Tag Archives: chevening scholarship

Meet the Chevening Scholar: Felix Hollison

Felix is from Soloman Islands, and studying LLM Pathways (Law and New Technology). Find out more about him, his remarkable path to Birkbeck, and his hopes for the future in the below Q&A.

What is your academic and professional background?

I am a lawyer by profession, and I graduated with a Bachelor of Law (LLB) at the University of the South Pacific (USP) in 2014. From 2015 to 2019, I worked as a Senior Crown Counsel in the Attorney-General’s Chambers in Solomon Islands. I was part of the litigation team within the chambers, and represented the Solomon Islands Government mostly in civil cases in the Magistrates Court, High Court and the Court of Appeal.

I joined the Central Magistrates Court of Solomon Islands in June 2019 as a Principal Magistrate and I still work there. Mostly, I deal with criminal cases such as robbery, burglary, assault related cases, sexual offences, human trafficking, theft offences, domestic violence, public disorder offences and other wide range of criminal offences.

Why did you apply for Chevening?

I applied for Chevening because I think this prestigious scholarship will be the vehicle for me to gain a world-class academic learning in the United Kingdom. It will also be a chance to enhance my leadership credentials, and the qualification will no doubt increase my marketability and employability globally.

What are your long-term plans after studying?

One of my goals is to help develop the jurisprudence of my country through my judgments, assist in law reforms where necessary and help Solomon Islands modernise its laws for the betterment of the country. Should I be given the chance to become a judge in the superior courts in the future, it will be a humble opportunity to be more influential in terms of the development of our jurisprudence.

Why did you choose Birkbeck for your studies?

I selected Birkbeck because it is a renowned university located in the heart of London that has transformed many lives for around 200 years already. More importantly, it provides the LLM with Pathways that I wish to study. It has a strong tradition of research across its departments of Law and Criminology with their internationally distinguished staff. The phenomenal changes that have taken place in technology will transform the way society operates in many ways that will have consequential effects on the law around the globe. My country is susceptible to the adverse effects of technological changes such as the erosion of democracy, climate change, cybercrime, biotechnology, political radicalisation and automation to name some.

Birkbeck is the ideal place to gain the necessary academic and professional knowledge to assist my country navigate through these uncertain times. Modernising my country’s laws to keep abreast with the technological and normative changes is a must, and I wish to be an agent of change in my country.

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

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

Iddi Yassin

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

Chevening as a first step to a new career

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

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

Why Birkbeck?

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

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

Further information

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Meet the Chevening Scholar: Ramata N’Diaye

Ramata N’Diaye is a 2023 Chevening scholar from Mali, passionate about Youth and Women empowerment and social entrepreneurship. Here, she shares her experience applying for the UK government’s prestigious scholarship and what made her choose Birkbeck.
A woman smiles and holds up a sign that reads 'I can't keep calm, I've been chosen for Chevening!'A short tour of my career serving youth and empowering women 

‌Entrepreneurship is a field that I’m very passionate about and been in for many years. As the Associate Director of Programs and Partnerships at Impact Hub, Bamako, I help young people realise their entrepreneurial dreams. I’m able to share my skills through training and coaching sessions held within the framework of various programmes. The programmes include, The Next Economy, which is made possible by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Women Entrepreneurship and Leadership programme which is supported by the US Embassy; and Road2COP, a project financed by the UK Embassy in Mali that aims to provide an innovative and interactive platform for Young Malians in order to better understand the climate crisis. 

Through my work I have planned, designed and implemented more than 10 impactful programs for over 2000 young people and have helped raise more than 100 million FCFA in financing for local entrepreneurs. I think my experience in management within the the start-up and innovation sector helped with this a lot. Furthermore, in my role of communication Coordinator of the National Council of Business Incubators and Innovation Centres of Mali, I built valuable partnerships with various stakeholders and played a pivotal role in fostering a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, leading me to be a key speaker at the World Bank Group Regional Youth Summit in May 2023. Finally, as women entrepreneurship advocate, I have published several articles on female entrepreneurship in Mali and participated in various forum on the topic as a panelist. 

Education and experience go hand in hand 

I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Organisation Communication from Universiapolis, the international University of Agadir, Morocco, and I graduated from Nottingham Trent University with a Master’s Degree in Media and Globalization in 2017. I hold an Expert Certification in Business Support for Innovative Entrepreneurship from the Afric’Innov community, an investment readiness expertise certification from Investisseurs & Partners and finally a verified certification in Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies from Harvard University online courses. 

