Author Archives: Olivia

“The International team at Birkbeck went above and beyond in providing me with support”

Fijian Sidhant Maharaj is currently enrolled on Birkbeck’s MA in Gender and Sexuality Studies. Here, Sidhant shares why choosing Birkbeck was the right decision.

Sidhant Maharaj

I’m an Intersectional Queer Feminist Activist from Fiji with over 8 years’ experience working in the areas of Women, Girls, LGBTQI+ rights, and Youth Empowerment. I’m also a non-binary feminist researcher and work with organizations nationally, regionally and internationally in conducting, designing, and facilitating training programs and policy development.

With multiple international leadership trainings, I continuously advocate for intersectional policies while increasing visibility and amplifying marginalized voices. I currently serve as the East Asia and the Pacific Representative to the Community Solutions Program Alumni Board of more than 630 alumni from over 80 countries. I also served as a Specialist Mentor for the Community Engagement Exchange Program 2023, funded by the US Department of State and supported in its implementation by the International Research & Exchanges Board supporting over 100 youths from over 70 countries. With my work in the region I have also been selected as a UN Women 30 for 2030 youth leader in South East Asia and the Pacific.

Why did you choose Birkbeck?

I chose Birkbeck for my MA in Gender and Sexuality Studies program because I was particularly drawn to how Birkbeck examines current debates around gender and sexuality which incorporate the cutting-edge research of world-leading academics at Birkbeck, who are passionate and engaged in the real world, working towards social justice with activists, policy-makers, academics, and charities and NGOs. Another reason that made me choose Birkbeck over other university offers I had was the people and culture at Birkbeck. Due to some unforeseen circumstances I was quite late in applying to universities but the International team at Birkbeck went above and beyond in providing support to me all the way in Fiji, making the application process seamless. Today being halfway across the world in London I am so glad I chose Birkbeck!

What do you plan to do after your studies at Birkbeck?

After the completion of my MA in Gender and Sexuality Studies, I plan to further my research in Fiji and the Pacific and work more closely with the public and private sector in developing/updating more inclusive and diverse policies that has women and LGBTIQ+ community as safe guarded categories shifting from the gender as binary narrative.

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Changing careers: from working in law to becoming a football agent

Iddi Yassin is one of the 21 Birkbeck 2024 Chevening scholars. In this blog Iddi shares his dreams about the future and the place Birkbeck will play in helping him achieve his goals.

Iddi Yassin

I’m from Tanzania and I’m studying MSc Sport Management at Birkbeck. In 2016, I was admitted to the Tanzania Mainland Bar Association, and I practised law as an Advocate of The High Court of Tanzania.

Chevening as a first step to a new career

I applied for Chevening in 2023 because it’s arguably the most prestigious scholarship programme with remarkable scholars and alumni from different social, economic, and political backgrounds.

My long-term plan is to become a football agent and manage young athletes in Tanzania to fulfil their career ambitions on the global stage. I hope the extensive skills and rich network acquired from my postgraduate studies will help me achieve this.

Why Birkbeck?

I chose Birkbeck due to its great reputation and popularity in the sports industry, as well as its great staff equipped with understanding of management, governance, and regulatory issues within the business of sports. Furthermore, studying in a cosmopolitan and business-oriented capital city such as London will give me exposure to a wide range of sports businesses, football clubs, and football regulatory authorities.

I’m confident that having the opportunity to study this course will help build my skills, competence, and expertise and provide me with a strong foundation as a football agent and sports consultant. I plan to participate fully in various long-term sports programmes including raising awareness to the public, writing articles, and publishing them. This includes being actively engaged and collaborating with the government and other stakeholders in capacity-building programs.

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Highlights from a tour of Parliament

Leo Hardwick, Student Immigration Compliance Reports Officer at Birkbeck, took part in a tour of the UK Parliament with 17 Birkbeck students, and in this blog he shares their experience.

Birkbeck students in Westminster Hall

Birkbeck students in Westminster Hall

We met, wind blowing, rain falling, next to the statue of Oliver Cromwell: dictator of England and Scotland. It had not yet gone 9am, and his stern, angry face was mirrored in the multitude of commuters, hurrying to their officers around Westminster, who were yet to have the sweet nectar of the first macchiato of the day.

We were the exception to this mood. A group of 17 Birkbeck students. From all over the world. Studying courses from Management to Art History. We were there for a tour of Parliament, organised by International Student Administration.

