Runner up in the student award 2009: How have you been inspired by studying languages, linguistics or area studies at university?

Author: Amelia Villiers-Stuart


Amelia Villiers-Stuart, a 1st year French and English Literature student at the University of Edinburgh, was a runner up in the Subject Centre's undergraduate student essay competition 2009.

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Amelia Villiers-Stuart

How do we define ‘inspiration’?

Perhaps it is the concept of a thought or idea being infused, almost inhaled by a person. Arguably it has connotations of the divine or supernatural and inspiration is often thought to emanate from an influential person. My inspiration during my first year at Edinburgh has been determined by a number of highly influential factors. Principally, the environment, teaching and course have opened new ways of seeing and understanding to me, giving me an entirely new perspective.

Before university I was no different from any other student, with a healthy interest in my chosen degree area but nothing that really ‘inspired’ me. Choosing to study French in Edinburgh changed everything. There is a tremendously romantic bond between Scotland and France that began over 700 years ago, it lives on today in Edinburgh and this has been a part of my inspiration.

The Auld Alliance first agreed in 1295 was built on Scotland’s and France’s mutual need to restrict English expansion. This military and diplomatic alliance not only strengthened the political relationship between the two countries, but also their cultural connection.  The Auld Alliance gave Scotland the pick of France’s finest wines and a home across the waters for exiled monarchs.

Living and studying in Edinburgh today is undoubtedly inspirational, the old wine vaults in Leith are an impressive reminder of this great alliance. Wine, clearly inspirational in its own right to students, is not the only French influence on the city of Edinburgh.  By simply walking the streets in New Town, the classical architecture and café society feel almost Parisian. Living and studying in this environment, surrounded by so much history and European culture creates an intense and infectious atmosphere, truly inspiring me to learn more.

"...the sharing of ideas becomes an exciting rally between student and tutor..."


This inspiration needed focus and the teaching I have received is channelling that, infusing me with curiosity and feeding my hunger for knowledge.  I have been gently pushed into directions of study that I had never before considered as a part of French, and have been inspired to reach out further to grasp ideas previously unknown to me.  The concept of inspiration being given by an influential person is indeed applicable to my first year at university. Certain lecturers and professors have the innate ability to command an audience, draw in the interest of a room full of sleepy students and connect, holding the attention of so many previously uninspired people and thus bring together murky thoughts and misguided ideas into a new light, to really explain and create understanding.  Through shedding light on new topics and exploring un-traversed terrains of thought, these knowledgeable figures inspire us to continue our learning outside of the allotted 50 minutes in the lecture theatre. This is what is so impressive and so important, inspiring people to seize the opportunities given to them and build upon ideas that spark interest, taking the initiative to do things that they would otherwise not have done.  This has certainly been the case for me; I have seen plays, read books, watched films, written articles and been inspired as a result of the French teaching this year.

These aspects of the course have definitely inspired me through their variety and unpredictability, this has not been a course like any other, and it has been inspirationally new for the tutors as well as the students. The innovative way of organising the course means that the tutors are clearly interested in new information which creates a wonderful atmosphere of interest, and the sharing of ideas becomes an exciting rally between student and tutor, each bouncing the ball back with force and energy.  Specifically, I have been inspired by aspects of the course which made me reassess what I thought I already knew about French history, culture and language.  The way French theatre reflects the political zeitgeist of many incredibly fascinating periods of history has been of particular interest to me.  I have been inspired to read plays by the great French authors and interpret them in a way that previous to this year would have been unknown to me.  I simply would not have had the motivation or encouragement needed to have taken my studies into my own hands and really developed how I think. British philosopher Bertrand Russell once said, “The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge”. I wholeheartedly agree; my experience of first year French at Edinburgh University has been one of extreme love for the study of foreign language and the thirst for knowledge, carefully guided by the tutors and lecturers into a course that directs our untamed passions for the subject into new and inspiring areas. Leading my life through a new inspiration to learn more is a direct result of the choices I have made to study at Edinburgh and to study a course that so effectively covers the wide aspects of French. From the historical and political to the theatrical and philosophical, guiding my understanding and inspiring me to develop further in my own time and deeper into my personal interests.

"...I am excited, enthused and inspired by my subject..."


This recent and on-going inspiration is turning new lights on, illuminating new connections and directions for me. It takes initiative on the part of a university to guide without appearing forceful, it takes tutors that clearly love their subject, and it takes a course that mixes a variety of literatures, films, essays, historical information and language to make a student feel awakened and suddenly more informed. In addition, the support offered by the multitude of resources accessible at the university gives students the tools to ask questions and the ability to further their knowledge.  This academic framework, coupled with the environment of a city that can leave tourists, locals and students breathless with excitement and intrigue cannot fail to inspire great things, and leave doors open for the next generation to walk through and continue the cycle. It is my opinion that civilization depends not on any knowledge in particular but the disposition to yearn for knowledge, to be inspired into wanting to know more. For me, French at university has achieved this; I am excited, enthused and inspired by my subject and hope to carry on this way, gathering momentum as I continue.