Chevening, entrepreneurship and economic development 

In a country threatened by political, economic and security instabilities like Mali, the private sector and entrepreneurship is the source of about 90% of the job creation and a major share of sources economic growth. It is therefore the locomotive that will help the country emerge and develop. I think it is crucial to support the development of the local private sector and to invest in digital transformation, to create enough attractive and secure income opportunities for young people – especially women. Stable sources of income will mean fewer young people considering the path of Islamic extremism or immigration. For women it opens the door to financial independence, thus reducing gender-based violence. The importance of this matter in a Malian context, stimulated my interest to apply for Chevening. 

I realized that a comprehensive education related to my expertise in entrepreneurship is essential in order to achieve my goals. I believe that gaining education in business development and innovation strategy combined with my experience, will help me acquire the capability to work in an extensive range of senior functional and general management positions across a wide spectrum of business sectors in Mali and the whole region. 

I hope to have a key role in preparing young entrepreneurs through my international Chevening network, education, and career experience. In time, I want this to open up more opportunities for entrepreneurship advancement in Mali.  

Mixing academic pursuits and active entrepreneurship at Birkbeck 

I chose Birkbeck for my studies for several compelling reasons. Firstly, Birkbeck is renowned for its commitment to providing evening classes, allowing working professionals like myself to pursue advanced education without compromising their professional commitments.  

Secondly, Birkbeck has a distinguished reputation for its emphasis on practical and applicable knowledge. The faculty at Birkbeck consists of accomplished professionals and scholars in the field, providing a valuable opportunity for me to learn from experts and gain insights from their practical experiences. 

‌Lastly, I was fortunate to receive valuable insights from my fellow Malian and Chevening scholar, Awa Touré, who studied her master’s degree at Birkbeck. Her firsthand experience and positive recommendations about the academic environment, faculty expertise, and overall atmosphere at Birkbeck played a pivotal role in influencing my decision to choose the university for my own master’s studies.  

 

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“Being able to function and cope well in a new academic and cultural environment has been a fulfilling and exciting experience”

Rachid Meftah, from Morocco, is a 2021 Chevening scholar. In this blog he talks about his Chevening application journey and studying Language Teaching/TESOL (MA) at Birkbeck.

How was your Chevening application journey?

Reflecting back upon my Chevening journey, I find it a rich, exciting, and fulfilling experience. I consider this journey to have been smooth – despite all the challenges – for this one main reason: I knew what I wanted to study and what to do with it.

As a teacher, I had always been looking for opportunities to expand my knowledge and expertise in the field of TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Having been introduced to this area through a short audit class had given me insights into what I could gain from doing a full-time master’s in it, and of how this could impact my colleagues and community. So, the vision had been clear in my mind: I wanted to gain valuable qualifications in TESOL that would help me to bridge the gap between practice and theory as a teacher, and to enable me to bring change to education in my community and country through teacher training.

Thus, when the Chevening opportunity came, all I had to do was to put my clear idea into words, and to showcase it as a project worthy of the Chevening award well enough throughout all the stages of the application process. Not only did this vision help me win the scholarship the first time I applied, but it also gave me enough motivation and positivity to surmount all the obstacles.

Why this course and why Birkbeck?

My choice to study at Birkbeck was guided by two things: the nature and the quality of the course and the reputation of the college. After searching and comparing Masters online, I chose TESOL at Birkbeck for these reasons:

  • The course suits my academic and professional goals since it was designed for English language teachers who already have an experience in the classroom and who want to develop their career opportunities
  • It offers me the opportunity to expand my knowledge in the field of applied linguistics and develop language awareness and analysis of English as a second language
  • It offers me the opportunity to conduct research in the field of second language acquisition

My choice of Birkbeck college was based on the search I did and on advice from a former professor. I wanted to do my master’s in central London, the hub for an international and vibrant scholarly community, and Birkbeck offered me that. In addition, a former professor advised me to choose Birkbeck for the quality and academic excellence of its research. Now that I’m conducting my research dissertation, I could see the benefits of being a part of the Birkbeck scholarly community.

Being able to function and cope well in a new academic and cultural environment has been a fulfilling and exciting experience for me.

Can you tell us about your experience as a Chevener?

My Chevening journey has been an exciting and a rewarding experience in every aspect. I feel I have gained much academically, personally, and culturally studying at Birkbeck.