We met our tour guide in the main hall, the oldest part of the building – and one of the coldest rooms I have ever been in. The hall was the location for the trial of Charles I, who was sentenced to death for crimes against his people (over 100 years before the French repeated the exercise). We stood in the middle of the hall, where he had been seated, and felt the history.

What followed was a whistle-stop tour of British history, each room, each stone, witness to some of the most significant moments of our past. Our tour guide was excellent. Her enthusiasm infectious. First stop was the House of Commons, where MPs sit and debate. We brushed past the dispatch box: where Gladstone had fought Disraeli; where Asquith had told the nation of Britain’s entry into the Great War in 1914; where Churchill had made his famous speeches. We stood next to the bench Lady Astor, the first female MP to actually take her seat in the commons in 1919, had once sat.

The excitement was extinguished somewhat when the tour guide informed us that the chamber had been destroyed during the Second World War. Gladstone popped from view. That dispatch box had actually come from New Zealand…. And those benches, IKEA (well, maybe not). The bomb damage is still visible above the entry to the chamber.

We moved to the House of Lords. The carpet, and the benches, changed from green to red. The King’s throne haunts the Lords – he had been there a week earlier for the opening of Parliament. Some were taken aback that in this chamber sat the decedents of nobles who had come over with William the Conqurer in 1066. Products, like the King, of hereditary power. Even though the Commons once chopped off the head of a King – another Charles – the ancient regime lives. History lives.

The final stop was St Stephen’s Hall – where the Commons sat before the fire of 1834. This was the tour guide’s favourite room. This was where William Wilberforce had spoken out against slavery, and it was where, belatedly, slavery was finally outlawed. We were told that great things had happened in this space. As the tour guide explained, British political history seems to be a lesson, like it or not, in patience. Radicalism exists, but it is the product of forces that move like glaciers.

We finished our tour in the café, with cake and tea, and a sense of awe. A Birkbeck alumnus had once entered Westminster as one of the first MPs of the newly founded Labour Party, at the beginning of the twentieth century. He went on to become Labour’s first prime minister – Ramsay Macdonald. The illegitimate son of a housemaid, born into poverty, he represented real social mobility in Britain – his journey to the top had started in the corridors of Birkbeck, long before he swapped them for Westminster.

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Why I love teaching on Birkbeck’s Get Started Law taster course

Dr Susy Menis, Lecturer in Birkbeck’s Law School, teaches a Get Started Law Taster course, which aims to give people without experience of studying at a UK university an opportunity to try out a university level course. In this blog, she shares her approach to teaching, what she wants learners to achieve, and why she enjoys teaching the course so much.

Dr Susy Menis outside Birkbeck’s Malet Street building

What is the Get Starter taster course, and who is it for?
This is a freebie short course run by Birkbeck once a term. Currently, it offers tasters in law, criminology, and computer science. This initiative is targeted to welcome those who may feel excluded from taking a step into higher education.

How did I get into the delivery of the Law taster?
I had set up an artwork exhibition at Stratford Public Library with the help of the Access and Engagement team; then, the Coronavirus hit us. Subsequently, I could not turn down their plea to deliver free online content to a target audience. The first Law taster occurred in June 2020 on Collaborate; I was told it sold out.

Online delivery so early in the pandemic wave, panic?
No. During my PhD studies, I taught and designed content for Kaplan Open Learning on behalf of Essex University Online. I was also an associated lecturer at the Open University remote LLB programme, and in 2017/18, I created a blended-learning option module for the Birkbeck LLB. Still, I needed content, and I knew that a ‘transfer’ of in-person learning materials into an online context is not what relevant pedagogy advises. Hence, I felt under pressure.

So, how did I approach this?
I reminded myself of the two principles I had followed in my teaching and that I applied the Certificate HE Legal Studies (I re-designed it from scratch in 2018 as its new programme director): 1. less is more, and 2. active learning. These need to be matched with the right level of delivery, and the first taster’s cohort set the threshold: Union members and Reps between 30+ to 50+ years of age (now we have younger students, too) and a majority of up to level 3 formal qualifications (few on 5 and 6). Subsequently, I added another principle: 3. recognise adult learners’ prior knowledge.

My taster is delivered yearly on Teams across four weeks, and now I alternate between two different contents. Last year, the taster was about ‘The curious case of the “flick knife”’ and concerns legal reasoning. This year’s topic was ‘Common law and legislation in practice: the case of theft’, and it looks at the interplay between legislation and judicial precedent.

