“I chose Birkbeck for its multicultural community and its evening courses.”

Francis Olie, from Abuja in Nigeria, talks about embarking on his MSc Information Systems and Management at Birkbeck and settling into London life as an international student.

Francis Olie

Francis Olie

I grew up in Nigeria (Abuja F.C.T.) and completed my education, up to my first degree (BSc. In Computer Science) at Baze University. I worked at the Nigerian Institute of Science Laboratory Technology as a Computer Analyst before arriving in London on the 13th of October 2019.

Studying abroad for the first time is a very important step forward for anyone, so I had to make sure my university of choice was right on the first attempt. I contacted an Education agent for advice and guidance. The agency was mainly responsible for recommending me for a scholarship at Birkbeck. Ultimately, I chose Birkbeck for its multicultural community and its evening courses.View from Eleanor Rosa HouseView from Eleanor Rosa House

Travelling to London was hectic as I did not know if I would be able to make the arrival deadline, but I did. It was also my first time abroad as an International student and as a first- time international traveller. My sister who is established in London made it very easy to get my residence hall (Eleanor Rosa House). I love my accommodation; I wish it had a gym though or an indoor basketball court. London is a well-connected city and quite busy. I had help from my sister navigating public transport (Trains and Buses). I adapted to it in three weeks’ time.  Londoners are always in a hurry, to where only God knows.

Stratford

Stratford Town Centre

The cost of living is quite high since I live in Stratford (London), close to Stratford International train station. The cost of transportation is a little expensive, but that depends if you pay monthly and the number of zones you travel to. I pay for a Zone 1 to Zone 3 travelcard for £135 a month. Overall, London is an expensive city but it has lots to offer (stadiums, food, cinemas, libraries, cafes, malls).

Unfortunately, I arrived late and could not attend the orientation or the festival or the Fresher’s Fayre. It was a bit difficult to find the location of the university but starting my classes was easy once I visited Student Services for guidance. Due to my late arrival, it took a while to get my student card ready, which delayed my access to the library but a temporary card was provided. 

I did make use of the student support to access the digital skills awareness, but have not had the time to make use of the library tours and the Birkbeck career services. There have been several extra-curricular activities on and off-campus, three of which I attended. An insight to starting life as an English premier league coach, safety in London as an international student (hosted by real police officer) and another for dealing with culture shock.

I haven’t had the time to join the Student Union. However, I do appreciate some of the work the Student Union do, they really go the extra mile to create events for students. God bless them.

The most challenging aspect of life in the UK would be the high rent fees (about £940 per month) as I live close to the city centre. The baked bread is quite tasteless compared to the bread back home, as a student who has to move quickly sometimes, breakfast can be unsatisfying.

The public transport is quite efficient and well organized, you can rely on it almost 24/7. The evening classes at Birkbeck are really awesome, gives room for other activities. I looked forward to completing my studies and moving onward with my life. I strongly advice anyone from Nigeria to be financially ready, have an open mind and be quick to adapt and learn every day.

Growing up in a less privileged society has not only offered financial and academic challenges, but has also helped me realise the value of a college education. My educational pursuits would not be possible without the generous scholarship from Birkbeck.

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“Studying for a PhD at Birkbeck is one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life!”

Zambia-born Kasoka Kasoka, who describes himself as a very proud ‘Birkbeckian’ alma mater, reflects on his time working on a PhD in Law at Birkbeck and his achievements since graduating in 2018.

Kasoka Kasoka at graduation

Kasoka Kasoka at graduation

Tell us about your education before Birkbeck

I am from Lusaka and Zambian. In 2007 I moved to the UK where I enrolled to study for a Bachelor`s degree through the University of London International Programmes. I obtained a Bachelor`s degree in Law in 2011. Upon the completion of my degree I was admitted to study at Maastricht University in the Netherlands where I studied for a Masters degree in Forensics, Criminology and Law. I obtained my Master`s degree in 2013.

Why did you choose Birkbeck?

Firstly, I decided to enrol here because of Birkbeck`s massive ranking as one of the best research universities in the World. And yes, it is! Secondly, I applied to study here because I was attracted to the College`s interdisciplinary research study approach. As a result, my research as a doctoral student cut across; law, human rights, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, history, bioethics, and public health. Engaging in an interdisciplinary research project afforded me a rare opportunity to become an interdisciplinary thinker, be open-minded, and embrace new ideas.

