Category Archives: College

Sunday 20 March is International Happiness Day- no, that’s not a joke!

As the United Nations releases its 10th annual  World Happiness Report—just days ahead of the annual International Day of Happiness , Dr David Tross, Associate Lecturer in the Department of Geography, considers how our age, actions and attitudes matter in times of adversity. 

happy couple laughing

Given the bleak news cycle of the last few years, it might seem jarring to think about happiness. But conditions of adversity (not extreme adversities like death or war) can tell us a lot about happiness, not only about coping in difficult times but also about creatively responding, becoming more conscious of the lives of others, and re-evaluating our own lives.  

Take one example. In the summer of 2020, the Office for National Statistic’s survey of the national mood reported that almost half of its respondents had identified some positive benefits of lockdown. One was work-related: not having to commute and spend long hours in the office. Other benefits were spending more time with family (particularly quality time with children), appreciating a slower pace of life and connecting with the natural environment. One of my research subjects (a cohort of older people writing for the Mass Observation Project) described lockdown as ‘the longest and best holiday I have ever had’. 

We probably shouldn’t be surprised. Many activities that research studies have shown to be associated with happiness – loving relationships, achieving things, the arts, nature, doing things for others – were still possible during lockdown. Volunteering is another. “For me”, says Karl Wilding, then CEO of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), “COVID demonstrated that people want to be part of something bigger”. Not only did the 3 million plus people involved in COVID mutual aid groups constitute what the NCVO called ‘the largest peacetime mobilisation in British history’, there was a demonstrable uplift in what might be termed ‘community spirit’: more people felt that others were helping one another, they were more confident that others would help them if needed, and they were checking on neighbours far more than normal. Maybe Nietzsche was right when he suggested that human societies ‘build their cities on the slopes of Vesuvius’.  This resilience may be testament to a key phenomenon identified decades ago by happiness researchers — the extraordinary ability of people to adapt to changes in circumstances and shift their expectations to whatever the ‘new normal’ might be. So it was with lockdown. People adapted, found alternative ways to pass the time and got on with things. Indeed, a more general point is that research into how ordinary people think about happiness reveals a fairly ‘stoic’ attitude with regards to personal expectations; the good and bad in life intermingle, and fantasies of everlasting happiness are just that. As another research subject wrote, ‘I think that the troubles of life have to be experienced in order to realise when you are happy’.

In happiness terms then, actions and attitudes matter in times of adversity. During COVID, age was another intriguing factor.

One seemingly paradoxical theme emerging about the impact of the pandemic: despite being more vulnerable to dying or being hospitalised by Covid-19, older people’s wellbeing seemed less affected than that of other age groups. The main losers? Young people, whose self-reported anxiety and depression tripled. To be sure, lifestyle didn’t change as much for most older people. Job security doesn’t concern most retirees. It also helped if you lived in comfortable housing and had your own garden. In this sense, the pandemic has only served to highlight pre-existing social inequalities.  

But it’s all very well coping, what about the core theme in happiness research of the importance of a life imbued with meaning and purpose — what of the plans delayed, the adventures stalled? It was noticeable in my research how narratives of happiness lacked the ‘elevating’ characteristics of really joyful and fulfilling experiences you normally would find – the social celebrations, cultural excursions, the stimulus of the new, the communal rituals. However, for some at least, the dutiful social obligations of lockdown life, the small acts of protecting others as well as oneself, were ways of satisfying a sense of meaning through the idea that individual behaviours were ones directly connected to the public good, and that what any given person did, actually mattered. That’s not a bad happiness prescription.  

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Farewell adultery: new divorce laws come into effect in April 2022 

Fifty years on since the introduction of the Divorce Reform Act, new laws coming into effect in the Spring will remove adultery as a basis for divorce. Daniel Monk, Professor of Law, discusses the history of the Act, seen as progressive for its time, and implications from the legal reform. 

Cover of book on Divorce Reform Act

Cover: Fifty Years of the Divorce Act 1969 (Hart/Bloomsbury)

On 6 April the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2021 will come into force. This long awaited statute repeals the Divorce Reform Act 1969 and sweeps away the final vestiges of matrimonial fault as a legal basis for divorce. For campaigners and family law practitioners this is a cause for celebration. The focusing on establishing adultery and detailing the ‘unreasonable’ behaviour of spouses exacerbated emotional distress and in practice had long become a ritualised often formulaic paper exercise. Removing the need to refer to individual conduct reflects not just that divorce has become far more socially acceptable but also that divorce is perceived as a right, as important as the human right to marry, a personal choice, a private matter. The decision of the Supreme Court in Owens v Owens in 2018, in which a wife’s petition for divorce was, exceptionally, defended by her husband and, even more surprisingly, rejected by the court, was, consequently, a shocking reminder of how out of step the law was with contemporary experiences and perceptions of divorce, and marriage. As such the Supreme Court judgement assisted in the path to reform, possibly intentionally.