What do I want learners to achieve?
The overarching learning outcome I want the students to achieve is a ‘transformative learning’ experience. ‘Transformative’ could range from the emotional sense of and practical achievement of attending a course, contributing to class discussion, and being heard to learning something new and the cognitive satisfaction of its application in context.

Learning is scaffolded and focuses on bit size depth of knowledge, emphasizing critical thinking and application. Each week’s learning builds on a short, recorded lecture. The live sessions are teacher-led, but the students bring the knowledge we work with. To this end, I avoid ‘lecturing’; I ask open questions, we reflect, and concepts are illustrated through students’ application to scenarios.

My final thoughts
Recent pedagogical scholarship recognises the significance of the teacher’s social presence and learners’ motivation in online learning, and this taster allowed me to reflect on the grounding of my practice. My main conclusion is that this has been a transformative experience for me too, not least because I was struck by the dynamic collaboration between the students and me and how much they said they got out of it. I am looking forward to the next cohort 2024/25!

Here’s some recent feedback from attendees of the course:

“Reflective skills for sure, reasoning skills, reading complex information!! Really, I enjoy very much all of the sessions!!”

“Miss Susy, and to the whole management team thanks a ton for putting together this awesome law taster. It was truly memorable & I won’t forget it anytime soon. Your efforts made it extra special, I really appreciate it”

“The Law Taster journey has been an absolute bliss with you” 

“Absolutely adored today’s session. Thank you so much for making it so interactive”

“I like the cases and the incisive way Susy teases out the legal logic and principles to make us understand more simply”

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Meet the international student: Ekhomalomen Inegbenose Pierre, from Nigeria

Recipient of the International Excellence Scholarship, Ekhomalomen Inegbenose Pierre came to Birkbeck to study MSc Information Technology. Here he shares more about his background and experience, and even gives tips to future Birkbeck students. 

Ekhomalomen Inegbenose Pierre

Discovering myself at Birkbeck and beyond 

Birkbeck wasn’t just a college to me; it was a revelation. Nestled in Bloomsbury, this esteemed institution gave me more than just an MSc in Information Technology – it handed me a kaleidoscope through which I saw the vibrant hues of life, both academically and personally. 

My Birkbeck and London love affair 

I vividly recall my first evening class at Birkbeck; the room echoed with a medley of accents, reminding me of London’s cultural symphony. Conversations shifted from coursework to personal anecdotes, from hometown tales to shared dreams. In that diversity, I found camaraderie. Beyond Birkbeck’s walls, London became my playground. From spontaneous weekend trips to Brick Lane for its famous curries to late-night study sessions at quirky cafes in Shoreditch, every corner of this city whispered stories and secrets. 

To all future Birkbeck international scholars 

Dear future Birkbeckian, dive headfirst into everything! That small seminar you’re thinking about? Attend it. The group from class planning a walk along the river Thames? Join them. Each experience, no matter how trivial it seems, adds a brushstroke to your London canvas. 

Trials, tribulations, and triumphs 

Juggling coursework, London’s allure, and bouts of homesickness wasn’t always a walk in Hyde Park. The UK’s academic approach, emphasizing self-study and critical analysis, often overwhelmed me, but I knew it was an important learning curve. My coffee-fueled nights, deciphering complex IT problems, were punctuated by Skyping family and sharing laughs. A tip? Embrace every challenge; they’re often veiled lessons.  

Hidden gems: my sanctuaries in the city 

There’s a small nook in the British Museum, away from the usual tourist buzz, where I often lost myself among ancient scripts. It became my thinking spot, my refuge from the rigours of coursework. 

Outside Bloomsbury, the quaint bookshops along London’s famous South Bank became my haven. Nestled with a book, against the backdrop of the Thames, I found serenity amidst the city’s bustle. 

Internships and insights 

Midway through my course, I stumbled upon an internship opportunity with a tech startup during a Birkbeck mixer. As a Junior Systems Developer, I wasn’t just coding; I was imbibing the entrepreneurial spirit of London’s tech scene. That startup environment, with its blend of chaos and creativity, its failures and triumphs, taught me resilience and innovation. My MSc journey at Birkbeck, intertwined with London’s charm, has been a rollercoaster of emotions, experiences, and epiphanies. It’s a chapter of my life I’d reread endlessly, cherishing each word, each memory.  

