Tag Archives: Birkbeck Community

Celebrating the Lunar New Year and Year of the Dragon with friends and colleagues at Birkbeck  

Zhuoxin Han is a second year LLB Law student. In this blog they share their experience of attending the Lunar New Year event held by the university.  The Lunar New Year is the most important festival celebrated by many countries in Asia. The influence of the Spring Festival has been spreading worldwide; for instance, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK, and the US have begun to join in this celebration. You may have noticed the huge number of red lanterns and decorations in London’s Chinatown if you happened to pass by recently. Or maybe the red celebration signs on the street -screens, as well as dragon illustrations on newspapers or magazines? The Evening Standard, for instance, printed a super cool red dragon as its cover on 10th Feb. 

The Lunar New Year is associated with old myths and traditional customs. Every family undergoes a thorough cleaning while approaching the new year, meaning they are ready to sweep out bad things or moods and be ready to accept the incoming good fortune. In the past, people would practice calligraphy and write their own versions of couplets; today people tend to purchase ready-made couplets. Another custom is using red paper cut outs and couplets to decorate windows and doors respectively. These pretty ornaments make people feel content and joyful. 

This year, the Lunar New Year event was jointly held by Birkbeck Global Recruitment Team and La Yong Jackson, from the International Student Administration team. As student Ambassadors, Ziyao and I were appointed to assist this event.

Before Birkbeck participants arrived, our team members cleaned and decorated the locations where the celebrations were due to take place in the main Malet Street building, the Canteen on the fifth floor, and the George Birkbeck Bar on the fourth floor. We also managed to create a ‘photo corner’ for guests who wish to take pictures, using our phones or Polaroid instant cameras provided by staff for everyone to use. 

The most popular custom during the Spring Festival must be the Red Pocket! The bright red reminds people of the warmth of family, the way everyone once gathered around, talking at the fireplace. I’ve sometimes wondered if that’s why Santa’s hats are red. 😊  

This year, Birkbeck prepared red pockets containing a free lunch voucher, golden chocolate, plus a delicate Birkbeck College badge for everyone who registered for the celebrations. As an international student, I found myself impressed by all these thoughtful details. It was probably a time-consuming task to prepare, and felt special. I was also impressed by the canteen staff, who had a really busy day, preparing food for both the regular daily menus and also the extra Asian cuisines for our celebrations. Sammie, Yunmeng, Ziyao, and I helped with guest check-in; everyone looked surprised and happy when they received the red pocket. It was nice to witness their genuine smiles. After lunch in the canteen, we moved to the George Birkbeck Bar.

Here we enjoyed three main activities: red paper cutting with traditional calligraphy or painting, voting for the best dresser and finally a quiz with prizes to be won! One girl drew a vivid dragon and received compliments with people taking pictures of her painting, and she even won a prize for it. Another lady who dressed in a traditional long dress with a beautiful pearl necklace won the best-dressed prize. She looked surprised when she received the award and gave a big, charming smile.

The quiz session was exciting; questions were related to customs and special products of different countries. It was a well-balanced quiz that included single choice, multiple choice, and matching. Each question had a strict time limitation which added to the excitement; everyone was holding their breath. When the results were released, I was a bit shocked to realise I had won! To be honest, I had guessed some of my answers! My colleague was searching for the mysterious winner: Han, which is my shortened nickname. She moved through the room super-fast, and I was chasing her, trying to explain that I was the one she was looking for. Finally, she turned around and noticed me chasing her, which made everyone laugh. There were two others who had come in with high scores, so as the three winners we gathered and had our picture taken. After this, lots of students stayed longer to socialize with each other, and we took lots of photos to remember the happy memories!

The Lunar New Year marks the end of the cold, dark winter and celebrates the beginning of a hopeful spring; it is a symbol of the final rest after a busy or tiring year; a chance to reunite with family members and recharge energy. People use this opportunity to catch up with those dear to them, preparing and getting ready for the next following year. This event which created a sense of community and togetherness, really helped capture these feelings.

