Tag Archives: International students

From finding Birkbeck on an alumni profile to studying and working in the UK

A self-taught software developer, BSc Computing student Peace Onyehanere, shares the details of life as an international student at Birkbeck and how she marries part-time work and studies. 

Peace Onyehanere by her bike

Can you tell us about your background? 
I am a self-taught software developer studying at Birkbeck to get a degree in Computing. Before joining Birkbeck, I did a diploma in Computing, and I worked as a software developer in Nigeria. 

How did you hear about Birkbeck?  
I found Birkbeck from an alumni’s LinkedIn profile. I got curious and did some research about studying at Birkbeck. I decided to choose Birkbeck as my first choice as I liked the evening studies, and I also had the best experience reaching out to lecturers for my course to ask questions. 

What is it like living in London?  
I watched a couple of YouTube videos on living in London and transportation in London so the first time I had to take public transport, I thankfully did not get lost. Google maps also came in handy. I always made sure to ask the driver when I got on the bus to be sure I am on the right bus. I shop at cheap supermarkets to save some money. There has not been any lockdown since I started studying. But there have been more cases of Covid-19 and new variants at the end of term one. I then had my classes online and I have enjoyed it.  

Peace Onyehanere at her desk

Can you tell us about your studies?   
I have honestly enjoyed online teaching over in-person teaching. With virtual learning, the classes are recorded, and you can refer back to it after the class. There are also reading material and pre-recorded videos you can go through before the class. Each of the courses I have studied so far have been three hours long. But we do have breaks in between the class. There is also a support class provided on weekends where you can ask more questions and get help. 

How is a typical day for you? 
I work as a Frontend developer at a FinTech company. I started job hunting before moving to the UK. I got a couple of offers before arriving, but I got the offer for the company I currently work at while in the UK. A typical day for me starts with work and ends with a lecture if I have one that day. As I work from home, I don’t have to go out. I try to go out and explore my environment, but I am mostly indoors all day. 

Have you used any of BBK support services?  
I have followed Birkbeck Futures and attended the last event organised. I have also had the opportunity to be mentored via the Mentorship program. 

What have you found most challenging about your time in the UK so far? 
I have had a great time in the UK. The one thing I have found challenging is the weather and the short days. I look forward to a great time at Birkbeck and meeting more people. 

Further information: 

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

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

photo of tiger symbolising chinese new year 2022

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

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

photo of chinese lanterns

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

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

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

photo of animals of the chinese zodiac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Six Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

By Shweta Menon, final year undergraduate Marketing student 

Photo of Shweta Menon

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

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

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

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

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10 recipes to try this Diwali that are not curry

Today (November 4) is Diwali or Deepavali, a religious Indian festival of light that celebrates victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. This celebration comes from the legend of Lord Rama, who was deprived of his kingdom and sent into exile for 14 years. Rama eventually defeats the evil spirit Ravana and returns to his home. Diwali honours this triumphant return and is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and some Buddhists all over the world. Here, Birkbeck final-year Marketing student, Shweta Menon shares the festival’s culinary delights.

UG Marketing student Shweta Menon

Shweta Menon

Diwali has distinctive celebrations across India and in more recent times around the world. However, lip-smacking vibrant foods, a variety of Indian sweets and the combined play of colours and fireworks remain a constant. Growing up I would see my grandmother prepare an array of snack and sweets for Diwali. There were some traditional items like murukku (crispy rice stick), sheera (semolina pudding), rava laddoo (sweet semolina balls) and some innovative ones.

If you, like me, are away from home this Diwali or want to put on your chef’s hat to try some Indian delicacies, here are some recipes for you:

  1. Murukku

Murukku

Murukku is a traditional South Indian deep fried snack recipe made with rice flour, urad dal and spices. Chakri is like Murukku, but the ingredients slightly differ They are savoury and crispy.

  1. Shankarpali

shankarpali

Shankarpali, sweet diamond cuts, is a crispy sweet snack made with flour, ghee and sugar. These can last you for a good week or two.

3.Gulab Jamun

gulab jamun

Gulab Jamun is a classic Indian sweet made with ghee, milk solids and cardamom powder.

  1. Rava Ladoo (Sweet Semolina Balls)

rava ladoo

Rava Ladoo is yet another classic indian sweet made with semolina, ghee and sugar.

5.Kaju Katli

kaju katli

Kaju Katli is popular Indian sweet made with cashew nuts, sugar and cardamom powder. Kaju, in Hindi, means cashew and katli refers to thin slices.

  1. Aloo Tikki Chaat

aloo tikka chaat

Aloo Tikki Chaat is a famous Indian street food made of spiced fried potato patties served with yogurt, pomegranate and chutneys.

  1. Carrot Halwa

carrot halwa

Carrot Halwa, natively known as Gajar Halwa, is a sweet carrot pudding made in the winter months when carrots are in abundance .

