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SwissGlobal Prize 2022: an interview with the winners

This year, for the first time, SwissGlobal Language Services AG awarded the prize for the top thesis in the Bachelor of Arts in Applied Languages programme at the ZHAW. The two winners were Nelly Müller and Melanie Baer.

We talked to the two successful graduates and learned about their studies, the challenges they faced and their plans for the future.

Nelly and Melanie, as part of your work, you investigated the discussion on legalising abortion in Argentina, using the example of protest signs. What made you choose this topic?

On the one hand, we both have a personal connection to South America, through language and through travel. On the other hand, Argentina’s legislation on abortion is seen as trailblazing and an example to follow for other countries in Latin America. The legalisation of abortion is also a very controversial issue and – as current events in Poland and the USA show – one that arises time and time again.

This and other feminist concerns are close to our hearts, so it very quickly became clear to us that our work should focus on that topic. The aspect of social movements and protest arose partially because Argentina, a country with a proud tradition of protesting, was able to use protests to achieve the legalisation of abortion, and partially because protest signs have, up till now, been largely disregarded as a means of a communication in linguistic investigations.

What was the greatest challenge you faced in writing your paper? Which tip would you pass on to future students?

One major challenge was categorising the protest signs we found, as the first step in the analytical process. This was because there were so many potential solutions and protest signs are particularly rich in content. This meant we had to devote a lot of time to that part of the work, and we needed several attempts as well as a bit of coaching before we arrived at the final categorisation. With this in mind, staying in regular touch with our advisors and taking on board their input and their criticism really paid off. Because we had written our bachelor’s thesis together, it was particularly important for us to set aside time every week right from the beginning, to meet up, discuss the project and give each other feedback. This intensive style of collaboration worked very well for us.

How well were you able to put your theoretical knowledge to work in practice when researching and writing your paper? Were there any specific theories or methods you had learned on the course that you found particularly helpful?

Actually, the process of writing our bachelor’s thesis was a journey through three years’ studying (laughs). When we were in the process of analysing the protest signs, it suddenly occurred to us that we could fall back on a tremendous amount of what we’d learned: rhetoric, strategies for argumentation, pragmatism, comprehensibility, text/image references and plenty more. That strengthened the abilities and knowledge we had acquired even further – which was great. Of course, writing the term paper and the various group work projects during our studies was good preparation.

If you look back on your studies now, as graduates, which topics or subjects strike you as particularly important and relevant for making a successful transition into the working world?

We would say that having an affinity with your target group is an especially important skill that has always helped and supported us in both our everyday work and in communication. This proved true on multiple occasions and in various subjects, particularly in translation. Our intercultural sensitivity and our understanding of the need for comprehensible communication were heightened. For example, we now think twice about whether to nest sentences within each other or whether it is quicker just to add a full stop.

Last but not least: what is next for you both, and what will you be doing with the CHF 2,500 in SwissGlobal prize money?

Nelly: I’m currently doing a one-year traineeship in an NGO that works in the field of international child and adult protection and migration. After that, I would like to do a master’s, focusing on migration, conflict resolution and sustainability.

Melanie: Since September, I have spent six months working as a trainee in a company devoted to national campaign work, including with non-profit organisations. Before I continue my studies next autumn, potentially with a master’s in international relations, I’m itching to travel to Asia for a lengthy stay next spring.

We are, of course, delighted about the prize money! As to what we’d like to do with it, we’re not quite sure yet. One thing is sure, however: we would like to support culture, activist project and/or feminist organisations – maybe the ones fighting to legalise abortion abroad.