As a final note from me, I wish you all a happy Lunar New Year! May the Year of the Dragon bring you good fortune! 

龙年吉祥!1 龍年吉祥!2 

Below is a list of well wishes for the lunar new year in a variety of languages, so feel free to spread the well wishes in your own language!

Albanian: Le të sjellë Viti i Drakonit fat për ty!

Arabic: “مهما جلب عام التنين لك من الحظ السعيد!” (mahma jalaba ‘aam altinin lak min alhaz alsaeid)

Bengali: “ড্রাগন বছর তোমার ভাগ্য আনুক!” (Ḍrāgana bôshara tōmāra bhāgya ānuka!)

Bosnian: “Neka godina Zmaja donese sreću tebi!” (same as Croatian)

Croatian: “Neka godina Zmaja donese sreću tebi!”

Czech: “Ať ti Rok Draka přinese štěstí!”

Danish: “Må Drageåret bringe dig held og lykke!”

Dutch: “Moge het Jaar van de Draak je geluk brengen!”

Estonian: “Loota, et Draakoni aasta toob sulle õnne!”

Filipino: “Sana’y magdala ng suwerte sa’yo ang Taon ng Dragon!”

Finnish: “Toivotan sinulle onnea Lohikäärmeen vuonna!”

French: “Que l’Année du Dragon vous apporte bonne chance!”

German: “Möge das Jahr des Drachen Ihnen Glück bringen!”

Greek: “Ας φέρει το Έτος του Δράκου καλή τύχη σε εσένα!” (As férei to Étos tou Drákou kalí týchi se eséna!)

Hebrew: “שנת הדרקון תביא לך מזל טוב!” (Shnat hadrakon tavi lecha mazal tov!)

Hindi: “ड्रैगन का वर्ष आपको शुभकामनाएं लेकर आए!” (ḍragan kā varṣ āpako śubhakāmanāeṁ lekar āe!)

Hungarian: “A Sárkány Éve hozzon neked szerencsét!”

Icelandic: “Má Drakársárinn koma þér heppni!”

Indonesian: “Semoga Tahun Naga membawa keberuntungan bagi Anda!”

Italian: “Che l’Anno del Drago ti porti fortuna!”

Japanese: “龍の年があなたに幸運をもたらしますように!” (Ryū no toshi ga anata ni kōun o motarashimasu yō ni!)

Korean: “용년이 당신에게 행운을 가져다 주기를 바랍니다!” (Yongnyeoni dangsinege haeng-un-eul gajyeoda jugireul barabnida!)

Kurdish: “Salê Şahmaran ji we re şans bidin!”

Latvian: “Lai Drakona Gads atnes tev veiksmi!”

Lithuanian: “Tegul Drakono metai tau atneš laimę!”

Malay: “Semoga Tahun Naga membawa keberuntungan kepada anda!”

Nepali: “ड्र्यागनको वर्ष तपाईंलाई भाग्य ल्याउनुहोस्!” (Ḍr’yāganakō varṣa tapā’īnlā’ī bhāgya lyā’unuhōs!)

Polish: “Niech Rok Smoka przyniesie ci szczęście!”

Portuguese: “Que o Ano do Dragão traga boa sorte para você!”

Romanian: “Anul Dragonului să îți aducă noroc!”

Russian: “Пусть год Дракона принесет вам удачу!”

Serbian: “Neka godina Zmaja donese sreću tebi!” (same as Croatian)

Spanish: “¡Que el Año del Dragón te traiga buena suerte!”

Swahili: “Mwaka wa Joka ulete bahati njema kwako!”

Swedish: “Må Drakens år bringa dig lycka!”

Thai: “ขอให้ปีมังกรนำโชคดีมาหาคุณ!” (kh̄ xih̄ pī mạngkrnăm chŏkh dī mā h̄ā khun!)

Turkish: “Ejderha Yılı size şans getirsin!”

Ukrainian: “Нехай Рік Дракона принесе вам щастя!” (Nekhay Rik Drakona prynese vam shchastya!)

Vietnamese: “Chúc năm Rồng mang lại may mắn cho bạn!”