My course has offered me an excellent academic experience so far! I’ve been introduced to a research oriented and positive environment where professors consider us their colleagues, not their students. This has helped me gain an intellectually stimulating content and research skills that will enable me to conduct my own research.

As a Chevening scholar at Birkbeck, I could connect with many Cheveners and with other international students through the events organized at Birkbeck. This has offered me the opportunity to network and socialize with students from different professional and cultural backgrounds.

Further information:

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Chasing Chevening Dreams

Paraguayan Maureen Montania Ramirez, an MSc Health and Clinical Psychological Sciences student at Birkbeck, tells us about her experience applying for the Chevening scholarship.

pic of maureen montania ramirez

Maureen Montania Ramirez at Durdle Door

When I decided to apply to Chevening I was at a point in my career where the training resources in my country were no longer sufficient for the dreams and goals I had in my head. I wanted to bring something different to my country and I felt that the only way would be to study in a first world country with the best universities in psychological research, that was for me the UK.

When I took this decision, I received immediate support from my boss who is also a born dreamer who had left the country for training and knew very well the longing I felt at that moment. She offered me her unconditional support and became my sole mentor from start to finish. This was the first and only time I applied to Chevening, I didn’t have high hopes of getting the scholarship because I knew thousands of stories of people who didn’t make it until the third attempt, or never. These were people I respected a lot and considered excellent professionals, so I said “I’m going to try, to at least gain experience and make it the third time”.

My mentor helped me to reflect in my essays who I am, what I dream of, how I move in this life and what I see on the other side of the horizon as a leader and social fighter. With her help, I was able to put all this into words, thanks to which I received the first great joy: the mail of being pre-selected for the interview. It had been a long time since I had felt so much hope, I started to believe in myself, that I could make it. I could already see myself at my university, making friends, learning in a lab and gaining thousands of experiences.

I feel that being charged with so much hope was the key to performing well in the interview. It’s worth noting that in March, when I was interviewed, I was going through one of the worst times of my life. My father was hospitalised for covid with his life hanging by a thread. I barely had a head to think. However, I knew that my dad, more than anyone else, believed that I could make it. A mixture of homage and hope led me to be energised and carry on a 40-minute interview that felt like 15 minutes to me. I had so many things to say, one idea led to another and I answered the questions with words that flowed on their own. The strength that moment gave me has no name. To this day I remember how complete I felt after the interview, when everything else in my life was falling apart.

Immediately afterwards I called my dad to tell him. It was a unique moment that I treasure to this day.

pic of Maureen Ramirez and family

Maureen and family

Shortly thereafter my dad returned home. The recovery was slow and challenging, but steady. Little by little he regained the light in his face, I did not leave his side for a second. So it was that when I received the mail saying that I had finally been selected, he was by my side. We jumped with emotion, we hugged, we cried, we screamed. I felt more alive than ever. I thanked him and my mom for everything they gave me, for having raised me with wings to always fly wherever I want, because without them I am nothing.

Maureen Ramirez holding the Paraguayan flag

Maureen proudly displaying the Paraguayan flag

Months after the preparation of papers, suitcases and emotions, I had to say goodbye to my family at the airport, with a huge smile, hugging my Paraguayan flag and raising my arms high as if to take off once again, with the support of my pillars in this life. It filled me with joy to see my father’s face full of life, completely back, next to my mother and my brother. I boarded the plane with a suitcase full of dreams and hopes.

pic of Maureen Ramirez on first day in UK

Maureen’s first day in the UK

Today, almost a year after that interview, I still feel I have to pinch myself to remember where I am. What was a dream yesterday is now a constant reality. My life here is wonderful. Every day I learn something new- academically and socially, I discover new friends, new places, new lives. I am immensely happy and grateful. Chevening gave me everything and more than I expected. It transformed me.

Further information:

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In their own words: Tips from our Chevening scholars (Interview – part 2)

We’ve asked Birkbeck’s 2021 Cheveners to share their experience applying for the prestigious UK government scholarship. In this second instalment of the series we hear from Chevening scholars from Africa, Europe and Latin-America.

pic of handshake

“It is very important to be sure of oneself, to be convinced of what one has written in the essays and to know how to defend the ideas behind them. You should not focus on memorising information but on being genuine, you know why you are applying, you just have to defend that and show that you have a good profile. It is also not essential to be too formal, sometimes that makes us act robotically, just be yourself.”- Maureen Magali Montania Ramirez, Paraguay

pic of maureen montania ramirez

Maureen Montania Ramirez

“The preparation for my Chevening interview was centred around the project I had submitted in the Chevening application. This involved working on how I would orally and convincingly showcase myself and my project as worthy of the Chevening award. Of course, I also worked on the tips which were provided on the Chevening website and social media, but my focus was on my personal story as a Chevening candidate. In other words, I put enough thought and work into how I would present my project and myself during the interview as an authentic personal story, and not as a copy of someone’s else. Hence, I think that this is vital to acing the Chevening interview.