Thirdly, true to its name as a research-intensive university, Birkbeck comprises of academics and researchers who are renowned experts in their fields. Thus, my great former PhD supervisors, Professor Matthew Weait and Dr Eddie Bruce-Jones, are very respected researchers and authorities in their various fields. They are exceedingly knowledgeable and  down to earth. And finally, but not exhaustively, I decided to study here due to the supportive student and staff community at Birkbeck. I indeed received a lot of support during my study from fellow PhD students, academic and research staff, and administrative staff members.

What were your relationships like with staff and other students?

I loved the critical approach to study and work culture at Birkbeck. I found my fellow PhD students to be really smart, friendly and supportive – this was endearing. As if this was not enough,  both academic and non-academic staff were very approachable, attentive and supportive. I had a lot of academic staff who were not my PhD supervisors avail me with research insights and suggested various research material to read – as a goodwill gesture. This was priceless in my doctoral study journey!

Inevitably, I was sad to leave Birkbeck when my studies came to a conclusion,  to leave behind such a great community. Nonetheless, I am still happy that I have stayed in touch and maintained the various friendships and networks I had the privilege of forming while studying at Birkbeck. Indeed, “once a Birkbeckian forever a Birkbeckian”!

It was a great honour to forge  invaluable friendships and networks with students and staff members from diverse backgrounds. I consider Birkbeck to be one of the most diverse universities in the UK.

Did you use any of Birkbeck’s additional support and activities?

I had the opportunity to intuitively avail myself to various societies and student clubs at the University, including various PhD students` social groups. Birkbeck has a lot of societies and social groups with various activities.  So, I was always happy to retire from my studies to unpack my mind by joining fellow students for some good fun. I especially enjoyed playing football! As they say “all work and no play make Jack a dull boy”!

Can you tell us more about your research project?

The purpose of my research was to investigate and analyse the appropriateness of individual autonomy in the context of informed consent HIV testing requirements in Zambia, and sub-Saharan African countries by extension.

Tell us about your experience of living in the UK.

I really loved living in London. London is no doubt one of the greatest cities to live in. What I liked most about the city is the diversity of its population. Thus, I was privileged to meet many people from every part of the world who brought with them various rich cultures, including great cuisines! With such a profoundly rich experience I agreed with Robert Endleman (1963) who observed that human beings in terms of cultures “are vastly various and yet laughably alike”! I also loved English pub food! And the museums, wow! – museums were often my favourite place of respite whenever I needed to briefly divorce myself from the usual business of life and time-machine myself into the past to admire and converse with ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Persians, Africans, Americans, Europeans and Indians who had no internet! And behold, the British Museum is only about three minutes-walk from Birkbeck! London is also pregnant with breath-taking gothic cathedrals and other non-church buildings.

(I need to mention that there are much more things for one to see and enjoy in London than what I can enumerate – there is almost everything for everyone to see, smell, taste, hear, touch and enjoy. That`s the magic of London!)

However, living in London comes with its own downsides: especially the high costs of accommodation and transport. Food is surprisingly affordable!

Life after Birkbeck

Kasoka Kasoka at a United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) Session

It was sad saying goodbye to my community of friends and networks when my studies concluded. After completing my studies at Birkbeck, I was offered a scholarship by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Finland to study on an intensive postgraduate international human rights course at the Institute for Human Rights, Åbo Akademi University. Upon the completion of the course in Finland, I was an Intern at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, Switzerland. Later I worked as a Legal Intern at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva. The experiences and illuminations I gained from these intergovernmental organisations are invaluable! I am a strong believer, follower and advocate that,

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Currently, I am writing a research paper for journal publication, as I keenly continue to follow my career goals, and seek to contribute, no matter how tiny, to improving the wellbeing of our common humanity, without prejudice or discrimination. Indeed, as it has been said before as human beings, we are all as weak as the weakest link (other human being whose rights are not respected, protected and promoted) living among us in our society. My study at Birkbeck (through its critical review approach) and experience at the United Nations has made me see this reality clearer than never before.

What advice would you give other people thinking of studying at Birkbeck?

I highly recommend Birkbeck, University of London! You will study at a university that is known for research excellence with renowned academics; you will study in a supportive environment, with quality teaching; at the end of your studies you will graduate with a prestigious University of London qualification, and not forgetting you will become a Birbeckian; and at the end of your studies you will not look at the world the same way!