More Information: 



Marcus Garvey – Pan-Africanist leader

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

pic of Marcus Garvey

Publisher and orator Marcus Garvey seated at his desk, August 5, 1924. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

Marcus Garvey, born in Jamaica, was a political activist and proponent of Black nationalism, forming the Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities League (UNIA). He has remained a hugely influential figure in the postcolonial movement across Africa and the African diaspora. 

In 1912, Garvey arrived in England and spent the next two years attending classes in law and philosophy at Birkbeck. He would occasionally give speeches at Hyde Park’s “Speakers’ Corner” and published articles in the African Times and Orient Review 

He founded the UNIA shortly after his return to Jamaica in 1914, where he became a figurehead for pan-Africanism and black nationalism. He served as city councillor in Kingston and established the People’s Political Party, but had his seat revoked when he was imprisoned for libel against the judiciary.  

Disheartened by his treatment, he returned to England after his release and never went back to Jamaica until he was posthumously repatriated to Kingston 24 years after his death. Jamaica posthumously conferred on him the Order of the National Hero.  


Judith Butler – gender and feminist theorist 

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

pic of Judith Butler

Judith Butler is  a world-famous theorist and activist for gender, feminism and race equality. They were made a Fellow of Birkbeck in 2021 and have been active in the departments of psychosocial studies, law and the Birkbeck Institute of the Humanities.  

Raised by Jewish parents in the state of Ohio, USA, they studied philosophy before writing their most influential book, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, at just 33. The book, published in 1990, outlined the beginnings of their work on gender performativity and is now a seminal text for students and scholars in the arts, humanities and social sciences.  

The recipient of many awards and accolades, such as the Adorno prize and the Yale University Brudner Prize for lifetime achievement in gay and lesbian studies, Judith continues to advocate for social justice not just for LGBTQ+ communities but for diverse marginalized groups such as Palestinian Liberation and for racial equality. 


Bisi Alimi – gay rights activist 

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

Bisi Alimi

A recipient of Birkbeck’s Master’s in Global Governance and Public Policy, Bisi Alimi is a prominent gay rights and HIV/AIDS activist. Born in Nigeria and growing up under anti-gay legislation, Bisi was finally forced to seek asylum in the UK after receiving death threats in Nigeria following a live TV interview in which he outed himself as gay.  

He founded the Bisi Alimi Foundation, set up following Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act 2013, to accelerate social acceptance for LGBT people in Nigeria. He has also worked with UK treatment activist group HIV i-Base, HIV care and support group Naz Project London, and a range of Nigerian LGBT youth group initiatives. 

Bisi has featured many times in The Independent on Sunday’s list of the most influential LGBT people in Britain and has said, “Being an Angelic Troublemaker is not a selfless drive; it is driven by a passion for creating a world where you can live in peace and cohabit with others with love and respect.” 


Marai Larasi – anti-violence campaigner and Fellow of Birkbeck 

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

pic of Marai Lasai

Marai is an activist and campaigner and is known for her campaigns against racialised and gendered violence.  

A graduate of Birkbeck’s MA in Culture, Diaspora and Ethnicity, she has volunteered for Hackney Women’s Aid, was executive director of Imkaan, an organisation dedicated to addressing violence against Black and racially minoritised girls and women, and she was joint chair of the End Violence Against Women Coalition. 

Born in London to Jamaican parents, she was inspired by the work of political activist and scholar, Angela Davis which addressed the intersectional identities of being female, Black and queer.  

Marai is a Fellow of Birkbeck and has also been awarded an MBE for her campaigning and activism. She was named one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People in Gender Policy and is one of the most influential LGBTQ people in the political and activist space. She was also voted one of the 100 Great Black Britons in 2020. 


Albert Gregorio Hines – Economist and first black professor at Birkbeck 

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

Jamaican-born economist Albert (‘Bertie’) Gregorio Hines was instrumental in setting up Birkbeck’s first Economics department in the 1970s and had a career which ranged from a job in the Jamaican civil service to a Chair in Economics at Birkbeck. He was also an active proponent of black arts and culture. 