Think about what makes you unique as a Chevening candidate and about what makes your story original. This implies having a clear vision of why you applied in the first place and of what you aspire to achieve with your master’s degree. And if this vision is not clear in your mind yet, this is where you need to start the preparation. I believe that if you can communicate this vision clearly and convincingly during your interview, you will be able to answer the other points related to it, such as your leadership skills, your ability to function in the academic and cultural environment in the UK, and your short- and long-term goals.”Rachid Meftah, Morocco

“For an interview, I would advise you to tell only about 1-2 the most successful examples of leadership and networking from the many good examples you certainly have, and describe them in more detail. It is better to use the STAR method for this. It is especially important for the commission to see exactly how you show your qualities in challenging situations, and not that you often had to face problems.

I would also advise you to be sincere in the interview and remember your highest goal, for which you apply for Chevening. Remember what you want to achieve thanks to the scholarship, and dedicate your entire story to this general idea.

Try to follow a clear structure of the story and not go into unnecessary details. Do not go away from your thoughts to the side and do not engage in third-party reasoning and explanation of the context. At the same time, try to describe your own contribution and your motivation in as much detail as possible.”Emma Terchenko, Russia

pic of Emma Terchenko

Emma Terchenko

“I read all the blogs written by Chevening and also by other Chevening alumni. I prepared an answer for every possible question trying to always convey my passion for making a change in my country and my leadership and networking skills. After, I asked my family and friends to listen to my answers and to give me feedback. Finally, I practiced as if I was in a real interview with other candidates from different countries.
My advice would be to prepare and practice to the point where the answers come to you in a natural way. You will be nervous on the day of the interview but knowing that you have rehearsed your answers will make you feel comfortable even if they ask you something you were not prepared for.”- Virginia Nuñez, Guatemala

Further information:

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In their own words: Tips from our Cheveners (references)

We’ve asked our 2020 Cheveners to share their experience applying for the prestigious UK government scholarship. In this blog, we highlight their tips and advice about obtaining references as part of the selection process.

“My advice to the Chevening future applicants is to be realistic and genuine to select referees that (you) know very well and have engaged with on professional levels, be it in academia, at work, or people you have collaborated with on certain projects. Select people who know your capabilities and believe that you have the potential. People who inspire you to inspire others, encourage and motivate you to be successful, and make a difference in your community.”
Menessia Diergaardt, Namibia

“I would advise future applicants to choose people with whom they have a strong professional and/or academic relationship. Someone whom you can trust to speak on your behalf confidently and with objectivity.”
Bongani Njalo, South Africa

“Since I have been working for 10 years and my work was related to the course of my studies, I chose two of my supervisors as referees. They were an important influence in my career, and they watched me grow from a young inexperienced student to a confident young professional and I appreciate their evaluation of my journey. I would advise applicants to choose people that really know them and have worked with them closely so they can give you a thoughtful opinion of your character rather than a general note. And it’s also a nice letter to read while you apply for the scholarship that you may be anxious about.”
Eva Shimaj, Albania

“My mentor and my MSc dissertation supervisor were my referees. Both knew of my aspiration at the early stages of the Chevening application and supported the application idea. I approached my mentor because they were aware of my personal strengths and career aspirations and my supervisor because they knew of my academic strengths and zeal to learn.

My advice for applicants is to be strategic in their referee selection. Pick people who have seen your strengths and have had experience with you professionally and academically, preferably also someone in a senior role.”
Nozipho Nomzana Mziyako, Eswatini

“I knew my referees in a professional capacity however, we had engaged in several academic activities before as part of our professional relationship. I selected them because I maintained a close relationship with them at the moment, also they are both entrepreneurs developing their businesses in a non-ideal environment, so they are driven, motivated and capable people whose opinions and experience I respect and value. Also, I had the chance to work closely with them while they were making significant progress in their businesses, so they know my abilities and qualities as a collaborator and employee.