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Rishi Sunak’s retreat on climate policies is troubling

Last week UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the scrapping and watering down of several key climate targets. Academics Dr Pam Yeow, Reader in Management and Dr Becky Briant, Reader in Quaternary Science, share their thoughts in a blog. 

Planet Earth

We read with disappointment and concern the latest announcement from the UK Prime Minister, of the intentions to roll back climate positive strategies and priorities until 2035. This is unfortunate for both scientific and economic reasons. 

Over the past decade it has become increasingly clear that the impacts from climate change are being experienced at lower levels of change than previously projected. Most climate mitigation policies propose to keep warming below 2 degrees centigrade beyond pre-industrial averages and yet at current levels of warming (only 1.2 degrees), we are already seeing extreme weather events on an annual basis, from the wildfires that started in Canada in June and are still alight, to extreme heatwaves and wildfires in southern Europe and the Middle East this July, to significant hurricane disruption in the US in August, to multiple floods and landslides just this month, for example in Libya and Hong Kong. The facts of climate change don’t stop being facts when we choose to ignore them. 

Similar thresholds are being crossed in all areas of environmental degradation, with the reporting this month that six of the nine ‘planetary boundaries’ identified back in 2009 as ‘guard-rails’ beyond which humanity should not go if we want to live on a habitable planet have been crossed, meaning that Earth is now significantly outside of the safe operating space for humanity. For example, the disposability of single-use plastics, once hailed as a symbol of modernity with its low cost, convenience and durability has resulted in significant social and environmental concerns such as low recyclability rates and large volumes entering landfills and marine-based environments, leading to health concerns. Action is needed across the board to ensure our planet remains habitable; also to avoid the extreme costs associated with both clearing up and rebuilding after extreme weather events and taking care of those whose health has been damaged by the degradation of our environment. The issues involved are so intertwined that action on one will increase the likelihood of success on another. 

Globally, the only way to avoid the worst climate change scenarios is for all countries in the world to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and then to move to negative emissions. Reaching net zero by 2050 requires such a steep emissions reduction that emissions need to halve by 2030 in order to reach it, in what the United Nations (UN) have called ‘the decisive decade’. The UK’s previous policy commitments were barely able to bring the UK economy to net zero by 2050 anyway, but last week’s announcements move us even further away from success. Furthermore, given that the requirement is global and many countries are moving much more slowly to action, the UK has an ethical obligation as an early and substantial historical emitter to double down on climate action, not roll back. 

These announcements are particularly troubling because we had not so long ago led the field in taking environmental action, with the first statutory commitments in the 2008 Climate Change Act and a raft of strategies and policies over the last decade that addressed many, if not all, of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in addition to straight emission reduction commitments. For single use plastic waste for example, in 2017, the UN adopted an additional resolution in relation to SDG 14 (Life Below Water) that included an agreement to implement long-term and robust strategies to reduce the use of single-use plastics and microplastics (UN General Assembly, 2017). In 2022, a UN resolution was drafted to end plastics pollution. Meanwhile, the UK, alongside the EU, introduced similar measures around single-use plastics, including a 5p carrier bag charge which increased to 10p in 2021, and a ban on single use plastic items that included plates, trays, bowls, cutlery and food containers from October 2023. A plastic packaging tax generated £276 million in the first year of introduction (2023) and there were other consultations that took place, regarding the introduction of deposit return schemes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  

More industries than ever have now come aboard and engaged with the sustainability agenda, giving hope that concerted action might be possible. Many voluntary initiatives were introduced and taken on by organisations like the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation which introduced concepts like the plastic circular economy and the encouragement of a reduction alongside recycling and reusing. The UK Plastics Pact have some of the world’s largest packaging producers, brands, retailers and NGOs signed up to a shared vision with targets of eliminating ‘problem’ plastics, increase the use of reusable or recyclable plastics and achieving 30% average recycled plastic in items (WRAP, 2022). Similarly, many companies have signed up to the UN’s ‘Race to Zero’. 

The UK government needs to recognise that environmental action and economic health are not mutually exclusive. We need a systemic framework of engagement, involving global, national and local groups, which occurs in the context of cross-party consensus and does not change. In addition to the environmental harm caused, chopping and changing government policy kills jobs and future investment. After the shock announcement this week, the car industry reacted furiously as they had agreed as an industry to work towards more environmentally friendly automobiles, contributing to an infrastructure of electric charging network as well as better performing fully electric vehicles. Other global leaders have also reacted with dismay at this turnaround and have urged the UK government to reconsider.  

