“In such times (…) one has to renew their minds and spirit to focus on the goal”

Nozipho Nomzana Mziyako from Eswatini, a Chevening scholar and MSc Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability student, shares her thoughts about studying in the UK in these extraordinary times.

Nozipho at the London Eye

 

There have been many things I had planned and hoped for by applying to study in the UK: like, making new friends and forming networks on campus and beyond, exploring the UK and Europe, alas it is definitely an extraordinary time and the ongoing pandemic cannot be ignored.   In such times these things seem far-fetched and each day one has to renew their minds and spirit to focus on the goal: to do one’s best and make the most of this experience. Studying at Birkbeck has helped with this renewal of mind not only through its easy learning experience but also by being helpful in certain areas that could have, if not handled well, hindered my first term experience.

With only less than a month left to depart my home country, I still had no idea where I would be accommodated and did not know any other students to share accommodation with. In an unexpected turn, the Birkbeck International office reached out just to check up on me and I relayed my frustration. Through them, I found International Students House, which has been homely and provides various activities to ensure student wellbeing, such as; physical health activities, study rooms, security and a restaurant among many other facilities. I feel at home. The office has also been helpful in facilitating a number of issues on my Biometric Residence Permit and Bank account requirements.

Online classes experience

Although no one expected to be learning online, I think Birkbeck has ensured that theNozipho London street Chrsitmas process has worked to the benefit of students and this I got to really appreciate when preparing for my exams. With the pre-recorded Panopto lecture sessions, one can pace themselves, pause and rewind to get a better understanding of each week’s lessons. This way, you have focused questions for your lecturers which can be asked and addressed during the live sessions on the Moodle platform, if not, lecturers are available via email and tend to be very responsive. Moodle live sessions are recorded and saved, so even if the pre-recorded session and live lecture make no sense (yes, it happens), you can still go back to the platform and access material for revision and understanding.  While you cannot see everyone during the live sessions, you do get to engage with the lecturer and the class with audio and video on and there are group break-away sessions for one-hour or so discussions where group representatives then provide feedback back to the whole class.

Preparing for class: Discipline and Managing priorities

Live sessions are usually 90 minutes – two hours or more if there is group work. Preparing for a lecture requires a lot of discipline and priority management. There are a number of reading materials and pre-session activities one has to go through to fully grasp the weekly sessions. What Birkbeck has done is provide these on Moodle and there’s a box to tick upon completion, which I have found helpful in tracking my progress. Furthermore, all (if not most) recommended readings are available on the university’s library platforms.

There’s really no formula that can be applied in covering so much material and activitiesNozipho at her working station before and post-lecture sessions. However, through the Birkbeck Futures platform, which provides weekly learning content on how to, for instance, manage your time, I have created my own way of managing priorities and not necessary time, in this I have included time for myself and engaging with others, as a task. Even if it is two hours or even a day off to myself, to explore the Royal Parks, renowned Landmarks and the city using the tube or London double-decker bus; putting myself in the equation has assisted me in clearing my mind and creating a road map to tackling my module works. Sitting at your desk, overthinking and having little movement can have a negative impact on your productivity.

Gaining mentorship

While each student is given a personal tutor to assist with choosing modules and discussing the course, applying for the mentorship program has been one of my highlights in the first term. I am currently undergoing a career transition and my thoughts are everywhere. Through Birkbeck’s mentorship program, I have gained unexpected guidance and support from my mentor. I am now beginning to focus my goals and clarify my interests which keeps me grounded and reminds me why I set out to do my chosen course. The Birkbeck Futures team has numerous programmes that can assist in aligning career aspirations and I plan on completing them soon.

The journey continues…

In October, Birkbeck hosted a socially distanced meet and greet for Chevening 2020-Nozipho in the Park 2021 Scholars. This gesture helped us get to know each other and through this, support systems have been formed. I really look forward to face-to-face sessions, meeting my lecturers, and to having conversations and chilling at Birkbeck facilities.  We hope that this term and year gets better, that there are fewer cases and deaths and that we get to fully engage with our colleagues, lecturers, and the UK. Until then, we keep safe and do our best in our studies.

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Life of an international student during a pandemic

Embarking on studies in the UK has been made even more challenging due to the pandemic. In this blog, Presley Gitari tells us what motivated him to study at Birkbeck, and his life as an international student.

Presley Gitari

My name is Presley Gitari. I am 27 years old and my nationality is Kenyan. I am a conservation biologist currently pursuing an MSc in Climate Change at Birkbeck, University of London on a Chevening Scholarship.

