History and Modern Languages at Cambridge

Natacha is a 3rd year history and modern languages undergraduate at St Catharine's College, Cambridge. She comes from a state-comprehensive in Essex and has been involved in access work throughout her time at university. Currently, she is on her year abroad in Barcelona, Spain, where she has been spending time interning with a news agency and a law firm. As part of her year abroad requirements, she is writing a dissertation on the legalisation of contraception during the Franco dictatorship.

1. What is your course and where do you study it?

I study History and Spanish at St Catharine's College, Cambridge.

2. What does your course entail?

The History and Modern Languages (HML) course is very varied. In first year, you complete four language and two history modules. The language modules include grammar, oral, translation and a cultural paper. They're all compulsory and just lay the basics for the coming years, where you get a lot more choice. The literature paper goes through novels, short stories, novels and movies so you can get a grasp of what you might like to focus on.

For history you can pick from a really wide range of papers and none are compulsory. The papers tend to work in time periods (for example Europe from 1800 - 1900). The nice part of doing history with a language is that you can access papers that usual history first years can't, however it also means you lose out on British history papers, as those are not included in the HML course. The exams tend to be quite spaced out and are all three hours. Depending on if you pick well, you might be the first out of your group of friends to finish exam season though!

3. What is your favourite part of the course?

My favourite part of my course has been a real surprise, as I had no interest in it until I arrived at university. In second year, you get the opportunity to pick up a new language as a module. I personally really did not like literature and wanted nothing to do with it so I picked up Catalan after being turned down from Portuguese. Although the fairly light workload was a massive plus, mostly I just really enjoyed getting to pick up something completely new. The professors were really engaging and I found that there was quite a lot of in-person time, which helped my Catalan improve a lot. The very small amount of literature I had to do focused on works written by authors exiled during the dictatorship, which as a history student I loved. As well, I've ended up in Barcelona, and I managed to get a journalism internship just because I'd taken that module and was able to speak a little bit which has been such an amazing experience!

4. What would you improve about the course?

As much as I love the course and how I've been able to mix two disciplines, there's room for improvement. Since it's a fairly new course, the communication between the departments isn't ideal. Sometimes the language side will forget to send you an e-mail because they think the history side has done it, and vice versa. So keeping on top of admin is quite important! The workload was a bit of an issue in the first few years just as professors got adjusted to managing joint degrees, but in my second year, I found most people to be really accommodating. Sometimes my language essay deadlines would clash with my history ones, and as long as you talk to your supervisors about it they tend to be happy to change things so you can get the work in when you can.

5. What do you plan to do after you graduate?

My plans aren't quite defined yet, but with this degree, I've found myself able to experience lots of different fields, and currently, I have my goals set on doing some kind of journalism.