We are clear that negative climate changes and environmental degradation are already taking place. It is imperative that governments work in tandem with industry, local governments and citizens towards priorities and strategies that help our planet thrive. We urge the UK government to take the lead again in creating opportunities for a greener planet and healthier and happier citizens.  

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Five Black Caribbean individuals who have made a difference in the UK

Thursday 22 June marks National Windrush Day, and 2023 marks the 75th anniversary of the HMT Empire Windrush arriving in Britain on 22 June 1948. Ikenna Okoye-Ahaneku, BA Philosophy student, highlights five Black Caribbean people who have inspired him by making a difference in the UK. 

Ikenna Oyoke-Ahaneku

Ikenna Oyoke-Ahaneku

  1. Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall (3 February 1932 – 10 February 2014) was a Jamaican-born British Marxist sociologist, cultural theorist, and political activist. He was one of the founding figures of the school of thought named as British Cultural Studies or the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies. During the late 1950s, Hall was a founder of the prominent “New Left Review” – a British bimonthly journal, where intriguing topics such as world politics, economy, and culture were discussed! Inspired by the life and work of Stuart Hall, the Stuart Hall Foundation (SHF) was made and is driven to helping public education, tackling race and inequality in culture and society through talks and events, and developing a network of SHF scholars and artists in residence.  

  1. Khadija Ibrahiim

Khadijah Ibrahiim has Jamaican parents and was born in Leeds. She is a literary activist, theatre maker and writer. Khadijah started developing programmes about black history and poetry. One of her greatest creations is Leeds Young Authors, a programme for 13 to 19-year-olds, which after 20 years, has had great success because of her work as its artistic director. She is also the executive producer of the documentary “We Are Poets”. Khadijah and her work have appeared on BBC Radio 1Xtra, BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 4!  

  1. Benjamin Zephaniah

Benjamin Zephaniah was born on the 15th of April 1958, in the Handsworth area of Birmingham. He is known for his poetry as well as novels, plays, and other impressive works. His poetry is named “dub poetry” which means that it is performed – and the words are recited over the beat of reggae music. He was in The Times list of Britain’s top 50 post-war writers in 2008! His parents were Jamaican and as a child he loved reggae music and the poetry of Jamaica. He began writing poetry when he was very young. By the age of 15, he had many fans in his neighbourhood. Quickly, he became famous and has released many great books, plays, poems and even had some acting roles, including in the hit show, “Peaky Blinders”!  

  1. Bob Marley

Born in Jamaica, Bob Marley is regarded as the king of reggae, and his impact on music and culture is unquestionable. Marley combined aspects of reggae, ska, and rocksteady, also having a unique singing and songwriting style. He gave birth to countless classic songs such as “One Love”, “Three Little Birds” and “Buffalo Soldier”. “Get Up, Stand Up!” is the Bob Marley Musical that is watched and adored by thousands of Britons each year in theatres.   

  1. Raheem Sterling

Raheem Sterling MBE is a Jamaican born professional football player who plays for Chelsea in the Premier League. He also previously played for Liverpool and Manchester City. He has won multiple Premier League titles with Manchester City, being a vital part of Manchester City’s recent success. He is regarded as one of the best players in the world and is someone who has worked tirelessly to reach the top of English football. However, his life isn’t without problems. Off the field, he has suffered racial abuse by fans and has been negatively portrayed by the British media. He also plays for England and has been a key player and captain, for Gareth Southgate and England.  

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Why the government’s ban on single-use items hasn’t gone far enough

Dr Pam Yeow, Reader in Management at Birkbeck, responds to the news this month that the UK government is banning single-use items, such as plastic cutlery, plates and trays.  

This month, the UK government announced further moves to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic. This latest move includes the ban of plastic items relating to takeaway food and drink such as single-use items like plastic cutlery, plates and trays.  

On the one hand, every effort counts, and therefore the potential for removal of 1.1bn single-use plates and 4.25bn pieces of cutlery is significant; however I’d suggest that this does not go far enough.  

Greater awareness and improved technology in this area has led to the creation and eventual establishment of sound alternatives to single-use cutlery and plates. For example, compostable paper cutlery and plates, bamboo and wood cutlery, and the encouragement of ‘bring your own’ (coffee cups and metal straws). These innovations have led to the normalizing of alternative options to single-use items. This can only be a positive move forwards.  