Ever since I was a child I have always been fascinated by the natural world. It has fuelled my curiosity to learn about how the environment works and how we can conserve it for future generations. I attained a BSc in Environmental Conservation and Natural Resource Management from the University of Nairobi. My previous role was with Kenya’s Interior Ministry where I was working on a programme which focused on helping underserved communities in utilising environmental conservation as a socio-economic empowerment tool. I was both humbled and honoured to contribute to our country’s goal of achieving 10% tree cover by 2022.

Why Birkbeck?

Presley with Chevening scholar sign I was drawn to Birkbeck’s diverse and talented faculty and student base. While searching online for a graduate course focusing on Climate Change, I stumbled upon the College which had an impressive course overview and also had an opportunity to listen to an introductory lecture by Dr. Becky Briant on ‘Climate Change and the River Thames’ I was impressed by the factual analysis in the lecture. It was also an incentive that being an evening university, I could interact with students who bring perspectives from their daytime jobs into the classroom, which has been an enriching experience.

Being awarded a Chevening Scholarship by the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office was an exhilarating prospect. In the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel arrangements were thrown into disarray which created a lot of uncertainty about whether we would travel to the UK or continue our autumn lectures virtually. Eventually, Kenya lifted the ban on international flights which was a huge relief.

Moving to London

I have been to London before to attend an international meeting and as always have been fascinated how diverse London really is. A real melting-pot of cultures! Getting used to the tube was made easier by technology which makes getting between points a seamless experience. Coming from a coastal city with a laid-back demeanour it is quite a cultural turn-up for the books having to experience the hustle and bustle of an international hub that London is. I have taken a huge liking for the amazing parks where I regularly go out for a jog or just to admire the scenic beauty on afternoon walks (the squirrels are an interesting lot!).

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, I haven’t got to visit many attractions as I would have loved to, but I keep an ever-growing list of places to visit when many of the affected places open up.

Studying during pandemic

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Birkbeck’s shift towards virtual learning has been possible by asynchronous as well as synchronous learning activities. The asynchronous component takes the form of pre-session activities. We get to interact with pre-recorded lectures, activities and reading material on our university Moodle platform. I usually set aside 1-2 hours in the evening in preparation for our live session where we go over the provided material with our lecturers and ask questions. This forms the synchronous component. We then join a seminar session where we are divided into groups to carry out joint activities which in many ways provides an opportunity for us to put into practice the knowledge acquired from the pre-session as well as the live session.

In a particular module, we had the opportunity to work on a group presentation highlighting a key environmental report which beyond building my in-depth understanding of the content of the material also helped me develop my communication skills. We use Blackboard Collaborate for our live sessions, as well Microsoft Teams for one-to-one interactions with our tutors and dissertation supervisors. The platforms allow for students to efficiently interact and present material, as well as take polls. We also make use of Google Jam Boards which allow all students to put in their contributions without feeling left out. The broad array of options provided by these platforms are suitable for both extroverted and introverted personalities. The live sessions and group work/presentations take about an hour and a half.

A typical day for me would start with a jog in the park or a visit to the gym. I then work from home through the afternoon. I usually take my live sessions from home but sometimes use the Library if I happen to have a book that I need to collect or drop off. The Library has set aside safe spaces to study and participate in lectures which one may access by reserving online, especially for students who may not have a conducive learning environment from home.

Challenges and highlights

Being far away from home in the midst of a pandemic has been quite a challenge. The situation diminishes any opportunities for human connections which form an important role in our mental and physical well-being as a social species. The pressure is thus more on international students who are far away from their loved ones and seek to form crucial connections with their new environment.

My highlight in the UK is when on a whim, I hired a Santander bike and decided to ride from Buckingham Palace, taking in the sights of London’s architecture, finally ending up at Canary Wharf! It was a healthy and environmentally friendly way of introducing myself to London.

I look forward to fully interacting with my fellow students as well as having the full Birkbeck experience when we will be able to. My 2020 has been an opportunity to reflect and develop gratitude for many of life’s pleasures which we take for granted.

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Introducing our Chevening students: Part three

In this last instalment of our 2020 Chevening scholars series we introduce six more future leaders who have joined Birkbeck from Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, Georgia, Namibia and Syria. 

