Portrait of Owen Little

Owen Little

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I grew up in Newcastle with my three younger brothers and had lived in the same house all of my life, so I knew that I was ready for a change when it came to the move to university. I went to a state comprehensive school that set aspirations high, so even when I didn’t meet my targets at AS-level, I made sure not to give up. Leeds was my first choice of university, and the excitement of studying here made those gruelling study sessions a little more bearable. 

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

I had always loved studying languages. Learning another language gives you an insight into another way of thinking and shapes your interactions with the world and the people around you. I knew after my A-levels that I wanted to continue learning French and Italian, and the Joint Honours course at Leeds seemed perfect. When I found out that language graduates are some of the most employable of all the humanities I was even more convinced! I liked the course at Leeds because of its variety. Not only could I continue to learn and perfect my knowledge of my target languages, but I could do so while learning about subjects from Dante to Economics and from Film to Politics. The scope of topics available here at Leeds meant that I didn’t feel that I was limiting myself to one subject, and the breadth of knowledge I have developed has been really appreciated by potential employers. 

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

I went for the joint honours BA in French and Italian because the course combined language learning with a huge range of optional modules. I was really excited to learn about things like the French Revolution and Italy under Fascism from leading researchers in their field, and the course here at Leeds meant that I didn’t have to compromise on one language or one area of study. I had also heard from Leeds students how popular joint honours courses are and was reassured that I would have a large cohort with similar interests, and a developed support system from the university.  

Why did you choose Leeds?

My mum studied at Leeds and loved it, but I initially started by looking elsewhere as I didn’t want to follow in her footsteps! When I first came to the campus on an open day, however, I knew that Leeds was where I should have been looking all along. Despite being one of the top UK universities, Leeds was friendly, welcoming, and down to earth. I loved the campus, and the feeling that I was in a little student town within a city, with the Union right at the heart. From an academic perspective, Leeds also stood out – with the largest range of language courses in the country, I knew that I would be well supported to pursue my academic interests. 


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

I love how language shapes the way we interact and see the world. Learning another language gives you a different way to approach a task and gives you an amazing breadth of experience.

What aspects of the course did you enjoy the most?

I loved the variety of the course. The fact that I could start of the day by studying 20th Century Italian Fiction and finish by examining France’s colonial propaganda really excited me. 

What would you say about Leeds as a city?

Leeds is a great city for students. With a huge student population, there’s always something to do, from live music to independent bars and restaurants, Leeds has it all. The location of the university is perfect as well – at just a five-minute walk from the city centre, you don’t feel isolated from the rest of the city. Leeds was a home away from home for me.

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

Over the last few years the university has invested a lot into its facilities, from the state-of-the-art sports facilities (I bumped into the Brownlee brothers the other week!) to brand new libraries. For language students in particular there’s the language zone, a space where we can access specialist language software and a huge collection of films and magazines. The language zone is a great place to compliment your set work while also developing a deeper understanding of the target culture. 

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?

The final year project is at the same time exciting and daunting. It’s an opportunity for you to research something that you’re really passionate about and use all of the skills you have developed so far at the university. The title of my project was ‘Progress or Repetition? (Post?)colonialist discourse in the 2012 and 2017 French Presidential Elections.’ I wanted to combine my love for politics with the interest in French colonial history I developed at the university, and to see how France’s colonial history continues to shape its domestic politics and foreign policy, using the elections as an insight into French public opinion. France talks about its colonial history a lot more than the UK, and I was excited to see whether this can effect valuable and meaningful change for the ex-colonial populations involved. 

I think the key skill I developed during my final year project was discipline. The FYP is a challenge, and you really have to manage your time effectively to ensure you get the best results. The upside of this is the skillset you develop, which is really sought after on the graduate market – I’ve been asked about my FYP at all of my interviews for graduate schemes. 

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

In the third term of my second year I moved to Rome to study an intensive Italian language course at the Società Dante Alighieri. Living in Rome was amazing, and an entirely different experience to what I was used to at Leeds. The University’s unique term abroad system means that I was able to spend more time abroad being fully immersed in the languages and cultures I was studying. From Rome I moved briefly to Siena for an internship at an immigration law firm, and then onto Paris where I stayed for almost 12 months. 

Paris was incredible and such an amazing place to live; Parisians aren’t nearly as rude as people make them out to be! I found them really warm, welcoming, and keen to help me with my French. I worked full time while in Paris, which gave me a real insight into the French working culture and was fantastic for my language learning. It also made it possible to keep up with my extortionate rent!

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?

While in Paris I worked full time in two internships. For the first six months I worked for the airline Air France, teaching English for a few hours a day and assisting with general corporate training admin for the rest of it. I was really proud to be working for such a well-respected company with such a fascinating history – walking through the corridors at the HQ was something else! I loved my job and was really sad when it came to an end, but excited for my next role at the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce. 

I was certainly thrown into the deep end at the Chamber, and within the first two weeks was taking minutes (in French!) at Brexit round table events with leading EU businesses. Parts of my report that followed were even published! The Chamber worked closely with the British Embassy in Paris and gave me an insight into diplomacy and international trade, which has shaped my career decisions to date.

When I first arrived at the Chamber one of the board members, and director of one of the world’s leading recruitment firms, noted that Leeds students tend to have a really practical and professional grasp of spoken and written French. I think this is the skill that helped me most. The level of French I acquired at Leeds made people take me seriously and was the reason I was considered for challenging roles at the Chamber. 

What are your career plans after finishing the course?

In September I start on the Civil Service Fast Stream, the Government’s accelerated leadership programme designed to shape the future leaders of the Civil Service. I’m starting on the Generalist Scheme, with a focus on Trade and Economy, and over the next three years will move around the UK taking on various roles within Government. These are aimed at giving me a broad range of skills so that I’m ready to take up a variety of posts in the UK and abroad.