As for me, studying for a PhD at Birkbeck is one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life, and I am a very proud Birbeckian alma mater.

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Zhanna Chenenk: studying theatre at Birkbeck

Moscow native and former MA Text and Performance student, Zhanna Chenenk reflects on her year at Birkbeck.

What made you decide to study at Birkbeck?

I was looking for an MA in theatre. I was intrigued by the Text and Performance course thanks to its mix of academic and practical disciplines with the bonus of being able to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).

Could you tell us about moving to London?

When I was sixteen I moved from my parents’ house in a small town close to Saint-Petersburg in Russia. That was a very stressful experience; a big city, a different culture, a huge distance (2000 kilometres) between myself and my family. Before coming to Birkbeck I had moved and travelled a lot and lived in many different cities, but it is still very hard to start from scratch in a new place. I arrived just before the course began and spent around a month searching for the right accommodation. I encountered many different people which was an interesting introduction to London life.

How was it coming to study at Birkbeck at first?

Before I applied for the course I met with a Birkbeck representative in Moscow to clarify some issues and later, when I was in London she took me on a tour of the campus and RADA. I liked the arts building as there is no logic to the room locations and you can easily find an empty space for a rehearsal.

Have you encountered any difficulties? How is the British system different from your country’s? Have you been to study skills sessions?

It was hard getting used to the British system, and once you’ve learned to cope with it, the year is over. Writing in a different language is a challenge in itself, but in addition this you are writing in many different ways; academic and narrative style, essays, scripts and portfolios. You even have to perform on stage in English – but I finally feel very comfortable using it. Now I feel it in my body. My program involved constant switching between practice and academic lessons and I wish I had more time to perfect everything.

What is it like living in London?

It took time getting used to London. Sometimes I loved it. I enjoyed wandering through the jungle of a city with my sketch book, but sometimes it was very oppressive. To escape these feelings, I travelled to new places like Berlin or Paris or Palestine, or even within the UK. I especially liked going to Brighton, Liverpool and Manchester! Most recently I discovered the Yorkshire Sculpture Park! The transport in London is also tricky to get used to and although I loved the poeticism of night buses, I hated using them during the day. Ultimately, opinions of cities are always built out of the opportunities that they give, and the connections you make. Not just the bricks and mortar which make it up.

Have you made friends on your course?

My course was international, so I’ve gained many connections across the world over the year. I participated in workshops and took on internships, so I’ve been able to build up my professional contacts to build a career upon.  London has been good to me. Whilst here I’ve met people who I have connected easily with. And even if some of them leave the UK soon I know that I have gained a wealth of friendships. I found my tribe here.

What has been your highlight of your time in London and at Birkbeck?

I would say that it has been good for me to review some of my personal values. Some of the things which were once important to me suddenly became very small. The same with my relationships; I revised all of them. I started to draw and take photos again. And I started writing. I found my experiences in London coming back to me in Berlin, when my friend asked me write a short story for his magazine. Thanks to the development of my language skills I was able to do this in in one morning and drew a picture to accompany it.

Can you tell us a little more about your dissertation?

I chose a practical path for my dissertation. For this I did a presentation – a 30-minute production and an 8000-word analytical portfolio. I chose to focus on women’s choices and the freedom to shape yourself as an artist. I have really enjoyed it, because I have had time to focus on one thing that I find interesting. It has also allowed me to make mistakes in the safety of an academic framework. I’m happy that I have had time to make these mistakes as they have taught me valuable lessons.

What are you doing since you completed your studies at Birkbeck?

I took on a thorough research tasks for my performance and now I have material to extend the performance into a trilogy. But, for now I am applying to take part in festivals for emerging directors with the presentation I created as a part of my dissertation. As for my other plans, details of these can be found in newspapers.

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“Studying in London gave me a new perspective on important issues that I may have overlooked before”

Hitomi Imamura, an international student who was awarded an international merit scholarship from Japan, tells us about studying for the MSc Education, Power and Social Change at Birkbeck and how she has made the most of her time studying in London.

After a long career in Japan, I wanted to follow my childhood dream to study abroad and make friends from all over the world. I chose London because it is a multicultural city and the best place to study with international students. I decided to apply for Birkbeck because it is famous for its evening classes and it is an environment where I could study with students who had varied lifestyles and careers.