But it is worthwhile remembering that the Divorce Reform Act 1969 was itself heralded as a progressive reform. Alongside the Sexual Offences Act 1967 and the Abortion Act 1967 it justifiably stands as a representative symbol of that permissive, increasingly secular, time. Of course, the history is more complex: all those landmark statutes were riddled with compromises.

The 1969 Act removed all references to ‘marital offences’ and ‘the guilty party’ and enshrined the principle that a divorce could be granted if the marriage had ‘broken down irretrievably’. But while it enabled this to be established by facts relating to separation and, radically, simply by consent of the parties, at the same time it repackaged earlier ‘offences’ of adultery, behaviour and desertion as ‘facts’ which could also be relied on to establish breakdown of a marriage.

In practice adultery and behaviour remained consistently popular ‘facts’ for divorce. There may be pragmatic reasons for this – it avoided delay and separation can sometimes be hard to establish – but it also suggests that for a large number of people attributing responsibility for the breakdown of a relationship was always more than simply a legal hurdle, but a way of validating a personal narrative or emotional truth. The social stigma attached to divorce has undoubtedly shifted, but far less, if at all, the investment in romantic ideals, conjugal coupledom and belief in the value of the making of a life-long commitment.

For many sexual fidelity remains key. Indeed, some gay and lesbian activists went so far as to complain that the law’s refusal to recognise adultery as a basis for ending same-sex marriages and civil partnerships was a form of unjust discrimination. This somewhat bizarre demand for the legal recognition of ‘same-sex adultery’ overlooked the haunting significance of ‘illegitimacy’ and gendered double standards inherent in the offence of adultery. But it demonstrates how malleable concepts are, how change and continuity go hand in hand: the commands of moral judgment morphing into desires for therapeutic justice.

Adultery has deep roots. Prior to 1937 it had been the sole basis for divorce, and double standards for husbands and wives were enshrined in the law. Going back further it is worth remembering that Protestant theological recognition of divorce was premised on a zealous belief in the importance of punishing adulterers and a withering scorn for Catholicism’s more pragmatic practises of formal separation and all too easily obtained annulments.

With Adultery soon to disappear from the statute books, family law students will no longer be required to read what must be some of the most prurient cases in the law. Confession: they were fun to teach. Adultery will live on in costume dramas – A Very British Scandal about the notorious divorce case Argyll v Argyll (1962) is the most recent example – and as an historical curiosity in countless plays and novels. But what impact, if any, will the legal reform have on spousal expectations and aspirations? Devoid of any legal scaffolding, what place will Adultery have in wider public consciousness?

One reason why it is hard to answer these questions is because of the deep-seated ambivalence about divorce per se. While no longer enveloped in theological sin or social disgrace, shame lingers on and is reinforced by the cruel notion of a ‘failed marriage’. Divorce as a problem is buttressed in more subtle ways by fashionable ‘psychological’ narratives that place increasing emphasis on ‘attachment disorders’ to explain relationship failure. Emotional truths may replace a legal truth in undertaking the autopsy of a marriage, but they are more, not less, judgmental. The endless retelling of the divorce of Charles and Diana is evidence of an appetite for the blame game – by observers as well as the parties – while the fact that in law their divorce was based on separation is overlooked.

The centrality of emotions and feelings in narratives of divorce also obscures other explanations. When statistics recently revealed an increase in divorces of spouses over 60, who had been married for over 30 years, few greeted this as, in part, a welcome indicator that for the first time for a significant number of women divorce was not just socially but an economically viable option. High rates of owner occupation in that age group may be a factor – unlikely to be reached again. It’s too often overlooked that decreases in divorce reflect economic as much as emotional realities and should be a cause for concern. ‘Is divorce good for women?’ has long been a question dividing feminist opinion. The 1969 Act was described by some as a ‘Casanova’s charter’ for husbands but by others as an essential tool of liberation.

Divorce reform has been a key way in which the institution of marriage has been reimagined and reinvented. But at the same time divorce has always been about more than the institution of marriage, rather a window into complex, unsettling and ambivalent personal and political stories about progress, desire, and commitment.

Fifty Years of the Divorce Act 1969 (Hart/Bloomsbury), edited by Joanna Miles, Daniel Monk and Rebecca Probert, was published yesterday. It presents a ‘life-story’ of the Act through the lens of history, law, literature, demography and sociology, and looking to the future suggests ways for evaluating what makes a ‘good’ divorce law.

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Chinese New Year draws to a close

With Tuesday’s Lantern Festival bringing Chinese New Year 2022 to a close, MA History of Art student, Valerie Lee, from Malaysia shares her favourite aspects of the festival, including the culinary delights, and how being away from home did not take away any of her enthusiasm for the annual celebration.

Valerie Lee photo for Chinese New Year

It doesn’t feel the same being away from home especially on the most important Chinese festival, the Lunar New Year. Together with friends and relatives living in London, we welcome the Year of the Tiger with a reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve.