Future applicants can make better use of their references if they choose people that are close to them and somehow share their interests or vision in life. I considered my references as a guide for what I wanted to achieve in the future because of their attitudes, capabilities and motivations.”
Yoandra Rodriguez Betancourt, Cuba

“You may want to include a brief description of your motivation to apply, what you wish to achieve with the degree and how it relates to your common interests, and most importantly why you think she/he would be a great fit to comment on your suitability. It is about engaging your referee.

You may want to get in touch with more than one referee to make sure that by February you can at least get the formal approval of two referees.”
Zina Diari, Tunisia

You have submitted your Chevening application, what’s next?
“I stayed in touch with the referees, still through our networking, email, phone calls and sometimes meeting up over a cup of coffee to update them about my Chevening journey and asking them advice on different aspects, professional, personal, and self-development. My referees have been very supportive and encouraging, hence we are still in contact, they check up on me and my academic progression.”
Menessia Diergaardt, Namibia

“Keep in contact after submitting the application. As soon as required, I let them know, when I had received the email from Chevening and let them know that they needed to send the reference. Later on, I would call from time to time to ensure that they send it on time.”
Randolphe Severin N’Guessan, Cote d’Ivoire

“When I got selected for an interview, I followed up with a detailed email where I listed the responsibilities I carried out under (my referee’s) supervision, that she could draw upon to develop my reference letter. Keep in mind that referees are generally academics or managers who come across several similar requests to act as a referee. It is important to highlight the period of time in which you have collaborated.

I also shared the Chevening guidelines for writing a reference letter and kept on active communication with my referee during the process.”
Zina Diari, Tunisia

“I stayed in touch with my referees through social media and phone calls. Since they formed part of my network of professionals, it was easier to reach out to them.

Future applicants should create a network of professionals who understand their ambitions, character, and ethics. This ensures that you are easily referenced and supported objectively.” Freemen Pasurai, Zimbabwe.

Further information:

Blog post by Catherine Charpentier, International Marketing and Recruitment Officer (Africa)

 

 

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Prepare your Chevening application

With less than two months until the opening of Chevening, the fully-funded scholarship for postgraduate students offered by the UK government, Catherine Charpentier, from Birkbeck’s International Marketing and Recruitment team, advises on how to prepare for the scholarship application.

A collage of six past Chevening students holding a sign saying 'I can't keep calm. I've been chosen for Chevening'

Some of the 2020 Chevening scholars

It’s official, applications for Chevening for 2022/23 open on Tuesday 3 August 2021!

You’ve underlined the date in red on your calendar. So what now? Is the only thing left for you to do is crossing off the days off on your diary?

Well, no. Now isn’t the time to rest. There is plenty to do ahead of the application opening date. Here are four things you need to do to prepare.

  1. Check that you meet the eligibility criteria

You need to have at least two years work experience (equivalent to 2,800 hours) in order to apply. This can be in part-time or full-time employment, voluntary work or paid or unpaid internship; and this can be submitted in up to 15 employment periods on the application form.

Get your calculator out. Your entries will be calculated automatically by multiplying the number of weeks worked by the number of hours worked per week. For this calculation, a working week comprises 35-60 hours and a working year comprises 40-50 weeks.

Don’t have 2,800 hours of experience yet? Why not apply for an internship, or offer your services to a volunteer organisation to make up the total? You should meet the requirements by the time you submit the application, which should be no later than 2 November 2021.

  1. Gain meaningful experience

It’s not only about quantity but also quality. You might have reached two years of work/voluntary experience but feel that your CV could do with improving. Don’t forget, you will also have to demonstrate leadership qualities in your application.

Can you take on extra responsibility at work? Could you offer to manage on a project for an organisation you are involved with? Can you organise an event for a charity?

The Chevening students outside Birkbeck entrance holding up a blue relay stick

Birkbeck’s 2019 Chevening scholars complete a relay

  1. Develop your network

In your application, you will be required to demonstrate your networking skills. Spend the next few months working on your network. You can reactivate old links and build new relations. This can be in person at work, at events you attend, or online via social media or LinkedIn for example.

You can refer to Birkbeck Futures The Importance of Networking for tips and advice to develop a networking strategy.

  1. Select your referees

You will have to give the name of two referees in your application. Use the next few months to select who you think could provide positive and meaningful references for you. Get in touch now, keep the relation going and remind them all the reasons why you will be deserving of this glorious reference when the time comes.

For further information on the scholarship visit the Chevening website.

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“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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