered by my school. I always enjoyed studying and I was usually curious to learn more about different topics, but there was no particular subject I was fascinated with (or at least, interested enough in) to dedicate more time for it outside school. However, in the 5th grade, after winning a regional prize in an English competition (which, for a 10-year-old meant a lot), I found that I enjoyed learning English, particularly the grammar aspect of the language, slightly more than any other subject at that moment.
I remember struggling because I was not sure what I could do with my life if I was good at English. This question might still be too complex to be answered here. But I joined student groups doing additional English courses with specialized professors for regional and national English language competitions and this opened my eyes to the world of languages. I then continued studying English in university, and alongside English, I chose German.
But why German among so many atypical languages? Truth is, I knew German could be useful and might open some doors (I know now I was not wrong). I owe all my knowledge and vivid passion for German to my Swedish professor back in Bucharest who was an amazing educator. With her enthusiasm and dedication for teaching, she managed to show me the beauty of German, despite its long words and difficult pronunciation. As someone who initially found German to be dreadfully difficult, I would now go home after classes to study German vocabulary and grammar for many hours without realizing how quickly time passed by. As driven and passionate as I was, I started considering the future I would have in the workforce coming from a Language Studies background.
Sometimes you can have a huge passion for something, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the job prospects are exciting in that area. Many people graduating from Language studies work in companies, do translations or become language teachers. For me, the above employment options sounded quite good, but they didn’t quite excite or motivate me, and I knew that. I knew I would not turn my German studies into a full-time job. I wanted something else, and I had no idea what.
So, as I approached graduation and the deadline for applying to graduate programs, I watched as many of my classmates signed up for Masters’ programmes. I, on the other hand, decided to take a year off before applying to figure it out; that so-called “gap year”. I was quickly accepted for an entry-level position in the German Department of Apple at the European Headquarters in Ireland where I would spend the next six months of my life. Although I enjoyed this work, I felt a strong desire to do a bit more for the local community, so I volunteered in a Refugee Centre in Cork where I taught English to two young refugee girls from Sudan and Ethiopia every day after work. Little did I know how much of an impact that simple volunteering work would have on the next year of my life!
I quickly fell in love with working in the Centre. I could not wait to finish my work every day to get there and meet my students! To me, it was more than just ‘work’ or a fun volunteering experience to look good on the CV – being able to help these young girls with their self-confidence and language skills was extremely fulfilling on a personal level. For instance: seeing two young women finding the resilience, courage and determination to go to school, attend English lessons and work to rebuild their lives in a completely new country was a huge inspiration! Thinking that I, as a language teacher, had a small role in their cultural integration and well-being through their education brought me a lot of joy and raised many more questions on what other impacts I could make in this world.
After a few weeks of working in the Centre and seeing the language progress of my students, it first occurred to me – I have to pursue my Master’s in Education! I remember looking for programs in education all around Europe for hours and hours, day by day, for many months. I was torn between this new passion I had discovered for education and my lack of knowledge about what “education” really meant, aside from classroom teaching which is what typically came to my mind and what most people think of every time they hear ‘I study education’. I never thought it was possible to have a passion for a subject without knowing exactly what it was about. I felt somehow responsible to improve education practices and “make the world a better place” through education but I had no idea how to do that. Wanting to further explore the field, I started reading some good educational journal articles, and following people on LinkedIn (of all places) who were doing education policy work, academic research or development work in education. But I could not just ignore my passion for German and foreign languages! That is why, I incorporated language studies into my Master’s of Education by choosing the RSLE path and currently researching the EU language policy!
I must say, for all of you reading this: studying education at postgraduate level is not easy at all. But looking back now to this whole year of self-discovery and continuous learning, it was all worth it! And coming from a non-education background was not that bad – definitely gave me the chance to explore more fields, travel around and discover how my passion can match a job prospect that I am actually excited about. I now feel lucky that I got to study German because it brought me here – happy with how things worked out in the end!
Lorena Chiran is a MPhil graduate at the Faculty of Education whose research focused on the relationship between agency and structure in enacting the European Union policy on multilingualism in higher education institutions in Eastern Europe. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.