Guests who arrive at our home are welcome to have some snacks that we’ve prepared on the table, such as pineapple tart, kuih kapit, peanut cookies, and so on while chatting to catch up on our lives.

We start our meal with a Yusheng, also known as Prosperity Toss, 捞生 (lo shang), a dish that originated from Seremban, Malaysia in the 1940s. It normally includes raw fish (occasionally salmon) strips combined with shredded vegetables, as well as a variety of sauces and seasonings. Yúshēng (魚生) means “raw fish,” but it was regarded as a homophone for Yúshēng (余升), which signifies an increase in abundance. We stood around the table, chopsticks in hand, tossing the dish into the air while saying “auspicious wishes” aloud, believing that the height of the toss reflected our growth in fortunes.

We also prepared Poon Choi, 盆菜 (Pen Cai), which means “basin cuisine” or “big bowl feast”. Poon Choi is traditionally packed with overflowing ingredients to represent wealth and prosperity. The number of ingredients that may be added is limitless. Roast beef, dried mushrooms, prawns, abalone, fish maw, broccoli, yam, and other ingredients are common.

After our dinner, children or the unmarried will received red packets, 红包 (hong bao) from married couples. The red colour of the envelope represents good luck and serves as protection against evil spirits. It’s also given when someone comes to visit as a token of appreciation.

Although we are staying in London, we will carry out the traditions to make ourselves feel at home during this festive spring. We would like to wish all of you a happy and prosperous Chinese New Year. May you and your family have happiness, good health, and success all year!

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Birkbeck students celebrate LGBT+ History Month: Allies are Welcome!

As the experiences and achievements of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender + community are observed throughout February, MSc International Marketing Student, Wojciech Zaluski, looks at progress and speaks to Birkbeck LGBTQ+ officer Megan Massey and MSc Marketing student Daniel Knight to ask for their viewpoint on matters, including a look at the role that university life plays in supporting them.

Photo of two people touching hands to represent LGBT+ History Month

In recent years the situation of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer + (LGBTQ+) has improved a lot in the UK. In 2014 same-sex marriage was officially allowed. Since 2020 we have also seen a successful roll-out of PrEP, available for free through the NHS, a drug that is key to reducing HIV transmissions. If you live in London, you will be aware how strongly the city promotes and supports tolerance towards the LGBTQ+ community. Everywhere you go you can spot awareness campaigns promoting inclusivity and acceptance.

London is also the host of the annual Pride festival, put on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic. Each year thousands of Londoners (2019 Pride attracted over 1.5 million people) and visitors cheer all day in a parade where they can embrace their non-heteronormative identity in public. The city, during this period, becomes filled with events, parties and gatherings focused on and appreciating love in its different forms. And yes, London Pride is coming back to London in 2022!

We are also seeing, more and more, how the corporate world has become vocal in its appreciation for the LGBTQ+ community. For example McKinsey & Company is promoting their initiative “Proud Leaders Europe,” “created to support talented individuals from across Europe, who self-identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community”.

Q&A with Megan Massey, Birkbeck LGBTQ+ officer

What is the function of a LGBTQ+ officer at Birkbeck?
The goal of all elected Liberation Officers is to improve the student experience at Birkbeck, with a LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer+) officer focusing their efforts on advocating for LGBTQ+ students, representing them in meetings with the College, and helping to foster a community.

What kind of events can LGBTQ+ students expect at Birkbeck?
Events range from hangouts and film screenings to pub crawls and museum visits.  Of course, for the LGBTQ+ network, Pride is also an important event in the calendar. Hopefully Birkbeck students will be able to walk at London Pride once again in 2022!

Why do you think universities should provide a program for LGBTQ+ students? Do you think that we live in a post-heteronormative world?
Higher education should be for everybody, and so it is important that universities provide resources that reflect this. The fact that we do not yet live in a post-heteronormative world means that LGBTQ+ students, and other marginalised students, face barriers that they will have to overcome in order to have access to higher education.

What barriers and challenges does the LGBTQ+ community still face? How can the academic world answer those problems?
There are many barriers and challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community, and attitudes to LGBTQ+ people vary across the globe. There are many countries which still criminalise consensual gay sex and relationships, meaning that LGBTQ+ people face imprisonment. In countries like the UK, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2014, there is still work to be done to improve the legal standing of LGBTQ+ people. For example, the UK government does not legally recognise non-binary identities.

Aside from the law, LGBTQ+ people in every country still face social challenges and are at risk of experiencing violence and persecution. The academic world can seek to educate around LGBTQ+ topics, but does not have all the answers. Many LGBTQ+ people, especially those most at risk, will not have access to discussions that take place in universities, despite the fact that their voices are deeply important to the conversation. In order for the academic world to do a better job of advocating for LGBTQ+ people, they need to place an emphasis on accessibility.