However, as with many of these decisions post-consultation on such proposals, this move to ban single-use cutlery and trays is not as comprehensive as it ought to be. The ban will not include plastic cutlery and plates from supermarkets and shops, just like the loophole in 2014 when the UK government first proposed the 5p charge on single-use plastic bags in England but imposed it on larger stores and supermarkets and not local takeaways and standalone shops, and eventually moved to the current guidance of “all retailers of all sizes must charge for single-use carrier bags”.  

Beyond efforts to change individual behaviours in recycling, reducing and reusing, current infrastructures are set up ways that are non-user friendly, meaning individuals in households are not able to embark on recycling, reducing or reusing single-use plastics as there is much inconsistency.  A recent study completed with Haringey Council highlights the tensions that exist between the council’s implementation of waste management and the experiences of residents.  

The climate emergency is accelerating and awareness amongst the general public is finally here. Many governments and industries are working towards goals like net zero and cleaner consumptions. However, there must be a coherent and consistent strategy that brings together individual behaviour change with structural and infrastructure reform.   

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“Working whilst studying has helped me financially as well as boosted my career”

Janos Bato, BSc Business student, aged 19, is working as an operations analyst whilst studying. In this blog, he delves into his experiences of working whilst studying at Birkbeck, how he found moving to London, and his ambitions for the future. 

Daytime freedom 

I wanted to find a university where I could have freedom in the day to work, and discovered Birkbeck, which was the perfect option. When I started my degree, I joined a property management company as an operations assistant, and have since been promoted twice within a year to my current role of an operations analyst. I’m developing analytical skills, problem solving, and time management skills through this role, which is setting me up well for the future. 

Funding my lifestyle 

Financially, working whilst studying has really helped me fund my lifestyle and education. I often use my earnings to buy new books and enrol on courses, for example in the last few months I’ve been learning about programming, and I’ve invested in books about how to set up start-ups. I’m heavily investing in learning about tech because it’s going to be a driving force in the future. 

Birkbeck set me up with a mentor from Goldman Sachs 

Being mentored by a senior person in such a prestigious company has taught me a lot about professionalism and how to advance my career. It was a six-month programme, but I’ve kept in touch with my mentor and have been to the Goldman Sachs office several times. It inspired me to apply to be a Birkbeck mentor and support someone else so I’m currently mentoring a first year Birkbeck student. I also signed up to be the Business course representative as I’m trying to gain as many experiences as I can. The academics are really helpful and encourage students to be interactive in classes, so I want to help this process and assist in creating a course that is shaped on the needs of students.

I found it easy to settle in London 

I moved to London in 2021 into student accommodation. I was surrounded by students from many different countries, and I found everything was on my doorstep. I always recommend studying abroad to others – it’s an amazing opportunity that provides you with new experiences and the chance to meet new people and learn about different cultures.  

London is a haven for learning about perspectives 

As London is such a metropolitan city, I’m gradually learning how other people view the world.  I was born in Hungary and went to an International School in Moscow for my A levels, so I’m used to living in different places. The more I travel, the more I learn. One of my goals is to not stay rooted in one country in the future. I always want to roam around and move from one place to another. 

My ultimate goal is to run my own business in the future 

My plan is to build a product or service that benefits society. For example, I think there’s a need for a social media platform where people can fact-check what’s true and what’s not, as well as access useful information that elevates them as professionals and individuals. But I don’t think I can really plan ahead too much as the business landscape is always changing. Once I’m in a position to start my own business, I’ll figure out what I’ll do then. 

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Ten traditional Diwali dishes to celebrate the festival of lights

Aditya Mukherjee, BA Global Politics and International Relations student, shares his recommendations for what to eat during the Diwali celebrations this week. 

One of the most popular festivals in India, celebrated all over the world, Diwali, or Deepavali as it is known, is a festival of light that brings family and friends together. Taking place in November (based on the lunar calendar so dates change every year), it is the time of the year that many look forward to, as it brings families together. It is the time when households are lit with ‘diyas’ (traditional Indian lamps) in the evening to mark the victory of good over evil, and to welcome the Gods home. 

In addition, it is also the time when people purchase new clothes, home items, electronics, and cars. More importantly, gifts are given to loved ones.  

Food is an important aspect of the celebration, and many types of delicious dishes are made to celebrate every evening. Let’s discover some of the well-known foods that are almost always prepared during this festival (caution – most of them are desserts and deep fried, so if you have a sweet tooth, you are in for some cravings!) 

