Portrait of Anna Gower

Anna Gower

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I grew up on Dartmoor in Devon and because of the distance, Leeds has become my adoptive home. I like that Leeds has the cultural buzz of a city but that within 30 minutes, you can lose yourself in the history and calm beauty of the moors. 

What made you want to apply to your course and to Leeds?

German has been with me since Year 8 and when I was looking at university courses, I was simply searching for the other half to go with German. Although my A-Levels were in German, Biology and Maths, I opted for International Relations, a social science and an essay based course. As for why I looked to Leeds, it was the only university to offer German and International Relations with the flexibility in module choice that I wanted. I was so impressed with the course and the enthusiasm of the staff and knew that this was the place to be. At the time I was unsure about what I liked or was good at and didn’t want to be stuck in a rigid course. The reputation of the university as part of the Russell group and with teaching based on current research was another reason for my choice. 

What course did you study, what made you apply for that particular one? 

I chose German and International Relations for my love of the German language and an interest in current affairs. I hadn’t studied politics and didn’t know a lot about the mechanics of politics but was passionate about social issues and international affairs. I admired those lecturers who actively included students, regardless of prior knowledge, and began to find my voice at Leeds.

Why did you choose Leeds?

Leeds was my first choice and my back up plan was simply to reapply! Visiting the city, I fell in love with the architecture of Kirkgate Market and the sight of mosques alongside the redbrick terraces. I loved the spirit of Leeds with its back-alley pubs, arts and literature festivals, and of course music. It’s much bigger than where I grew up but I feel the same strong feeling of being welcome.

What is it that made you passionate about your area of study?

I credit my teachers at school for igniting the spark and directing my energies to German. The confidence I learned from them took me to Germany and Austria, year after year, for exchanges with the UK-German Connection and a few I arranged myself. It wasn’t until at Leeds that I developed my understanding of domestic politics and international relations. I had a privileged upbringing that allowed me to go abroad and gave me the time to play sports and by coming to Leeds I learnt more about inequalities in Britain. My friends were the ones that challenged my perspective which in turn made me look more critically at the novels, journals and issues I was studying. I learnt as much from the people I met at Leeds as from the formal teaching hours. 

What aspects of the course did you enjoy the most?

My favourite courses were the cultural modules in the German department and the theoretical modules in the POLIS school. In first and second year I was fortunate to be taught by Dr Helen Finch whose enthusiastic teaching and challenging content pushed me to develop my skills in literary and film analysis. In my final year I specialised in border studies for my dissertation which was complemented by Dr Jane Wilkinson’s fantastic module on borders in contemporary Germany. I enjoyed the teaching in this module which took the form of a two-hour seminar and encouraged discussion. I think the respect that student contribution is given by the teaching staff is significant because they are all experts in their field. 

What would you say about the learning facilities in your School and at the University in general?

Students in POLIS have access to their own common room with study spaces and a small kitchen which is great. The resources in the languages department are also fantastic with specialist translation programmes and a huge range of novels/comics/films in the Languages Zone.

The university libraries have a great selection and the online resources are even better. Students can order in books that they need through the library, though I never needed to use this service! 

What was your experience with the FYP (Final Year Project)? What did you do your project on and what skills did you gain during the process?

I wrote my dissertation in the POLIS school and am going to present my research at the International Conference for Undergraduate Research in September. My passion is International Relations theory and the state of the discipline itself. I think it is interesting and important to be aware of the conditions in which knowledge is made and passed on. I analysed state borders, specifically Germany’s borders, and how they have enjoyed a position of privilege in international relations and often escape scrutiny. I argued that current imaginations of state borders as the lines on a map need remaining to reflect the reality which is that they perform different functions and can be described more accurately to exist at the edges of the legal-political order, rather than the territorial edge of a state. 

The main thing I learnt was how to conclude a complex project. The research was extremely interesting but I had to learn when to stop reading and start writing. I had to work hard to keep my focus narrow and working to the deadline meant I had to be aware of what was achievable. I am grateful for the chance to present my work as I have spoken about it more since my submission and have further developed my arguments. 

Did you spend any time abroad and if so how was your experience?

My year abroad was spent in Hamburg and I worked as a project manager for a translation agency. It was my first office based job and the work was interesting. Even though I was an intern, I was given huge amounts of responsibility and really treated as an employee. All of the work I completed in the German language and my writing in particular improved dramatically. Outside of work I joined a football team and really loved the city of Hamburg. It was quite similar to Leeds in being popular with young professionals and having a good music and beer scene! 

Did you undertake any work experience or worked in a job related to your degree during your time at university? If so how did the skills gained as Leeds help you?

My work experience as part of my year abroad has helped me hugely with applications. I have already had the experience of writing applications, being interviewed and then working in an office. On top of that I did it all in German! I feel more confident in jobs applications and understanding what is expected of me in an office environment but also have experienced rejection and don’t view not getting and interview as a failure. 

What are your career plans after finishing the course?

For the meantime I am staying in Leeds as I want to experience the city as a professional. I am applying for jobs in the NHS clerical staff with an eye to apply for their grad scheme this December. A long-term goal of mine is to improve opportunities for adult education in the UK in a similar fashion to the German VHS system in which sessions are both accessible and affordable.