From your experience, meeting LGBTQ+ students at Birkbeck, what did you learn that surprised you? What kind of support do you think they need? Did those meetings change you?  Where do you find strength and motivation to be actively engaging in helping and educating the student community about the problems of the LGBTQ+ community? 
I was surprised by how many students have been unsure whether or not they are welcome in the LGBTQ+ community. I think that is one aspect where many students need support, in feeling that they are welcome and accepted in the academic space. As an LGBTQ+ person myself, it is a privilege to be able to help the student community in any way. I feel grateful to the students who have had the courage to reach out to me with their questions or concerns.

London is a very diverse city with official city support for Pride and other campaigns promoting tolerance and inclusivity, similarly we are seeing the corporate world embracing LGBTQ+ inclusivity. Do you think that LGBTQ+ people are safe in London? If not, why do you think so?
This is a difficult question due to the interpretation of ‘safe’, but I do think that LGBTQ+ people are safe in London, to a certain extent. London is a fairly safe city, the whole world considered, and so LGBTQ+ people living here may feel safer than they would elsewhere. However, since LGBTQ+ are, as a marginalised group, at a higher risk of experiencing discrimination and hate crimes, personal safety is something that most queer people have to be very aware of.

In addition to this, since LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience poverty and homelessness, this is a factor which must be considered. Likewise, it is impossible to ignore the relevance of race (and other identity factors) in discussions of safety. For this reason, a more in-depth, intersectional approach would be needed to adequately address the question of whether or not LGBTQ+ people are safe in London (or, indeed, if anybody is ‘safe’ anywhere).

What do you advise LGBTQ+ students who need psychological help? Do you know where they can seek support and help?
Birkbeck’s Mental Health Advisory Service provides a range of help for students. More information can be found here.

Outside of university, if a student (or anyone) is dealing with life-ending thoughts and needs urgent care, they can go to Accident and Emergency, or contact their local crisis team. If they need to talk to somebody over the phone or online, on a one-off basis, there are several charities which provide this service. If they are looking for therapy or counselling, they can self-refer through their GP to be put on a waiting list for a free NHS service.

What would you advise for people who don’t identify as queer or LGBTQ+ and would want to learn more to understand problems and issues that their LGBTQ+ students face?
There is a great deal that a person can learn online, but of course it’s great to speak to LGBTQ+ people in person too—allies are welcome to join the LGBTQ+ Network!

Interview with Daniel Knight, MSc Marketing student

Do you see any difference between how LGBTQ+ issues were addressed when you were studying to get your undergraduate degree and now at Birkbeck?
I did my undergraduate studies between 2004 and 2007. And there wasn’t much of a LGBTQ+ society then. I wasn’t very active in the community, I’d only just come out, so I was working out how to interact with the people around me. It was not easy to find and connect with other LGBTQ+ students. Thankfully, there is more of a presence now at Birkbeck than in the past.

I was interested to see what it looks like at Birkbeck… if it’s more visible and easier to connect. I visited the Freshers’ Fair to find out. As a result, I joined the Birkbeck LGBTQ+ online group. I think social presence is very important.

Do you feel the UK has moved forward in terms of acceptance, tolerance, and inclusivity of LGBTQ+ people in recent years? If not, why do you think that is?
I think the UK is more inclusive and accepting. I experienced very little homophobia in my life. That may relate to the fact that I am not flamboyant and it’s not obvious that I am gay.  That may be why. People in my life were always very accepting and inclusive and they wanted to know about my relationships. I think it became more acceptable to talk about your relationships. I am also aware I am working in healthcare, surrounded by professional people. It may be very different for people working in a different kind of environment. My experience may not be someone else’s.

I’d say as a teenager, when I was in secondary school, I don’t think it was accepted. I think that in the UK there was a switch into the pro-movement, probably in the early 2000, before you got into 2010. When I was at secondary school I wouldn’t have come out, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing that, whereas now, I believe teenagers do feel comfortable, and obviously that’s great in that regard, that the desire to come out would now be more positively received than before.

With reference to my work environment, if I experienced homophobia in my office, it would be taken very seriously, and the person would certainly be investigated, but I work for the healthcare regulator, they take equality and diversity seriously.

Did you experience homophobia in your life or work life? What would you advise to LGBTQ+ students who are starting their career in that regard; how to handle homophobia at work or in their personal life?
I think, for them, it should be easier. We are in a different place now- homophobia isn’t accepted. If there is an experience like that, they should look for their HR department, or if it’s a university there is a department that deals with that. I think there are support structures in place now that enable people to feel supported. If they experience homophobia, they should be able to raise it, people will help them. This would not have been the case in the past. My advice would be to talk to people in the organisation who can support you. And look for that support, look for like-minded people, join the LGBTQ+ society at Birkbeck, and you’ll find a lot of like-minded people, and allies as well. Don’t put up with homophobia in any form.

