Sarah Gray

Sarah Elizabeth GrayWhy did you choose to study at Birmingham?

"I grew up in a big city and wanted to study in one too, but I also liked that Birmingham has a nice campus in a leafy part of town. Birmingham combined a cosy campus atmosphere with all the facilities, transport links etc. of a large city. I was also impressed by both the French and Italian departments, the broad range of modules available and the attitude of the academic staff.

"I loved living in a big city with a lively cultural life, and went to lots of gigs and exhibitions. It was also easy in Birmingham to find a part-time job to fit in with studying. Since the city is very central and well connected, it’s easy to get around from there - to visit friends at other universities, to go home, or to have a weekend in London or even Paris!"

What were the best things about studying at Birmingham?

“The most positive aspect for me was definitely the variety, which was what attracted me to studying modern languages in the first place. It was great to go from a lecture on Dante to a seminar discussing the Algerian War. Other highlights were of course the chance to study abroad for a year, and coming back to Birmingham for the final year with well-honed language skills, ready to really start translating properly.

I also particularly enjoyed a weekend trip to the university's outdoor pursuits centre in the Lake District. We went hiking and canoeing and sampled the local pubs!”

Can you tell us about your year abroad?

I took part in the Erasmus programme to study for one year in Strasbourg, France. I attended university there and also did an internship with a British MEP during the plenary sessions of the European Parliament, one week each month. The whole year abroad was a great experience, and the main benefit was that I massively improved my French. To do this I deliberately avoided other English speakers and shared a flat with French students. It was a steep learning curve but very rewarding.

What is your favourite memory of studying at Birmingham?

It's hard to pick just one! I have good memories of walking down the Vale to campus with my neighbours from the Maple Bank halls, of breaking up revision sessions in our shared house by dancing to Riverdance, and of good friendships in the close-knit group of language students once we all returned from abroad for our final year.

How has your career developed since graduating from the University of Birmingham?

“After leaving Birmingham I completed an MA in Applied Translation Studies at London Metropolitan. I then worked as a translator in the private sector in London and took on freelance translation and editing assignments too, in order to get as much solid translation experience as I could. Then when an EU recruitment competition began in 2010 I was ready for the various assessments and translation exams, made it through and was recruited in 2011, taking up my post in Brussels.”

How did studying at Birmingham help to prepare you for the working world?

I’m now a linguistic administrator at the Council of the European Union in Brussels. My work involves translating documents from French, Italian, Swedish and Finnish into English, doing terminology research, and editing documents drafted in English by non-native speakers.

“Doing a modern languages degree with a fairly heavy timetable, I learnt to manage my workload and prioritise my time, both very important in the working world. The year abroad and the excellent language tuition in the final year meant that I had solid language skills which have been essential to me throughout my career so far.

What do you most enjoy about your job?

“I get to use my language skills every day and have had the chance to learn a new language, Finnish. My translation skills allow me to contribute to the work of the Council and other European institutions, and I find that very satisfying.”

What advice do you have for prospective students thinking of studying at Birmingham?

“I would definitely recommend visiting the campus and having a stroll around Edgbaston and Selly Oak, to get a feel for the area. Also find out about all the great extracurricular activities on offer in Birmingham, the sports facilities and student societies. The course you choose is important, but you also have to think about the type of place you will spend at least three years living in.

“And don’t worry about anything! Everyone finds their niche and their circle of friends.”