Also, I was interested in the MSc Education, Power and Social Change as I had worked in education in Japan for many years and could not find this type of subject at other universities. The atmosphere around Birkbeck is ideal, surrounded by other universities, parks, amenities, and many university libraries. I enjoyed London life even though the cost of living is high. There are many things to do in your free time as it is such a large and historic city.

I found some things quite difficult to start with including a huge amount of reading assignments and the obvious language barrier. There were a lot of assignments to finish at the same time over a short period. It was very stressful so I had to take care of myself but it was also very rewarding. I used some of the study skills sessions provided by the university which gave me useful information on how to improve my writing.

I joined some events specially provided for international students such as the University tour and Parliament tour. They were very interesting. I became a member of the Japan Society of Birkbeck and taught Japanese to the students. The students appreciated my contribution and I received a Birkbeck Student Union award in 2019 for an outstanding contribution to club and societies.

I could meet caring tutors and nice classmates from all over the world and they helped me when I was struggling with my study.  We were able to support each other without considering the differences in the ages and nationalities of my classmates.

My dissertation theme was related to the important Japanese primary school education reform going through 2020. I interviewed 5 Japanese education experts and one American expert that included the former State-Minister of Japanese Education. I found that many changes are happening in Japan because of globalisation through my research. I’m very glad I came to Birkbeck, and think it is important to see my own country from overseas. It gives me a new perspective on important issues that I may have overlooked before studying abroad.

I aim to continue to PhD level study as I would like to continue my research after graduating from the master’s course. Birkbeck has enabled me to improve my ability to study and conduct research at a high level so I can progress on to the next stage.

I am satisfied that I completed my master’s degree and met the challenge I set for myself to make my life more positive. Unfortunately, the number of Japanese foreign students is currently decreasing. However, I feel it would be good if more Japanese people studied abroad and exercised their global citizenship as I did at Birkbeck. For me, that is a great personal achievement. I would like to thank all the course tutors and various administrative staff for making my time at Birkbeck such a worthwhile and enjoyable experience.

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Mariyeh Mushtaq: Life in London as an international student

Mariyeh Mushtaq was awarded the Great India scholarship to study MA Gender, Sexuality and Culture at Birkbeck. She was also selected as one of the recipients of the Birkbeck/International Student House Accommodation scholarship.  In this blog, Mariyeh shares what it was like settling into life at Birkbeck.

I decided to apply to Birkbeck because of the range of courses it offers, particularly in the field of women’s and gender studies. One of the main reasons I chose this university was the ample financial support it offers to international students in the form of scholarships, bursaries and fee-waivers.

As an international student applying for an MA at Birkbeck, I was intentional about applying for a scholarship. I came across the Birkbeck/ISH Scholarship when I was searching for accommodation on the Birkbeck website and was directed to the International Students House website, where I learnt about this partnership and the criteria for application and selection.

Being a Birkbeck/ISH Scholar has truly facilitated my learning and growth in a much broader and holistic way. I do not have to worry about of the financial implications of living in London and at ISH I have met fellow scholars and residents from all over the world that I have been able to forge meaningful relationships with, both academically and culturally. As a student of social sciences and humanities, I feel learning about other students’ cultural experiences has enabled me to open my mind to new possibilities and approaches in my own research.

There are so many great things about staying at ISH. Firstly, it is located in the vicinity of Bloomsbury area so it is only a short walk from the Birkbeck campus, and the beautiful Regents Park is only a three-minute walk away. But ISH is more than just a student accommodation, it is an international community of people and it actively facilitates interaction and cooperation among its residents through regular events and activities. Throughout the school year, I regularly attended ISH events, where I had the opportunity to interact with fellow residents and enjoy delicious food! I organised film screenings and discussions which provided a common space for students from different academic backgrounds to come together, share their opinions and hear from others. At the annual garden party, I got an opportunity to meet Her Royal Highness Princess Anne and exchange a few words about my stay at ISH and my studies at Birkbeck. I was also involved in filming a video about ISH which was screened at the event and later shared on the ISH website.

Getting used to an entirely different system of teaching and learning was a bit stressful in the beginning. I was a little apprehensive about the readings and the lectures in general.  My course tutors helped familiarize me with the process and reassured me through my frequent in-person meetings with them. Birkbeck organises regular study-skills workshops; ranging from academic writing skills to coping with student life in London. Attending these proved extremely helpful in terms of coping with my workload and gave me the confidence to conduct my own research. The library induction familiarized me with the relevant sections of the library and put me in touch with my subject librarian for guidance and support.

