Self-taught Russian Seren student shares her journey to Cambridge

With exam season in full swing, we’ve spoken to one current Seren student whose story might inspire you during your study sessions.

Eve Vincent is a Seren pupil at NPTC in Neath, who has received an offer to study at Cambridge University next year.

Eve is studying for A-Levels in English Literature, History, French and the Extended Project, and she’s been offered a place at Cambridge to study French and Russian.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

“I’m the first person in my family to go to university, so the whole thing was very new to us all. I had lots of support from my family during the application process, but I still had no idea what to expect.

“I’ve always been mindful of the fact that I need to study hard if I want to do all the things I’d like to do and accomplish everything I’ve dreamt of doing, like being able to study and live abroad for example. I’ve always seen my education as a way of going beyond my small-town, working class upbringing.”

Why French and Russian?

“I’m obsessed with languages and I’ve loved French for a long time. I first developed a passion for Russian after a school history trip to Germany. We visited lots of historic monuments and many of them had Russian writing on them. I felt fascinated and intrigued by the language and was keen to be able to understand what all writing meant. I felt so inspired that decided to teach myself Russian.”

How did you teach yourself a new language?

“The internet has been so useful for me in the process of teaching myself Russian. I use lots of study apps, like ‘Memrize’, which I use to learn vocabulary. I also watch lots of Russian YouTubers, which is a fun way to learn a language.

“I use Skype and other online platforms and have made lots of Russian friends who I chat to regularly about our lives and about current affairs, to practice my language. I also like to send letters and postcards to the Russian friends I’ve made.

“Making friends is a great way to improve language skills and learn a lot about a culture. I find that I’ve been able to chat very easily to Russian people of my age because their humour is very similar to mine; Russians are very sarcastic. I’ve found that it’s been surprisingly easy to get along with them and I’ve got to know people whom I now consider my close friends.”

Why Cambridge?

“I went to lots of open days, including Oxford and Cambridge. I liked both but when I visited Cambridge in April 2017, just before my AS levels, I felt that I could really imagine myself living there. I think it’s so important to go to open days so you’re able to get a feel for a place.

“I visited lots of different Cambridge colleges, including Churchill College and Clare College, but Clare College was the one that made me feel most comfortable. It’s a relatively small college, and I think because of this, there’s a nice sense of community. I could see myself fitting in there.”

Tips for other students:

“Learning a new language can be very demoralising and demotivating to begin with; especially a language with a totally new alphabet. I had to get used to going back to basics and feeling like a child again! It’s a huge challenge and you have to be prepared to make errors, but it’s definitely worth persisting with.

“If you’re doing the extended project, or another similar extended essay, it can be a good idea to choose something you’re passionate about and something that you could talk about in potential university interviews. I chose ‘Russian Nihilism’ as my theme for my extended project. Not only did I find it fascinating but I thought it might help with my application to study Russian.

“I think reading as much as possible in the foreign languages you’re learning is one of the best ways to improve. I enjoy reading French and Russian books – I’m currently reading a French novel; Liaisons Dangereuses, by Laclos. It’s difficult, but I’m enjoying the challenge and I think it’s good preparation for university work.”

What are you excited for in the future?

“I’m hoping to go to France this summer. I want the chance to chat to locals and find out more about their way of life, so that I can gain a better understanding of French people and the French language. I’m excited to study languages at university and be with a whole cohort of modern linguistics who are just as obsessed with languages as I am! I’m also really looking forward to my third year abroad in Russia as I’ve never been before. My long-term dream is to be a polyglot – next on my list are Mandarin, Romanian and maybe Italian too!

“The Seren Network and my tutor at college have been a massive help to me on my journey through university applications. I was given mock interviews, which I found really useful. Even if you don’t know which questions or topics will be coming up, just getting used to an interview set-up and being able to talk about yourself is helpful. My tutor also gave me lots of extra books and helped me practice more advanced grammar beyond the school curriculum.”

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