In your own company do you observe that there is a will to create a safe environment for the LGBTQ+ community? Or is it a non-issue?
As part of the new EDI (Equality, Diversity, Inclusion) strategy they have created lots of different groups, among them an LGBTQ+ group, within our organisation. People can go there and talk about their experience and if there is anything that is not quite right in the organisation.

Were you able to make any connections with the LGBTQ+ community at Birkbeck? How do you think universities should address inclusivity and the safety of LGBTQ+ students
Being part of the LGBTQ+ group is important, and for that group to be able to discuss policies with the university on how they can support Birkbeck communities. If the university can demonstrate the changes that have been achieved, that is a good way to show that there is progress for the LGBTQ+ community. They could also do more in terms of events and lectures, I suppose to express different views in the community. Just to show it is taken seriously, you could put information in the weekly bulletins from Birkbeck, to have inclusion there about what has been done, for people to be involved more and find out more. The main thing would be that they have support in place should people have issues, making clear what they can do if they have issues, regarding LGBTQ+ issues.

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Happy Chinese New Year: The Year of the Tiger, Hope and Aspiration

Third Year Philosophy student, Irena Donkova reflects on the Lunar New Year, the symbolism of the animals within the Chinese zodiac and the traditions associated with the festival.

photo of tiger symbolising chinese new year 2022

On 1 February many people around the world will welcome the year of the Water Tiger, according to the Chinese zodiac. The Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year, begins with the rising of the second new moon after the winter solstice which usually occurs between 21 January and 20 February. This year, the New Year celebrations, referred to as the Spring Festival, start from New Year’s Eve on 31 January 2022 and last 16 days until the Lantern Festival on 15 February. The festival is celebrated in China, with significant celebrations in South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore; and by the Chinese communities in Malaysia, Indonesia and many other countries besides.

According to tradition, every street and home is decorated in red which is believed to bring wealth and good fortune. Beautiful floral arrangements and fruit trees adorn towns and villages and people gather with family and friends to honour the celebrations. Traditional rituals and customs include ancestral worship, taking part in traditional dances, parades, firework shows and preparing festive food and treats. The final day of the celebrations is marked by people letting paper lanterns off into the sky.

photo of chinese lanterns

Unlike western astrology, the Chinese zodiac signs are represented by 12 animals forming a 12-year cycle. Each zodiac cycle is part of a bigger 60-year cycle and is governed by one of five elements: metal, water, wood, fire and earth. The current 60-year cycle began in 1984 and will end in 2043. For example, 2010 was the year of the Metal Tiger and 2034 will be the year of the Wood Tiger. The zodiac is based on an old folk tale going back to ancient China, where there was no zodiac and no measurement of time. To find a way to measure time, the Jade Emperor invited all the animals in the kingdom to take part in a Great Race and announced that the first 12 animals to cross the Holy River wouldl have a year of the zodiac named after them.

According to the most common version of the Great Race, the opportunistic Rat asked the Ox for help to carry him across the river. When the Ox approached the other bank, the Rat leapt over the Ox onto the bank and finished first in the race. The good Ox finished second, followed by the powerful Tiger. Then came the Rabbit who was helped to cross the river by the Dragon. Due to his kindness in helping others, the glorious Dragon finished fifth. The Snake who was curled around the horse hoof crossed the finish line before the Horse and took sixth place, while the Horse finished seventh. Then, on a raft arrived the Goat, the Monkey and the Rooster, each of which were assigned eighth, ninth and tenth place. Finally, the Dog arrived, followed by the Pig. The 12 finalists became patrons of the 12 zodiac years.

According to Chinese astrology, a person born in a particular year and the year itself carry the traits of the patron animal which have both positive and negative sides.

photo of animals of the chinese zodiac

Rat (1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020, 2032)
Rats are considered smart, optimistic and enthusiastic, but they can also be rude and hard-hearted.

Ox (1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021, 2033)
The Ox is friendly, loyal and hardworking, but can appear stubborn and judgemental.

Tiger (1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022, 2034)
Tigers are regarded as brave, powerful, strong-willed, energetic and adventurous, but on the negative side can be cold, irritable, cruel and aggressive.

Rabbit (1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023, 2035)
Rabbits are seen as kind, family-oriented, compassionate and peaceful, but this can also make them too passive, cautious and reserved.

Dragon (1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024, 2036)
The glorious Dragons are considered to be natural leaders, courageous and charismatic, but also arrogant and impatient.

Snake (1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025, 2037)
Snakes are regarded as being wise and intuitive, but also vain and manipulative.

Horse (1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026, 2038)
The Horse is honest, active and enthusiastic, but can be self-centred and short-tempered.

Goat (1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027, 2039)
Goats are stable, intelligent and creative, but on the negative side, they can be pessimistic, moody and weak-willed.

Monkey (1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028, 2040)
Monkeys are intelligent, curious and sociable, but can be too competitive, impatient and opportunistic.