Coming to London as an international student was my first time abroad. Before travelling to London, I was anxious about many things as most international students are. Immediately after arriving here I met so many different people. It was a little overwhelming at first, but given the homely vibe of ISH, I was able to overcome my anxiety and start interacting with everyone quite quickly. London is a big and busy city, similar to home. Even so, dealing with the culture shock was difficult because it was a sudden change, from the food to the overall life here.

Having spent a year in London, I’d advise prospective international students to spend more time with their family before leaving their home country, and look forward to meeting and making a new family before you go!

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Life in London as an international student

We catch up with Yvette Shumbusho, an MSc Marketing Communications student from Rwanda, who in a December blog post talked about settling in London as an international student. As the academic year draws to a close Yvette reflects on what she enjoys most about living in the capital.

London has been home for the past ten months, and I have easily integrated into the diverse culture. This fast-paced, metropolitan city lives up to the hype for many reasons, its culture, food and entertainment, to name a few

The diversity found in London puts it at an advantage compared to many cities in the world. There are a number of food markets that I have been able to visit such as Maltby Street Market and more in various parts of London. I have eaten some of the best meals in these places, freshly made and satisfying overall.

You don’t have to worry about gaining a few pounds because there are so many gyms around the city – there are three different gyms within a radius of 0.3 miles of where I reside! This is surely motivation to keep fit but even if you’re not fond of gyms and exercise classes, walking around alone can help you get in a quick workout. I walk almost everywhere and now that it’s nice and warm (on some days), I walk a lot more than I normally would. I have come to realise that Londoners like to power walk everywhere.

Between juggling school assignments and regular everyday activities, it is a real challenge to get time off and explore, but I have managed to visit a number of places including the London Aquarium. I was a few inches away from a family of sharks, which was exciting as I had never been so close to them. I’ve also visited a number of parks, some unintentionally as I strolled to school or back home, which got me thinking how beautiful it is that London has so many green spaces; it makes walking and general living that much better.

Before I complete my course, there is still a number of places I need to visit within the city and even outside of London but all in all; my experience has been one to remember. I will surely miss this place.

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Life in London as an international student

Yvette Shumbusho, an MSc Marketing Communication student from Rwanda, talks about arriving in London as an international student and what had made her feel so at home.

I arrived at Gatwick Airport on 15 September 2018, two weeks before the start of my MSc Marketing Communication at Birkbeck. The weather was chilly, serving as a reminder that I was no longer home in Kigali, Rwanda or even close by. The drive to my accommodation for the next year was longer than I had expected, I reached late in the evening, evidently postponing the sightseeing for the next day.

The following morning, I was awakened by the rays of sunlight from my window complementing my excitement of being in a new city. I got ready to explore as much of London as I could, starting off by shopping. No matter where you are from, shopping is a universal activity. There are a number of brands from the UK that I was especially excited to visit and purchase from. That same day I was taught how to use public transport and there were many similarities to the system back home. For instance, an Oyster card is comparable to that of Rwandan Tap and Go cards. Just as I was about to purchase one, I was informed about the Student Oyster card, reducing my monthly expenses!

The major cities of the world – New York, Milan, Rome, Paris – are known to be expensive and London is no exception. I was advised to look for sales and only shop then and, given that summer was coming to an end, there were quite a few around. For the next two weeks, I purchased all the necessities for my home and warm clothing for the upcoming winter period. The most thrilling part of this experience was visiting Oxford Street. It can be overwhelming for a newcomer but it was also exciting. I went to the cinema, shopped some more, ate oriental cuisines that were quite affordable compared to those back home. I felt right at home by the time I began classes – I adjusted so easily and most of the credit goes to London’s element of diversity.

There are a number of nationalities residing in London, and with each there is a piece of culture that has been embedded in that of the British. I was so accustomed to eating particular foods back home that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find it here. That is until I visited a market in Dalston, which consists of the spices and dishes from many countries in Africa – I have been grocery shopping there ever since. Honestly, London is a city that almost everyone can get used to, it’s a wonderful place!

There are many things I am yet to do, such as visit Hyde Park (for Winter Wonderland!), catch shows (The Lion King) and explore the museums. Given the continued advancements in technology, I’m kept up to date with events and fun activities to enjoy via an app called Visit London. In addition, the International Community as Birkbeck organises events that add on to the beauty of London and give you a sense of it all at a student-friendly price.

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