Nesrin Morad, Syria/Turkey, MSc Education, Power and Social Change

Nesrin Morad

Nesrin Morad

Nesrin, a Syrian and Turkish leader and activist, has around seven years of experience working in the humanitarian and development sector. In her role, she was responding to the Syrians’ needs in various countries through working with different entities and projects in education, protection, capacity development and partnership.  She believes that learning and collaboration are key to reaching the intended positive change in society. Nesrin has always been a social activist in the community, involved in voluntary and social initiatives. She was a member of the Red Crescent, JCI for youth development, an activist in the university leading different youth initiatives and a volunteer leading awareness campaigns for Syrians in Turkey. She also has a great passion for travelling to learn about different cultures and countries and learning new dances.

Birkbeck’s MSC  Education, power and social Change will complement her practical experiences, allowing her to play a leading role in organising local initiatives to empower Syrian leaders and lead the change.

Within the Chevening Community Nesrin aims to be a Syrian woman leader, share the unique experiences and stories from Syria and gain from the experiences of others.

Menessia Diergaardt, Namibia, MSc Management with Corporate Governance and Business Ethics

Menessia Diergaardt

Menessia Diergaardt

Menessia currently works as a Taxation Officer at the Ministry of Finance in Namibia. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) and an MSc in Banking and Finance from Moi University (Kenya).

Menessia believes that her aspirations meet her country’s economic growth ambitions and Chevening will help her to become more specialists in her field, allowing her to contribute towards the management and development of the country’s economic and social resources.

Menessia was attracted by Chevening because of its track-record for producing and developing many of the world’s finest scholars, leaders and presidents and the unique opportunity it offers to transform future leaders. “Chevening will create a platform for me to connect and network with a diverse and talented community, not only will I be exposed to and experience the UK education system, but I will also develop a diplomacy relationship that will equally benefit Namibia, the UK and the world at large.”

Sami Mehiaoui, Algeria, MSc Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship

Sami Mehiaoui

Sami Mehiaoui

Passionate about management consultancy & entrepreneurship, Sami holds a Master’s degree from the National High School of Management. During his studies, Masters Sami was elected president of the Scientist Club of Future Manager. He began his career as business analyst consultant supporting the development of more than 20 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in a programme funded by the UK government.

Sami is an entrepreneur and has co-founded several innovative businesses such as the Makelti mobile app or Forward development. An active member in the social entrepreneurship network, Sami was selected by Chevening in order to pursue his research in business innovation with entrepreneurship at Birkbeck. Armed with the skills in strategic management, he will acquire Sami wants to achieve his goals of implementing strategic development with sustainability and social impact.

Adriana Borja-Enriquez, Ecuador, MA in Gender, Sexuality and Culture

Adriana Borja-Enriquez

Adriana Borja-Enriquez, Ecuador

I got a degree in Clinical Psychology at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. I’m interested in human rights advocacy and psychoanalysis. Since 2014,  I have collaborated in psychosocial projects at non-governmental organizations that support survivors of gender-based violence, refugees, and asylum seekers in Ecuador. I aim to promote safe spaces and inclusive mental health care for women and the LGBTQI+ community.

I also hold a Postgraduate Certificate in Writing: Human Creativity and Communication from FLACSO Argentina. In 2018, The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US. Department of State sponsored my participation in The International Writing Program at The University of Iowa. I attended this literary residency alongside other authors that promote dialogue through literature and cultural diplomacy. My writing has been published in magazines and short-story collections in Spanish, English, and Italian.

Thanks to the Chevening Secretariat and The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, I will study an MA in Gender, Sexuality and Culture at Birkbeck, University of London. It is a great honour for me to be part of a community that promotes social change while celebrating diversity.

Kristina Arakelova, Georgia, MSc in Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict

Kristina Arakelova

Kristina Arakelova

Kristina Arakelova is a member of the Core Group of Experts for the OSCE “Perspective 20-30” and a former Fellow in the UN OHCHR Minority Fellowship program 2018. She is a founder and President of the “Youth for Diplomatic Engagement” non-governmental organization (NGO) that focuses on youth involvement in the conflict, security, and ethnic minority integration issues in Georgia. As the President of the organization, she provides consultancy for state and civil society organizations working in these fields. Passionate about empowering or helping minorities/marginalized people, Kristina is an international trainer on conflict resolution and mediation.

“I applied for Chevening to contribute to bringing about much-needed peace, tolerance, and prosperity in my home country, Georgia, and beyond.”

Randolphe Severin N’Guessan, Cote d’Ivoire, MA TESOL

Randolphe Severin

Randolphe Severin

“I’ve been teaching English in Côte d’Ivoire (my country) for years, and I am also preparing a PhD in English, with the option of linguistics and didactics of languages in continuing training. This year, I am studying an MA TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) at Birkbeck, University of London.

