Iris van der Horst | Foto: Privat

English and American Studies: From Novels to Academia

Iris van der Horst spent most of her childhood in the Netherlands before moving to Carinthia and attending the BRG Feldkirchen. She is currently enrolled in the Bachelor Anglistik und Amerikanistik and in the Master of Education programme, with English and History, and since 2020 has been working as a student assistant in the English Department at the University of Klagenfurt. During her studies, she has published two novels in English.

Why did you decide to study at the University of Klagenfurt?

I have always enjoyed going to school and learning about the world, so I assumed I would really enjoy university, too. The University of Klagenfurt offered the programmes I was interested in, so I decided to study here. I also felt that the location of the university is very nice, with its proximity to the lake and the mountains.

Why how did you choose our university?

I have always enjoyed going to school and learning about the world, so I assumed I would really enjoy university, too. The University of Klagenfurt offered the programmes I was interested in, so I decided to study here. I also felt that the location of the university is very nice, with its proximity to the lake and the mountains.

When and how did you find out what you wanted to study?

I once attended a “Talente Camp” at the university while I was still in school. I remember that we had to read scenes from Bridget Jones’s Diary and compare those to the film version, which I found very interesting, and that is when I knew that I wanted to study English. I knew that the university of Klagenfurt had a great English department and offered interesting courses, so I decided to stay in Klagenfurt and join its university.

What do you do in your courses? What do you learn and what do you like best about it?

When you study English at our department, you focus on different aspects connected to the English language. One aspect is that you scientifically study the language (linguistics). Another is that you analyse literature, for instance books or films, and then there are the language classes, where you improve your writing and speaking skills. I personally really enjoy the literature classes. It is a great experience to discuss books or films together with your colleagues and professors, and analyse them using different theories.

How do you explain the content of your studies to your family or friends?

Many friends and family members believe that studying English only means improving your language skills and that it is similar to the subject “English” in school, so I always try to explain to them that it is much more than that. They are always quite amazed when I tell them that my preparation for a class may include watching a film or reading a short story, or that my classes include journeys through the histories and culture(s) of English-speaking countries such as the UK, the US, Canada or Australia.

What makes your degree programme special for you?

Our department offers a wide variety of courses. I have taken courses that focused on science fiction, American history through film, metaphors, migrant perspectives in British fiction, Brexit, animal rights, video games – there are so many great options to choose from! There is something for everyone!

Have you had any experience abroad?

I spent a semester at King’s College in London, which was a very enriching and amazing experience. The university is right in the heart of the city, at the Strand, which is surrounded by theatres and other beautiful buildings. As you attend courses with full-time King’s students, you get to chat not only with many Erasmus students, but also students from the UK. I lived in a student accommodation close to the London Eye and I could walk to all the major sights and stroll along the Thames. Most of all I loved going to the Globe Theatre, where the Shakespeare plays I had been reading in class were brought to life on stage. If you study English, London is a wonderful place to spend a few months in, and our English department and the Erasmus programme make it very easy to go there! For me it was a dream come true.

Where do you go at university for help when you need something or get stuck?

We have wonderful student representatives who will happily answer any questions you have. If I needed help with something directly connected to the classes, I usually also asked the professors and they have always been very supportive.

Do you do something else besides studying?

I really enjoy creative writing and have published two novels in English. The language classes really helped me to acquire the skills to improve my writing, and I also got to take a creative writing class that was offered by one of our professors who helped me develop great short stories. I also tutored school students for a few years, which naturally combines very well with English studies, especially when you are also in the teacher training programme (Lehramt).

Has your view of the world changed as a result of your time studying?

Definitely! We have a slogan at our department, which is: change the world one word at a time. When you study English, you are always engaging in dialogue with people, with literature and with the language. Because of this, you learn to view things from different perspectives, to think critically and to have empathy. It goes far beyond learning a language, as aspects such as global citizenship education and feminist and postcolonial theories are also included.

What is your favourite place at Klagenfurt University?

The Aula at the university! When you spend some time there, you always run into someone you know or you might have a chat with someone who happens to be sitting at your table. I would say it is the heart of our university and the atmosphere is always very pleasant and lively. Also, they have great vegan muffins at the cafeteria.

Why should you study at our university?

The university is not very large, which I find an enormous advantage. You make friends very easily as you share many classes with the same students and the professors also get to know you. You soon begin to feel that you belong to a wonderful and diverse community. You feel at home.

What would you have been happy about if someone had told you before you started studying?

Beginning your studies can be slightly overwhelming as there are many things you have to familiarize yourself with, such as the Campus system, or the difference between lectures and seminars, and what in the world are ECTS? I would definitely recommend that students attend the welcome days, where you learn everything you need to know about your studies and then you are all set to embark on your university adventure.


  • My most exciting lecutre was… Cultures in Context
  • My life as a student is... never boring
  • One day at the university is not possible without… visiting the „Uniwirt“
  • I am inspired by… my professors
  • My dream job would be… becoming a literature professor