Rooster (1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029, 2041)
The Rooster is considered independent, smart and active, but can also be frivolous and egoistic.

Dog (1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030, 2042)
Dogs are regarded as loyal, honest, brave and responsible, but they can be conservative, sensitive and stubborn.

Pig (1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031, 2043)
The pig is considered lucky, generous, diligent and compassionate, but their weaknesses can manifest in them being greedy, self-indulgent and emotional.

As those observing the festival wave goodbye to the year of the Ox, on 1 February 2022 they enter the year of the Water Tiger with hope and aspiration. According to Chinese superstition, 2022 promises to be a dynamic, passionate and tumultuous year full of surprises.

The year’s element is water which has a creative and inspirational influence on events. It can bring prosperity to those open to adventure, but it can be overwhelming and unpredictable. To be successful in 2022 people are encouraged to be cautious, flexible and ready to embrace change.

Wishing all who are celebrating in our community and beyond, a very Happy Lunar New Year!

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Life on campus as an international student

Final year undergraduate Marketing student, Shweta Menon shares how moving to a new country and starting her course at Birkbeck was both exciting and intimidating; and tells the experience of student life on and around campus.

Gordon Square

While selecting universities, I had no doubt I wanted to join Birkbeck. The opportunity to get the daytime to myself, to work and volunteer, all whilst earning a degree was music to my ears. However, like any student moving away from home for the first time I was quite nervous for my big leap. Nevertheless, having come to Birkbeck I was quickly able to make friends at our induction evening and explore the many million things London has to offer.

In the beginning it never quite occurred to me that there were so many hidden gems on Birkbeck’s campus itself. Along with amazing student services, career hubs and excellent transport links, Birkbeck’s campus offers beautiful study spaces to work and chill with your friends. Here are some of my favourite things to do on campus:

  1. Birkbeck Library : One of my favourite places to put my thinking cap on is the Library . The five-floor library offers a variety of study and work environments allowing you to find your perfect space. You are able to book study spaces for group studying as well as individual studying which are so convenient when you have to work on a group project or just want a room to yourself to be able to fully concentrate. These rooms also have a tele-conferencing screen which enables you to have conferences or attend your online lectures on a big screen.
  2. The Farmers Market: Birkbeck is home to the Bloomsbury farmers market which takes place every Tuesday and Thursday between 2.00-7.00pm and offers you an array of world foods. Everything at the market either comes straight from the farm or contains local, sustainable ingredients. So if, like me, you want some proper home-tasting food, the farmers market is your place to be!
  3. Birkbeck Bar and Cafe: Going out in London can burn a massive hole in your pocket and as students, the hole gets much bigger for us! The bar and cafe is one of my favourite places to unwind and catch up with my friends after lectures or randomly during the week. Not only are the drinks cost efficient but the food at Perch Cafe is lip-smacking.
  4. British Museum: The British Museum is only a two minute walk from Birkbeck campus and is free to enter! I absolutely love visiting the museum and every time I visit, I discover and learn something new from the previous time. They usually have some exhibition going on and interesting facts and objects from around the world.
  5. Squares and Gardens: Birkbeck is surrounded by gardens and squares like Russell Square Garden, Tavistock Square, Gordon Square, among others. These are beautiful to sit down in and unwind from the chaos of the city and get some fresh air. In the summertime Russell Square hosts festivals and pop-ups filled with music, food and drinks. I particularly love visiting the Garden Kiosk in Gordon Square and devouring their homemade cakes.
  6. Students’ Union and Societies: Being an international student, the Students’ Union has helped immensely for me to make friends, learn new skills and explore the city. The Students’ Unions hosts a variety of activities throughout the year such as sporting activities, social activities , upskilling activities, movie screenings among others. They also provide a wide range of societies so no matter where you are from you are sure to feel at home.
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Six Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

By Shweta Menon, final year undergraduate Marketing student 

Photo of Shweta Menon

With the dark nights of winter, a lot of us experience our mood getting gloomier. This feeling is so common that there’s even a name for it: ‘winter blues’.

Many people may only experience a mild version of winter blues while others can have a more severe type of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The lack of sunlight due to shorter days disturbs our body clock and hormone levels, which affects our mood and compels us to hit the snooze button a million times. If, like most people, you can’t cozy up under the duvet til the sun comes out, try these tips to beat the winter blues.

