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News > Careers > Cliona Vaughan-Spruce PGS 2018-2020

Cliona Vaughan-Spruce PGS 2018-2020

Having got used to Oxford's 'work hard, play hard' culture, Cliona's well prepared for a busy year abroad in Spain and France teaching English and also learning French, Portuguese and Italian!

Since leaving Pate’s in 2020 after studying there from September 2018, I’ve been taking a degree in French and Spanish for two years at Magdalen College, Oxford University. It certainly hasn’t entailed the traditional university experience (see: a global pandemic…), but it has taught me a lot about resilience and that opportunities are everywhere.

My story of applying to university started over three years ago when I started to write my personal statement – the time has really flown by! When I first applied to universities, there was a lot to consider. I knew I’d always wanted to try to study at Oxford since I looked around the city and its colleges with my family when I was younger. As for my subject, I was brought up in a bilingual household and languages classes at my secondary school were always my favourite, so I knew I wanted to learn more about the languages I loved at school. Along with studying Politics at Pate’s, I realised that something that I liked most about studying languages was the communication aspect, and overall using any knowledge of them as a way to ultimately help other people.

I chose my college, Magdalen, based on a few factors. Firstly, I knew I wanted to apply to a college with grounds on the larger side. I also wanted to apply somewhere that wasn’t located right in the city centre to be able to walk to other colleges to stretch my legs each day. Finally, I wanted to study in a college that offered accommodation that costs the same for all undergraduates and is offered for the entire degree. Luckily, this all applied to Magdalen – it even has its own deer park!

After a lengthy application process, I was invited for interviews at the college. Before each one began, I was given a small piece of literature in my target language to analyse. Then it was time to face the Oxford academics, which doesn’t have to be as scary as it seems! It’s often very hard to tell how interviews went afterwards, but it’s only when you’re there after preparing as much as possible that you realise that the tutors just want to see how your brain works on the spot, how teachable you are, and to use the time to get to know you a bit.

Since receiving my conditional offer a month later to study at Oxford, I’ve learnt more about literature ranging from medieval ballads to Early Modern epistolary novels than I could have ever imagined. The fact that at times we get to study these texts from their original, centuries-old copies in grand ancient libraries makes the intense eight-week terms and demanding workload worth it. Each week I have my lectures to attend, between one and two essays to write for each language, translations into and from my target languages, grammar work, oral classes, and classes for developing language skills. The nature of my course is very personalised: in the past year I only had two French tutorials – small classes to go over your essays with your tutor – with another student, so I got to know my tutors very well and vice versa. Some tasks are more intense than others, and we move very quickly, but no doubt you learn a lot from tutors who are world experts in their field.

Of course, there are always opportunities to get involved with activities outside your degree. This has definitely been easier since the start of my second year at university with far fewer Covid cases and restrictions. I’m now very glad I waited to be able to have a more authentic “Oxford experience” as its traditions and most of the fun of “work hard, play hard” culture just wasn’t possible for a year. At Pate’s I absolutely loved being able to study the subjects I enjoyed, but what interested me most was the plethora of extracurricular opportunities on offer. Fortunately, the number of societies available at Oxford is immense, so it’s possible to find your niche whilst still having time for your studies. I’ve made the definitely-not-regrettable lifestyle choice of waking up at 5:30am most days to row (but which I actually love!), I was Magdalen’s Captain of Coxes in my second year, I’ve acted in Spanish, and I chair projects with the Queen’s Translation Exchange, a project that gets local school students involved with languages and creative translation. I learned a lot about time management and how much it can pay off to get involved with activities I enjoyed from the choice of societies on offer at Pate’s, so I’ve felt very lucky to have been able to make the most of these opportunities between studying.

My favourite part has been the chance to learn other languages and their cultures: I took Catalan and Galician classes in the last year, which have been in old oak offices filled floor to ceiling with books, in our local University Parks and even on a punt on the River Cherwell. I’ve also since had the opportunity, through Oxford, to spend two weeks on a Catalan summer school in Valencia for free!

One of the most striking parts about the university is its traditions; for example, there’s Summer VIIIs Bumps, when each college sends teams of rowers to compete in races where their boat must catch up with the boat in front of theirs, literally “bumping” it. Then there are BOPs – Big Open Parties – which are a bit like a Year 6 disco with cheesy music in the college bar, but for university students. And there’s also been the tradition of covering your friends in confetti and shaving foam to celebrate the end of exams, or (eco-friendly) post-exam “trashing”. It’s all been appreciated so much more since lockdown! The amount of Oxford-specific vocabulary that there is to learn is totally unexpected and even walking to exams can be exciting when you need to wear your sub fusc – academic dress – and you get stopped by tourists for photos on the way…

The main things that I’ve learned are that it is essential to maintain a work - life balance and that things I took for granted before, like playing sports to meet new people and to get a break from work, or even getting enough sleep, are extremely important! It made my second year more enjoyable, and I got to understand my subject more because of it.

After university, I’d like to use the skills that Pate’s and Oxford have taught me to work in politics, and my goal is to work in interpretation for institutions like the European Union. Now I’m on my year abroad before returning to university for a year: I’m starting in the mountains of Andorra to teach English through Catalan for four months, then moving to Galicia in Spain to study Iberian political systems, French, Portuguese and Italian, then I’m off to France for the summer!

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