Albert moved to the UK from Jamaica in the 1950s to explore opportunities, studying at the London School of Economics and going on to lecture in political economy at University College, London. In 1968, at the incredibly young age of 32 years, he was appointed Professor of Economics at Durham University. Three years later, he joined Birkbeck. 

An advocate for racial and social equity, Hines chaired the Minority Group Arts, from 1974, to encourage the arts within minority communities, ‘thereby enrich[ing] the cultural life of the entire community’. Minority Group Arts was also responsible for conducting the ‘first comprehensive and independent study of arts activities’ amongst Bangladeshis, Chinese, Cypriots, East and Central Europeans, Indians, Pakistanis, West Indians, and Africans living in the UK. Although he was a Professor of Economics, Hines did not restrict his anti-racism activism to issues of economics and employment and was an active proponent of the Black arts and culture as important sites of resistance.  

In 1975, he gave evidence to the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration where he was grilled about conflicts within minority communities and calmly replied, “We have learned that there are things that divide us and things that unite us, and on this particular issue we see the things that unite us as being more important than the things that divide us.” 


Dr Jan Etienne – feminist theorist and lecturer in psychosocial studies 

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

Dr Jan Etienne

Jan is a feminist theorist, a retired lecturer in psychosocial studies at Birkbeck and has a long history of serving her community. She has worked as a community volunteer and housing support officer with Ujima Housing, which was Britain’s oldest and largest black-led housing association, providing accommodation and work for minority ethnic youngsters in the inner city. 

She has contributed to the academic understanding of lifelong learning, an interest which began when she was appointed as a research assistant for a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council to study lifelong learning and the Women’s Institute, the largest voluntary organisation of women in the UK. 

In 1994, she joined Birkbeck as an Extra Mural Studies teacher and was part of the teaching team awarded the Times Higher Education ‘Widening Participation Initiative of the Year’ award. Jan also studied for her PhD in Birkbeck’s Department of Social Policy and Education. 

In 2017, she was awarded a ‘Colours and Honours’ certificate from the Birkbeck Students’ Union, a prestigious award where the Students’ Union honours people for their contributions to the Birkbeck community. 

Her book, Learning in Womanist Ways: Narratives of First Generation African Caribbean Women (2016) is heralded as a ‘must readfor anyone interested in the social dimension to learning and the state of Britain today. Jan was made a Fellow of Birkbeck in 2019 and chairs Birkbeck’s Womanism, Activism, Higher Education Research Network 


Meet the Chevening Scholar: Awa Toure, from Mali

The first female from Mali to be granted a Chevening scholarship, Awa Toure joined Birkbeck to study MSc Management with International Business and Development as the sole recipient for the 2022 Chevening scholarship intake from her home country. Here we get to know more about her background, her hopes for the future, and her experiences of both Chevening and Birkbeck. 

An enriching path to Birkbeck 

At the age of 15 I left Mali to pursue my studies in Canada. In Montreal, known for its diverse population, I had the opportunity to attend the prestigious high school, College Jean de Brebeuf, and obtain a Bachelor’s degree in International Business from the Écoles des sciences de la Gestion from the University of Quebec. Living in such an international environment allowed me to interact with people from many backgrounds, broadened my horizons, fostered acceptance of different perspectives, and deepened my understanding of diverse cultures. Additionally, during my undergraduate years, I participated in the ERASMUS university exchange program in Madrid, Spain where I attended the Colegio Universitario de Estudios Financieros. Wanting to continue my path of enriching education, I decided to study MSc Management with International Business and Development at Birkbeck, to enhance my technical expertise and nurture my global network at a prestigious institution.  

With great aspirations also come great responsibilities  

I recognize that vicious cycles of internal and external systemic shocks can perpetuate poverty and hunger in a nation. I also recognize that this can be made worse by inadequate government systems and firmly believe that valuable and sustainable development solutions lie in the collaborative efforts of individuals, communities, and markets. So, yes, I aspire to become a powerful international businesswoman, but I also want to serve as a role model and make a positive impact in Mali’s journey towards economic independence and self-sustainability.  