1. Jalebi  

“If you haven’t tried jalebi, you have not lived.” (Quote by an ancient Indian scholar) Deep fried spiral shaped batter covered in sugar syrup. This is not for the faint hearted. 

Jalebi

2. Gagar-ka-Halwa (carrot halwa) 

A delicious pudding made form slow cooked carrots simmered in milk along with a lot of jaggery (organic sweetener from sugarcane) and sugar. It usually has cardamom, cashews and raisins for aroma and flavour. 

Gagar-ka-Halwa

3. Gulab jamun (rose water berry) 

Another sweet confectionary and a must have in any Indian celebration. Milk and cheese solids dough heated over a long time, later fried and soaked in sugar syrup. 

Gulab Jamun

4. Kheer (rice pudding) 

Rice slowly cooked with milk, sugar, saffron and cardamom, creates the classic Indian pudding known as kheer. Cooked only on special occasions, it is a must have at a Diwali party. Nuts and dried fruit are also added for stimulating the palate. 

Kheer

5. Burfi (fudge)  

Burfi’s are fudge, that can come in various textures and consistencies depending on the ingredients and spices used. Naturally, Indian burfis come in a pantheon of colors and flavors so there is always something for everyone when it comes to this desert. My all-time favourite is mango burfi and the regular or natural flavor (doodh) milk burfi. 

Mango barfi

Moving on to the savories, the contenders are: – 

6. Samosas  

A staple that is synonymous with Indian identity, samosas are triangular savoury pastries that are irresistible because they are crispy, yummy, spicy and, naturally a must have during celebratory events. Quite literally, a fried or baked pastry with a savoury filling such as a spiced potato mash with onions, lentils and peas. They are often eaten with condiments like mint and tamarind chutney (usually a choice of one sweet and once spicy chutney) for those who aspire to have the authentic experience. 

Samo

Samosa

7. Chakli (spirals) 

A very popular Indian savory, these are made of rice and/or gram flower, that is of course deep fried along with spices and lentils, thus available in many different variations and flavours. Although commonly available and eaten, this is one of those snacks that is a favourite and finds its way onto menus for parties and celebrations very easily. 

Chakli

8. Pakora (spiced fritter) 

Having several variations , pakoras are quintessential, easy to make and, have a lot of variety in flavours depending on the vegetables used that are coated in a gram flour batter, and totally deep-fried to the heart’s content. A mix of vegetables and spices may be added to diversify the palate but the most common are pieces of cauliflower, eggplant (aubergine), potatoes, and mixed vegetables. To enjoy, these are eaten with condiments, such as a mint or mango chutney on the side to fire up your taste buds. 

Pakora

9. Puri – bhaji 

A traditional Indian dish, puri meaning deep fried rounds of flour, and bhaji meaning a potato vegetable, eaten together is an enjoyable and recognizable dish eaten during celebrations and auspicious occasions. Also known as a comfort food, the spices used in the bhaji vary from mustard seeds, onions, turmeric, coriander leaves, salt and pepper, which all  blend to create the perfect mouthwatering vegetable dish. 

Puri – bhaji

10. Papdi chat  

Papdi (deep fried dough) along with potato mash, chickpeas, onions, chutneys, tomatoes and spices, served with spices covered in yoghurt is known as papdi chat. As vibrant in its colour, as it is in its flavour, it is an enjoyable combination of sweet, savory, spices, crunchy and smooth textures to be enjoyed during the festive season. 

Papdi-chaat

Now don’t get me wrong, not everything is about eating!  

Diwali is also an occasion where the art of ‘rangoli’ is made, usually in front of the main door of a house, or perhaps in a prominent place (can be indoors and outdoors as well) in order to welcome Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth. ‘Rangoli’ are traditional Indian designs made by using coloured powders, that are attentively applied on the surface using all but 3 fingers to moderate the flow and fall of the colored powder to create exquisite designs, and are often accompanied with flowers and diyas. Some designs are passed down from generation to generation and it is definitely one of the most unique aspects of Diwali. 

Rangoli

Evenings are marked with ‘pooja’ (prayers offered to the Gods), and thanks are given for all the good fortunes in the past and wishes made for the future. Later the night sky is lit up with firecrackers. So, out with the old and in with the new. This is a festival of lights, joy and togetherness. Wishing everyone a very Happy Diwali. 

 

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