A career around the world. How one alumna used languages to open doors to global opportunities
Rene Wyndham came to Exeter to study BA French and German and loved French so much she continued to complete postgraduate study too.
Since graduating Rene has worked with media outlets around the world, including the BBC, Euronews, and SWRin Germany. She also works as a moderator and presenter at global conferences, and as a media trainer and freelance writer. Today, in addition to French and German, Rene also speaks Spanish, Italian and Dutch.
She shares how languages helped her build a successful and enjoyable career.
“Languages are not just about speaking a new tongue. They are also a complete window on other cultures. I find it a huge bonus to travel round the world and speak easily and directly to the locals, and learn about their ways of life, their creativity, their customs, values and views. This is far more than just being able to speak a language - it gives a direct entry into the feelings and views of people from a totally different background. They feel understood and safe to tell you their innermost thoughts.
“For instance, I heard what people in Cuba really feel about their regime (Spanish), what East Germans now think of former West Germans (German), what goes on for abused women behind the idyllic tourism in the Galapagos (Spanish), what the rebellion was really like in Ouvea in New Caledonia (French), how Italians consider avoiding paying tax in Cagliari, Sardinia (Italian), and how the Kanaks feel about the French on Mare Island (French) etc.
“Languages have given me the chance to have an added extra in the world of Radio and TV journalism. It has meant that I have been able to work for other European TV stations, as well as for the EU and the Council of Europe. I must admit that in the UK at the BBC and ITV, I often wondered whether anyone really cared about languages. I was once remonstrated for pronouncing ‘Bordeaux’ with a French accent during a news bulletin, instead of anglicising it! But as far as overall usefulness, languages have undoubtedly enabled me to spread my wings and add impact to my portfolio career.
“I dreamed about a career where I could travel but could not see how it would be possible. When our TV station TSW closed, and all 450 staff were made redundant, we were given free coaching. I asked our coach how I could work in continental Europe, as I wanted to do short contracts abroad. The coach looked at me blankly and apologised, saying she was unable to help me. So I thought I had drawn a blank.
“But that spurred me on to look at advertisements in newspapers. Luckily Euronews in Lyon was just starting up. After months of gruelling interviews in their five different departments using four languages, as well as chairing a mock discussion on the Maastricht Treaty, and explaining the problems in the Middle East in German (!), I was finally accepted.
“From Euronews someone recommended me to present current affairs programmes in German on ARD Channel 1 in Germany. This led to work for Swiss TV and for ARTE. So for any language students, I can certainly recommend Euronews as a good start. Once you make contacts in Europe, the rest seems to follow.
“I would also say, whatever job you do after your degree is not as important as you think. Our dear French Professor, Robert Niklaus used to say ‘never get a steady job before you are 30’.
“When I was 21 I thought that was crazy. But with hindsight I see he was right. One should try anything and everything. I recommend that language students should go to continental Europe and take any job they can. I hope this is still possible for them after Brexit. Whatever you do, it shows that you are disciplined and able to adjust to the workplace. Don't get too worried about where everything is leading, just work well and have an aim in mind. Do it gently, and keep all options open. Never worry about failure and rejection – we all experience that. Just keep on trying and trying.
Rene’s top tips
- Accept failure and rejection. They are facts in all our lives. Learn resilience.
- When being interviewed for a job, research the company thoroughly, give them ideas to enhance their product or service, think what you can do for the company and how they can benefit from having you there, rather than trying to sell your qualifications and assets.
- Keep your long-term aim in mind and work towards it but keep all options open.
- Remember that any experience, however unpleasant or boring, is never wasted. It builds up into a bank of knowledge and wisdom you accumulate over your working life and beyond.
- Network and make contacts at all opportunities but never be pushy. Be genuinely interested in people rather than thinking of what they can do for you.
- Never compare yourself to others. You are unique. Seek out your own unique selling points.
- Look everywhere on the internet, jobs appear in so many places. I recommend that you join Linkedin and also take courses online on Futurelearn. All their courses are free! They offer so many interesting ideas and career prospects.
- Go to evening classes to expand your horizons. I took courses in Counselling and in Mediation which proved immensely helpful when doing in-depth interviews
- Remember that work is part of an overall balanced life. Seek balance rather than thrusting ambition. Don’t neglect your family, friends, sports, arts, travel, and everything else that makes you a rounded and sane individual. Above all, maintain your ability to relativise, and your sense of humour!
Good luck with your future employment!
Date: 30 July 2018