  1. Get loads of sunlight: Push yourself to go outdoors and soak in the little bit of daylight that’s available even if it’s cold outside. Exposing yourself to daylight helps improve your serotonin levels. And if like most of us you are occupied during the day hours with work, studies and other activities get yourself a SAD lamp or sunlight lamp to stimulate daylight. Also, if you are stuck indoors because of work or other commitments try and sit close to a window to help you get that extra dose of sunshine.
  2. Eat yourself happy: While the cold, dark weather may tempt you to indulge in a hot bowl of mac and cheese everyday it is important to remember to eat well. Sugar and carbohydrates may make you feel happy and satisfied in the moment but eventually will lead to your blood sugar crashing. So why not make yourself a nice warm bowl of winter vegetable soup or chilli to warm up your day?
  3. Get active: Sitting at home binging your favourite Netflix programmes under your blanket might seem relaxing but will end up making you feel bluer than you already are in the long run. Research shows that exercising helps your body to release the feel-good hormone serotonin. Even if it’s just a 10 minute yoga routine or a short walk in the park do get yourself moving. Not only does this improve your mood but also helps you maintain a healthy waistline.
  4. Listen to happy music: Swap your winter ballads for something more peppy and fun. The music you listen to has an impact on your mood. Why not put on some Lizzo for your next commute to work or university?
  5. Schedule something to look forward to in your calendar: January can feel like the longest month of the year! So instead of slogging through it, schedule some time to meet your friends and family, check out the exhibition you wanted to go to or the latest movie that’s out in the theatre. This can help give you something to look forward to and feel happy about despite the cold, miserable weather outside.
  6. Be kind to yourself: When feeling blue and down it can be hard to find motivation to do any of the above things. One day you might be motivated to exercise or meet friends while on other days you might just want to curl up on your couch and watch telly, and both are 100% okay to do. It is important to not go hard on yourself and listen to your body and mind and take things at your pace.

While you can’t make the season any brighter or warmer you can definitely do little things to give you a fuzzy, warm feeling inside 🙂

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My favourite things to do in Bloomsbury

Valentina Martinez, BA Film and Media with Foundation Year student, shares her top tips of places to go and things to do in Bloomsbury, central London, where Birkbeck’s campus is located. 

Valentina Martinez

A key reason I chose to study at Birkbeck was its central London location. Located in Bloomsbury, it is in a student hub, with other universities close by and world-famous museums and galleries quite literally on your doorstep. I’ve shared below just some of my favourite things to do in Bloomsbury and the surrounding areas.  

Places to eat 

From pubs to museums, Bloomsbury is surrounded by incredible places to hang out, either before or after your evening classes. Let’s start with places to eat. Even though Birkbeck offers its own rooftop bar in the main building and cafes in different areas of campus, if you ever fancy a change of scene, there’s so many options to check out. 

In Gower Street, facing Birkbeck, you can find a beautiful building which houses Waterstones. Not only is it a fantastic bookstore with more than two floors filled with books, but it also has a  café attached to it that offers a pleasant place to have a nice hot chocolate or just to sit down and read before classes.  

However, if you’re in the mood to eat something I highly recommend going to DF Tacos, a Mexican restaurant with exquisite tacos and a great modern atmosphere. You can find this place on Tottenham Court Road near the British Museum. Finally, if you’re looking for somewhere to hang out after classes and have a few drinks I would go to a pub called The College Arms, located on Store Street, just five minutes from Birkbeck. It’s a lively pub filled with students, music and good drinks and it’s a great place to socialise and meet new people.  

Museums, cinemas and gardens 

There are so many other exciting things to do in Bloomsbury aside from eating out. Firstly, there is obviously the British Museum. With its back entrance facing Birkbeck, this museum is a fantastic hangout spot to learn and even get inspiration for your future assessments. It will probably take you more than one day to walk through this enormous place, so you can visit it often and still find something new each time. You don’t even have to pay to get into the exhibitions.  

British Museum

British Museum

Next, if you have enough luck to enjoy a sunny day in London you will probably want to make the most of it. So, I would recommend heading towards Russell Square, which is right next to Birkbeck. This beautiful park has a lovely fountain with benches so you can soak up the sunlight or sit in their wonderful café. It is usually filled with kids playing football and people doing sports, so if you’re a sporty person yourself you can also have a workout there! I still can’t believe such a gorgeous green place exists in the middle of a busy city like London.  

If you enjoy watching films, Birkbeck has its own cinema in the School of Arts building, located at 43 Gordon Square, so do keep your eye out for upcoming film screenings. I would also recommend going to Picturehouse Central in Piccadilly Circus. I know this is not quite on campus, but this cinema has a stunning vintage aesthetic which is definitely worth the walk. It has the newest film releases and even a restaurant and café. If you’re a student, you will get student discounts on your tickets so you should without doubt check it out.  

As you can see, there are a lot of things to do around campus, and I have only told you about a very small percentage of attractions that Bloomsbury has to offer. I encourage you to go ahead and discover more things on your own, I can guarantee you will find hidden gems everywhere! After all, you are in the heart of London if you come to Birkbeck – there is bound to be something exciting around the corner for you to enjoy.  

Further information 

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Supporting transition and success: On Track and BBK Chat

Ali Sheldrick, an Access Officer in the Access and Engagement team shares some of the initiatives that students can access to ensure a smooth transition into higher education.