When adaptability is a superpower 

I believe the role I play as a young female in bringing positive change to Mali, must be equally multifaceted as the challenges facing my nation. Understanding the complex and inter-sectoral challenges facing my home country and wanting to serve as well as do well for myself, I have become something of a polymath. My academic and professional experiences have married the disciplines of international business with social enterprise, communications, storytelling, gender rights development, digital access, and transformative justice. What matters most to me is understanding and platforming the trajectories of Malian economy, the stories of its communities, its women and girls, the able-bodied and ability impaired, the rural and urban, the old and young. When public systems fail, we must ask: how have they coped up until now? What do they need to survive and thrive? And how can we support communities in developing and maintaining their livelihoods outside of weak public structures?  

The role of Chevening in my aspirations 

Before applying to Chevening I was unaware of its existence.  During a heartfelt conversation with a friend, who coincidentally happens to be a former Chevening alumnus, we embarked on a discussion regarding the development trajectory of Mali. It was within this enriching exchange that my friend enlightened me about the Chevening program, expressing her conviction that it would be an impeccable match for my aspirations. And now, I find myself standing proudly as a member of this amazing community, to which I am eternally grateful.  

For anyone thinking about studying at Birkbeck: don’t hesitate!

The level of study and intellectual stimulation at Birkbeck has been truly outstanding, with engaging lectures, thought-provoking discussions, and a supportive learning environment. The faculty members have been highly knowledgeable and passionate, offering valuable insights and guidance at every turn. I enjoy every seminar I attend, and know that the learning outcomes from these will follow me for the rest of my life. If there’s anyone out there thinking of studying at Birkbeck, I would wholeheartedly encourage them to take the leap. Birkbeck also offers a flexible and inclusive learning environment, making it an excellent choice to pursue higher education while managing other commitments. I love the flexibility offered by the university to balance work, personal life, and academic pursuits and I am sure you will too. Do not hesitate! 




Emma “Ma” Francis – Canteen worker throughout World War II 

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

Emma Ma Francis

“Ma” Francis was one of Birkbeck’s unsung heroes, an essential worker during the second world war who made a considerable contribution to sustaining university life. 

She joined Birkbeck’s Fetter Lane premises in 1896, and left fifty years later, aged eighty. When bombs dropped in the vicinity, she was “unruffled,” calmly handing out mugs of coffee and “sardines on toast, with fried tomatoes twopence extra.”  

On 11th May 1941, incendiary bombs started falling on the College. Ma Francis made her way to the College’s kitchen. A “policeman in Fetter Lane tried to stop me,” she later recalled, who told her “Can’t go down there, Ma!” She abruptly retorted, “Impudence. Young man … I’ve got my work to do – you can’t stop me.” And work she did. Although the building next to Birkbeck was a “raging inferno,” Ma Francis made coffee for everyone on a Primus stove and then served 150 people for lunch. She was heard muttering, “Lucky I cooked the joints yesterday!” 


Eva Pascoe – Angel investor and e-commerce consultant 

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

Eva Pascoe

Eva is an angel investor and e-commerce consultant and co-founded London’s first internet cafe, Cyberia, in 1994. She pioneered the Internet’s early online and offline communities, online secure payment and expanded the business globally across Europe and Asia backed by Saatchi&Saatchi and Mick Jagger.   

Pascoe raised £3,000 to finance her first venture, a software company, by knitting and selling mohair jumpers: “This was in the middle of a deep recession and here was I, a woman with a funny accent – the banks just laughed at me.” 

She was a key figure in introducing online shopping to British fashion brand, Topshop, setting up their e-commerce team in 1999. Eva also created the first HTML courses for the public in Cyberia and ran the first women-only courses for women interested in getting into technology, focusing on closing the gender gap in technology use. 

She studied for a BSc Psychology and Ergonomics of Human-Computer Interaction at Birkbeck and, jointly with Gene Teare, was the winner of a Sunday Times Technology Award.