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Amanda - connections between your PhD and your current role
Name: Amanda
PhD discipline: German Literature
Area(s) of work: Diplomacy (foreign and commonwealth office)
Year of graduation: 2001
Date of Interview: 03/06/2008

Now Playing: Amanda - connections between your PhD and your current role
Amanda reflects on the links between her PhD and her current work, both of which have required a love of languages and exploring cultures.

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Does the topic of your PhD help you in the work that you've gone on to do afterwards?

I think I would say no but I think I could argue sort of philosophically that it's still relevant in that it was dealing with, you know, political issues and how a country culturally deals with that and how characters in books represent experiences of people in that country and how they're dealing with an issue and how they recognise that issue and how a country works through a traumatic event or a dramatic event and comes to terms with it. You know literature is one aspect that demonstrates that process and is part of that process so on a broad philosophical level, yes. On a very practical level, probably no.

Having done a language PhD

Yes, undergraduate degree and PhD, yes.

That must have helped you with the language training?

Hugely, yes. And was my motivation for joining a job where you can use your languages and where they're key to doing the job so very much.  I've used German in my job and in fact I was seconded for a period in Sarajevo. I was originally working in the embassy and then I was seconded from there to work in an international organisation that wasn't a UN organisation, but it was like a quasi UN type organisation that was responsible for implementing the peace agreement and making sure that the different parties sort of upheld that, if you like, and again, overseeing some of this reconstruction work. That was led by a German high representative which was the position following Lord Ashdown who had held it before that and there was a position for a UK advisor – a political advisor – to join his cabinet, his otherwise German team and because I was there and spoke German I was able to take that position which was fascinating, fantastic and so my boss was German and my colleagues were German but I was in an international organisation that used English a lot of the time. Half of the organisation was Bosnian and we were dealing with Bosnian politicians so you know I directly used it in my work there on a daily basis. My undergraduate degree was German and Russian and the Russian therefore helped me to learn the Serbo Croat and was the basis for me to adapt that through the language training that the Foreign Office provides.

Will you tell me about the language training that you have to undertake?

Mmm, there's a language school. Each job you apply for, it will say whether language competence is needed and to what level, so certain jobs you don't need to learn the language to go there. Essentially, say some of the commercial work, some of the management work of running the embassy itself, for example, you might just learn a very basic amount to get by in your outside work life but then if you're in a political job then you often need to be able to attend meetings and discuss political issues in the language and that means you have language training for a set period of time depending on how difficult the language is and whether you have any knowledge already. So each time it's assessed differently. If you're learning Chinese it's two years. If you're learning Arabic it's 18 months. For Serbo Croat and Slavonic languages it was 9 months. I think for West European languages it might be four or five and you spend a month or three weeks in the country in immersion training before you start your job.

Are you drawn to jobs that have a linguistic requirement or is it more likely you're drawn to jobs with the political element in which you would need the linguistic?

Both I think. Both. I mean for me an attraction of joining the Office was the opportunity to learn a language and for me most satisfaction from a job is to be doing both at the same time, to be challenged on both levels and, you know, it's fun to be operating and able to do that. And also to be living in a country – for me personally I would not be so comfortable to live in a country and not know the language. For me it's very important to be actually quite competent outside of work and to be able to talk to as many people as possible and integrate a bit more but you know it varies. It depends what country you go to as to whether that's possible or not and that's a sort of individual person's choice as to how much they kind of really get out and about in the country beside their job or not.
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