  1. Gujiya

gujiya

Gujiyas are scrumptious sweet fried dumplings. The filling of the dumpling is a delightful combination of dry fruits and milk solids.

  1. Besan Ladoo (Sweet Gram Flour Balls)

besan ladoo

Besan Ladoo is a staple Diwali sweet made with roasted gram flour, ghee and sugar. They only take as much as 15 minutes to make and are absolutely finger-licking.

  1. Turmeric Cumin Margarita

turmeric cumin margarita

This bright coloured Margarita with its smoky notes is the perfect cocktail for the festival of lights

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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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Taking on the challenges of the pandemic to embrace a world of opportunities in London

Flexibility and daytime freedom are what led Oghenemine Djebah to choose Birkbeck to study an MA/LLM Criminal Law and Criminal Justice. In this blog, the Nigerian student shares his journey so far with us.    

Oghenemine Djebah

Oghenemine Djebah

After obtaining an LLB from the Delta State University, Oghenemine Djebah enrolled at the Nigerian Law School, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Laws and was subsequently called to the Nigerian bar. Since then, he has been in active legal practice in Nigeria.

He worked for two notable law firms (Rotimi Jacobs & Co. and Zatts Law Chambers) and volunteered to give free legal services through a registered NGO (Fundamental Rights Enforcement Enlightenment and Defense).

During a 2019 visit to London, Oghenemine fell for the culture and diversity of the city. So, when his desire to gain more in-depth knowledge of the workings of the law inspired him to pursue an LLM he naturally focused his search on universities in the capital. “I started searching for an institution that would be flexible enough to let me work or volunteer while I studied. I found out about Birkbeck on the internet and the evening lectures tallied with the type of institution I was looking for, so I applied and was given admission into the School of Law.”

As the pandemic took hold around the world, Oghenemine considered deferring his admission by a year. “Because of the financial challenges caused by COVID-19 it was quite a challenge getting the initial deposit in time. The management of Birkbeck recognised this and made the concession of reducing the initial deposit by 90% for all international students, which gave me the opportunity to meet all of the requirements and enroll for the 2020 session.” In recognition of his potential Oghenemine was subsequently awarded a Birkbeck International scholarship and a School of Law Postgraduate Award.

The pandemic’s impact was not only financial as, first the Autumn, then the Spring terms were moved online. Oghenemine embraced the challenges and attended online orientation, public lectures as well as the international student’s virtual event at the beginning of the academic year. He reflected: “The international student event was really helpful for me in understanding my role as an international student, including the benefits and how to tap into them.”

Oghenemine has also been making good use of the online services available to students: “The Birkbeck Careers platform is great and enables students not only to see available jobs and apply but also to help teach them how to prepare for interviews and tailor their CVs and cover letters to meet professional standards.”

With a few months of studies under his belt, the Nigerian student assesses his time learning online. “This is actually my first time doing any course via virtual learning. It is quite challenging because I do not get to meet with other students and make good connections which is also part of the university life. However, the lectures have been going great, better than I expected because we are provided with pre-recorded videos for each lecture. The COVID-19 pandemic has made everything different, from living, to studying. Not being able to meet physically and always being indoors has made this period a bit difficult. I look forward to having the opportunity to meet physically with my fellow students and lecturers before graduating from Birkbeck.”

More than anything the Law student sees and embraces the positives studying in London and at Birkbeck can bring: “London is well known for welcoming international students globally, including from Nigeria. Being a student in London enables you to be a part of a well-integrated international and diverse community. London is a city with a lot of opportunities for everyone beyond academic programs. I advise all Nigerians who wish to study internationally to study in London and join a diverse community and tap into the available opportunities.”

More information:

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We need to learn the lessons from Erasmus+ to make sure Turing is an improvement

Since the Brexit deal came into force at the beginning of the year, the UK is no longer part of the Erasmus+ programme. Instead, the government is setting up the Turing scheme to fund students to study abroad. Professor Kevin Ibeh, Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) and Professor of Marketing and International Business, examines the Turing scheme and areas the government needs to turn its attention to in this blog. 

Professor Kevin Ibeh

For the UK to remain a global player, we must be able to provide our citizens with an appreciation of the wider world and help the world to understand us. To an extent, the European Union’s Erasmus+ programme helped to facilitate this by offering thousands of students the chance to study in Europe and beyond, while giving Europeans the chance to study in Britain.

Since the Brexit deal came into force at the beginning of the year, the UK is no longer part of the Erasmus+ programme. Instead, the government is setting up the Turing scheme to fund students to study abroad.

If this is to succeed, it is important to learn the lessons from Erasmus+, both regarding what worked and what didn’t. To improve on the opportunities that the Erasmus+ programme provided for both outgoing and incoming students, the government must turn its attention to a number of issues.