A person sitting in a chair talking to another person on a laptop screen

University life has always taken some getting used to. And this is especially true in an age of rapid and unpredictable changes to the delivery of higher education brought on by the onset of COVID-19.

With the continued success of students from under-represented backgrounds a key aim for the Access and Engagement (A&E) Department, we have been busy expanding our support for offer holders and new students over the past two years.

In addition to our support around specific scholarships and bursaries, this transition work has focussed on two programmes – BBK Chat, our student mentoring scheme, and On Track, our new transition support programme.

BBK Chat

“My first session was excellent because my Mentor explained how to do well at University regarding time management, where I can find help on my studies skills, essays and exam deadlines.” – BBK Chat Mentee feedback

BBK Chat is a peer mentoring scheme that offers first-year students from under-represented backgrounds an opportunity to meet with an experienced Birkbeck student. These informal, regular chats take place three times a year (autumn, winter, and spring) and give new students the chance to ask questions and speak with someone who can provide support and guidance from a student’s perspective.

Last year, meetings shifted from taking place over a tea or coffee in and around Birkbeck’s campuses to online only meetings. The 80 students who are meeting this year were given the choice of meeting online or in-person and paired up accordingly. This took place alongside a renewed emphasis on pairing according to common subject area, lived experience, and background wherever possible.

With this, we’re now able to sustain BBK Chat’s unique offer of tailored one-to-one guidance from people who have recent lived experience of successfully navigating their first year at Birkbeck.

On Track

“It was more than my expectations. I have learnt so much about others’ experience….”On Track attendee feedback

On Track is a subject-specific programme that supports students from non-traditional entry routes (non-A-level) through the pre-entry and transition stages of their studies at Birkbeck.

First piloted in 2020 with two cohorts of Biomedicine and Law offer holders, it was expanded to include Arts Foundation Year and Business and Management subject areas for the 2021-22 intake: going from a total of 21 to 35 participants.

On Track provides academic guidance on what students can expect from their course, resources to support preparation and ongoing success with their studies, and a chance for them to get to know fellow students and staff before their first term at Birkbeck.

All offer holders who applied without A-Levels were invited to participate in the programme which was based around three subject-specific workshops, taking place over Summer and into the start of term. These were delivered by an A&E Access Officer, course teaching staff, and current students; whilst participants also benefitted from access to an On Track Moodle page and the option of one-to-one catch-up meetings in the first term.

Plans are being made to improve and expand On Track to reach more new students in 2022!

“…it really answered the questions, that were running through my mind regarding October…” – On Track attendee feedback

The Access and Engagement Department will be running a programme of outreach activity with both current and prospective students across the academic year, with Is University for Me? events planned for January and May 2022 and taster courses in Law (February) and Psychology in Education (May), plus much more!

For more information about our work and how to get involved, colleagues can email the  team or explore our webpage.

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Top tips for spending Christmas in London

Shweta Menon, BSc Marketing student, gives her tips for what to do over the festive period if you’re in London and away from home.

Helter Skelter at Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park

Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas all around London. If like me you are away from home for the Christmas festivities and yearning for some festive warmth, London is the place to be! Gather your fellow globe-trotting friends as I take you through some of my favourite ways to spend Christmas in London:

Winter Wonderland: this is without a doubt London’s most treasured Christmas attraction located in Hyde Park. Step into a world of Christmas bliss with its very own Bavarian village and yuletide attraction. If you’re in the mood for adventure it’s got you covered with its roller-coaster, thrill-seeking rides and more. Hop onto the 53-metre-high Ferris wheel to enjoy breath-taking views of Hyde Park and Kensington Palace and gardens. Filled with bars, food market and Christmas markets, Winter Wonderland is sure to warm you up!

Ice skating: What a better way to get into the Christmas spirit than to wrap warm and ice skate across London various ice skating rinks? The Natural History Museum, Canary Wharf, Winter Wonderland and Somerset House, among others, are all home to Santa-approved ice skating venues in London.

Facebook groups: London-based Facebook groups are a great way to meet people in London as an international student, though do ensure your safety first. The groups regularly organise Christmas parties, Christmas Day dinners, Boxing Day lunches and even secret Santa’s! If you’re in London and your friends are UK students who have gone back home for Christmas, you can still soak in all the festivities even without your family around.

Christmas markets: It doesn’t matter if you’re on Santa’s naughty or nice list, you can still be on your nice list and indulge in a little “me” time by pampering yourself in the many Christmas markets in London. The main Christmas markets are at Harrods, Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason, and they have dazzling Christmas displays and seasonal decor. Also, most of the boroughs in London hosts their own little Christmas markets as well. Look up your local Christmas market and meet your neighbours and make some new friends as well!

Immerse yourself into these activities or visit your local Wetherspoon’s for a glass of mulled wine – either way do get out and soak in the festivities of the city, because London is the most alive during Christmas!

Hope you have a very Merry Christmas.

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