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“I didn’t give up thanks to an incredible tutor who loved her job”

Gaia stands in front of an old cathedral. The text next to her reads: My tutor was so patient. She understood my determination and wouldn't see me give up. I could really tell she was loving her job. Gaia Marsiglione, BA (Hons) Language Studies

When a self-confessed “crazy choice” threatened to derail hopes of Gaia Marsiglione, 32, completing her Language Studies degree, an Open University (OU) tutor stepped into cheer her on and across the finishing line.

“After finishing school in Sicily where I grew up, I went on to study Languages at university while also working full time. That meant doing 10-hour days, then trying to attend classes – not possible for any ordinary human being! I ended up choosing work over my studies, still paying my fees and trying to do one exam a year. After four years, I couldn’t do it anymore and quit.”

Life-changing decisions

“I decided to move to the UK. I was originally meant to be here for three months on the Erasmus programme, but I quickly knew I wanted to stay longer. I also realised I still wanted to study and would need an income, so I got a job in a hotel. Learning all the booking software reignited my love of languages.

“My cousin was the one who told me about the OU. He was already studying Computing. However, I needed to be practical about the financial side. I wasn’t buying a purse, I was getting a loan, and I had to question if it was something I could commit to. It was.”

Almost giving up

“I had learnt English, Spanish and French at school, but German was absolutely new to me – I didn’t even have the basics. The first and second module were fine, but by the time of my third module I was getting tired of studying so decided to skip it and move straight ahead to the fourth. Now I look back and think that was a crazy choice! Obviously, I didn’t pass the first assignment.

“It was hard. I couldn’t see the point of carrying on: I had no social life, was putting in so many hours, having books delivered to me at the hotel – I couldn’t even enjoy holidays. I called the OU with the intention to quit but instead spoke to a lovely person who was super-kind to me. She told me how well I’d done so far and encouraged me to keep going.”

Coached back to confidence

“I decided to go ahead and try again, but my confidence was knocked. When I didn’t show up for lectures, my tutor started emailing and ringing me – she was very persistent! She offered me extra hours outside of class, with one-on-one meetings, and I was so grateful for her time. She even did breakdowns for assessments, simplifying things to help me. It was the boost I needed.

“I started taking private lessons, something I saw as an investment in my future, and my grades improved. Still, when it came to my final assessment, which was part oral, I was terrified. My tutor was so patient. She understood my determination to learn German and wouldn’t see me give up. I could really tell that she was loving her job.”

An international celebration

“I eventually got my degree. I cried so much when I got my results, I was absolutely over the moon. My graduation day was amazing and my tutor even emailed to say well done, which was lovely. My family came over from Sicily and Bologna, my cousin came from Sweden. It was held inside a theatre, with prosecco to celebrate at the end… it was a very nice moment.

“Seeing my fellow students walk the stage made me go, ‘Wow’. Studying online meant I hadn’t put faces to voices, but there they all were: people older and younger than me, others on their third degree. It was such a mixed environment, and everyone had a story.”

Switching careers

“The Covid-19 pandemic hit while I was studying and it had a huge impact on the hospitality industry. I wanted to future-proof my career, so I took a job in a completely different area from my course: IT. Yet because it is an English company, working all across Europe, I’ve been able to put my linguistic skills into practice. Languages courses give you lots of options. I may even go into finance or marketing at some point.” 

Sicilian dreams

“One day, I’d like to do a postgraduate course – probably a Masters in Translation. But for now, I’m taking a bit of time off. Picking up another language, probably Portuguese, is also on my wish list. That and seeing the Northern Lights.

“My biggest dream of all is to return to Sicily. I miss my family. I may speak multiple languages, but I cannot express in words how much I love them! My degree has opened up jobs I can do remotely – allowing me to have a career with prospects while being home with the people I love.”

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