The need for modern and standardised education systems is evident in my country, which is a French-speaking one, but English is taught at school.  From my little experience, the teaching of English brings up many challenges and gaps to be bridged.  Thus, it will be interesting to attend a world-class university like Birkbeck, meet native speakers, share experiences with many others from all over the world. This will help me to be more proficient upon my return home.

I am very interested in Applied Linguistics and Intercultural Communication; and also willing to move to a more specialised position, such as teacher-trainer or language consultant and a teaching materials designer. Consequently, the MA TESOL is the relevant course that enables this.

Chevening is making my dreams come true.  Great, no!  NO NO, I CAN’T KEEP CALM!!!”

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Introducing our Chevening students 2020 part two

In this second instalment of our Chevening series, and ahead of the application deadline for the 2021 Chevening scholarship, we meet scholars from Albania, Brazil, Cameroon, the Dominican Republic, Rwanda, Turkey and Zimbabwe.

Rogerio Henrique Ferreira Miranda, Brazil, MSc International Security and Global Governance

Rogerio Henrique Ferreira Miranda

Rogerio Henrique Ferreira Miranda

Rogerio Henrique Ferreira Miranda’s academic background comprises of undergraduate degrees in Geology and in Law, postgraduate degrees in Management of Electric Sector Companies, International Executive and Technology, Management and Sustainability. Rogerio has just retired as a Security Manager and Director Chief of Staff in Itaipu Power Plant (the largest producer of clean and renewable energy in the planet) where he worked for 30 years, and where he designed important corporative programs such as the company innovation award.

After his Masters at Birkbeck Rogerio plans to become a college lecturer.

Mbiwan Eyere Takor, Cameroon, MSc Education, Power and Social Change

Eyere Takor

Mbiwan Eyere Takor

“Over the last 45 years I went from being just me to a wife and mother of four daughters and a son, to a teacher, mentor, educational administrator and founder of several social organisations as I explored a passion for social justice and empowerment.

In this time, even though the world has gone through many changes with targeted policies to improve access to education and opportunities for growth, women and girls are still at a big disadvantage as compared to their male counterparts.

I applied to Chevening because it has a reputation for being fair, inclusive and high achieving. Here I am at almost 69 with a Chevening scholarship to study at the prestigious 200-year-old Birkbeck, University of London. Again, Chevening alumni include formidable talents that are great resources to their countries around the world.”

Eva Shimaj, Albania, MSc Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability

Eva Shimaj

Eva Shimaj

“Working in an international business organisation made me realise the potential resources that companies can put into communities is immense and what is most needed is a change of vision, going towards ethical, environmentally-oriented and sustainable business practices. This motivated me to start this new journey and study Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability. This would have not been possible without the support of the Chevening Scholarship program, which I thank for giving me this opportunity. It is a proud moment for me to be part of this network of excellent scholars and future change-makers.”

Freemen Pasurai, Zimbabwe, MSc Human Resource Development and Consultancy

Freeman Pasurai

Freeman Pasurai

“My life story glides on the back of a fractured past and not even in my formative years did I ever imagine studying in the UK. Nothing less but my faith assured me that the things which I had never dreamt of can become a reality.

In high school I was fascinated by poetry and it’s a passion I’m still pursuing as a poet.

My breakthrough years came when I went to Midlands State University to study for a Degree in Human Resource Management. I became the Student Representative Council President and graduated with a Book Prize Award. Thereafter, I joined Econet Wireless Zimbabwe where I gained experience in customer experience, training and development and human capital management. I also assumed the role of President for the company’s Toastmasters Club which perfected my public speaking skills and leadership abilities.

I was enthralled by the reputation of the Chevening Scholarship and how much it has developed leaders across the world. I chose to apply with an understanding that in the UK ideas come alive and the ultimate Chevening experience provides a platform for leadership growth and professional networks that last a lifetime.”

Carolina del Carmen Pichardo Hernandez, Dominican Republic, MA Investigative

Reporting

Carolina Pichardo

Carolina Pichardo

“Since 2017 I have worked as a reporter for the oldest and most important newspaper in the Dominican Republic “Listín Diario”, where I write features about different topics such as Government, Education, Health and daily news.

But my main passion is investigating. For that reason, I have written features about the adoption system in the Dominican Republic and the orphans of murdered women. With these articles, I have won multiple journalistic prizes in my country.

I applied for Chevening because studying in the UK on a one-year scholarship will give me the bravery and independence I need to reach all my personal and professional goals. And of course, Chevening is the best way to study in a prestigious British university while meeting future leaders from all over the globe. “

Mariam Camara, Guinea, MSc Public Policy and Management

Mariam has ten years of experience in management, capacity building and skills development programmes. Currently, she is the Human Resources Manager of the Guinean State Mining Company, where she promotes skills development for employees.

In 2017, Mariam was selected by the US Department of State as a Young African Leader for the Mandela Washington Fellowship programme.

Her professional goal is to take a leadership role in the social and economic development of her country by promoting education, local content development, women’s empowerment, good governance and transparency.

Elif Harmanci, Turkey, MSc Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship

Elif Harmanci

Elif Harmanci

Elif’s passion for social entrepreneurship can be traced back to her college years. Whether as a full-time volunteer for four years in an award-winning NGO working in innovation and technology, or a regional finalist in Hult Prize Challenge in London, Elif has been on social innovation journey from the start, collaborating with students from diverse areas including visually-impaired peers, refugees and the pupils under legal protection.

As a person who is committed to developing an impactful social enterprise in the future, Elif is honoured to be a Chevener. She sees the UK is the centre of innovation and Chevening offers her the opportunity to meet and work together with innovators and leaders from diverse backgrounds who all wish to make the world a better place.

Sarah Busingye, Rwanda, MSc Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship

Sarah Busingye

Sarah Busingye

Sarah Busingye, a digital catalyser consultant, is an experienced face-to-face and online trainer with 10 years’ experience in the financial sector. She has delivered training on technical skills (e.g. banking, microfinance, digital finance, credit management) as well as soft skills (e.g.Leadership, Project management, Human resource management, Communication, Staff training, Client training, Customer service, Transformation). She is also an expert in trainers’ training and in systems for staff performance management.

Having served in different capacities on both the formal and informal sectors Sarah is passionate about tackling issues that impact the development of informal businesses, such as the lack of skills and education.

She is intent on using the professional and academic skills she will gain at Birkbeck to improve her community.

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Chevening scholars give their tips for a successful interview

The Chevening scholarship scheme is aimed at developing future leaders worldwide, with a competitive selection process for the prestigious scholarship, with thousands of hopefuls from over 100 countries submitting an application each year.

In 2018 Birkbeck welcomed a record number of Chevening scholars. As the interview period for Chevening is about to open, we asked current scholars to reminisce about their experience.

For Panamanian student Esther Alvarado De Leon, MSc Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management student, the interview is the most important part of the application process; and preparation is paramount. “My first time applying, I got into reserve list after the interview. I am sure that was because I didn’t have a plan for the interview. My second time applying was amazing! I had a short term and a long term plan. I knew what I wanted them to take from my interview and it felt a lot different, I believed in what I was saying.”

Aleksei Mikhalev, MSc Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management student, from Russia, also recommends taking as much time as possible to prepare .“I received an email about choosing me for Chevening interview in February 2018, but I booked my interview date on the middle of April. Therefore I had almost two months for preparation. I spent that time structuring my thoughts, polishing my speaking and presentation skills.”

Familiarise yourself again with your essays about leadership, networking and life goals included in your original application.  “You have been chosen because of what you have written, so it is very probable that they will ask you similar questions,” says Sergio Mendoza, an MA Investigative Reporting student from Bolivia. Your interview responses must be coherent with the points made in your application, but the interview is also an opportunity to develop these, and to show your enthusiasm for your future studies. “The main three questions you should be ready to answer on the interview are why you chose the UK; why did you choose these universities; and what do you plan to do after studies?” says Aleksei.

Is one of the lecturers on your chosen program a renowned expert in their field? Can you link a module with your future plans as a leader? In an interview that lasted almost an hour Filipino student Rogelio explained why he applied to Birkbeck’s Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict MSc. This had involved researching the programme academics’ work and also linking the course content with his future goals as a writer and cultural worker.

How will your studies help you to achieve your goals? Be specific about your plans. What career do you wish to embark on after your study in the UK? How will you’re the knowledge and skills you will acquire strengthen your position as a leader and help you benefit others in your country and community?

“Think where you want to be in 2, 5 and 10 years,” advises Esther. “Where do you see yourself applying the knowledge you will gain during your studies in the UK?”

“Chevening is a program for future leaders and being a leader means having a clear plan for your future and about changing the world around you. You have to show the Chevening commission that you already know what to do, you have a plan how to help your country, but you need some resources, such as networking and knowledge” says Aleksei.

Our scholars all agree; practice, practice, practice; run mock interviews with friends, family, in front of the mirror. But more than anything, say our scholars, believe in yourself and show your passion.

The Chevening programme is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and partner universities such as Birkbeck.

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