First, the forthcoming spending review should increase the programme’s budget, which currently stands at £100 million for its first year. This is a creditable sum, given the adverse economic climate, but the government should be aiming to match the nearly £130 million that the UK received in Erasmus+ grants in 2019. More important still, the Turing scheme needs a multi-year funding settlement.

Second, while the Turing scheme has a welcome focus on increasing participation among students from disadvantaged backgrounds, this could be hindered by a lack of reciprocal fee waivers.

Under Erasmus+, students paid fees to their home institution but not their overseas university, and they received a grant for living expenses. The Turing scheme provides UK students studying overseas only with grants towards travel and living expenses; tuition fee waivers are not explicitly addressed.

This raises concerns as to how students from disadvantaged backgrounds will self-finance, as well as the impact on recruitment into modern language degrees. There is a need for reciprocal fee-waiver arrangements. The Turing scheme should also consider adopting measures used by Erasmus+ to target participants from disadvantaged backgrounds; such as providing an additional €120 per month for disadvantaged students studying abroad.

Under Erasmus+, approximately 30,000 European students visited the UK each year without having to pay UK universities’ tuition fees. The government should consider replicating this under the Turing scheme as a way of attracting overseas students to the UK. At present, the Turing scheme only applies to UK students; taking measures to boost two-way exchange would enhance its appeal.

Consideration should also be given to reducing the red tape for overseas students. Those coming to study for more than six months should be exempt from having to pay for a visa, the NHS surcharge and providing certified proof of English language ability, which they didn’t have to do under Erasmus+.

If these requirements are not removed, other Anglophone countries are likely to experience a surge in Erasmus+ students at the UKs expense. Such a reduced flow of inbound students would lessen the substantial social, cultural, economic and soft power benefits that international students bring to UK higher education institutions and wider society. In 2018, their economic contribution alone was put at £440m.

The government has declared that the Turing scheme will provide students with opportunities to study in a larger number of countries than Erasmus+ did. Even though Erasmus+ covers more than one hundred countries, including many outside the EU, it would clearly be positive if the Turing scheme could be more global still.

Achieving such an ambition will require greater investment, though. Striking out on its own and expanding the number of countries involved in its international higher education exchange programme is likely to bring the UK additional administrative costs.

Lastly, I hope that the Turing scheme will provide opportunities for university staff and other young people to teach, train, learn or volunteer abroad, as is the case with Erasmus+. Everyone connected with universities can benefit from travelling abroad to develop professional practice and build relationships with international peers.

The UK government’s commitment to and continuing investment in an international mobility programme for students is highly welcome. The Turing scheme arguably has the potential to match the Erasmus+ scheme, but appropriate refinements are needed to make this promise a reality. I’d strongly encourage the government to work with universities to achieve this end.

Further Information

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Do you know the significance of Chinese New Year?

Preparations for Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year and Spring Festival, started on Thursday 4 February and will last until New Year’s Eve a week later. It’s the first year those observing China’s longest festival, celebrated in many parts of the Far East and beyond, will do so with social distancing and a full lockdown in the UK.

This is a photo of red Chinese New Year celebration items

Given the social restrictions, how will people be celebrating this year?
Organisers have been creative with their events, pulling most online. Birkbeck’s Chinese Society will be putting on an event, including a quiz and other activities, to commemorate Chinese New Year. This is a free event, open to all and can be accessed here.

There’s also the digital tour of Chinatown by Chinese Arts Now. Their festival starts right after Chinese New Year, from 15 February- 15 August and will feature performances and art installations. The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, will also be putting on workshops, performances and storytelling online to mark the festivities on 13 February.

Will any of the usual traditions hold?
It’s very likely Chinese people will still observe the usual customs including sprucing up and decorating their homes with red lanterns and other decorations, having a dinner of fish, said to bring good fortune, and will stay up until midnight for fireworks to ward off any bad spirits.

So, what do you wear for the New Year, which is officially marked from 12 February until the Lantern Festival signifying the end of the celebrations on 26 February?
Well, if you’re born in any of the following recent years: 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009 or 2021, it’s highly recommended you adorn yourself and your house in red for the rest of the Chinese calendar year, which runs from February 12 2021 until January 31 2022.

Why?
Superstition has it that red, white, green and yellow will bring good fortune to those born in the Year of the Ox; who otherwise will be beset by bad luck according to Chinese astrology.

But isn’t red synonymous with bulls?
Well, yes, but 2021 is the Year of the Ox, specifically, which we all know is the bull’s close relation. The chinese calendar has quite a methodical way of assigning the ox to set calendar years.

What’s the significance of the Ox?
The Chinese zodiac has determined 2021 the Year of the Ox, an animal celebrated for its strength and reliability; and is the second of the zodiac animals.

Are they all animals?
They do, indeed, all happen to be animals. The Chinese zodiac is split into 12 blocks/houses, each with a one-year time span and an associated animal. Last year was the Year of the Rat and next year (2022) will be the Year of the Tiger. Though, bear in mind, with the start of the calendar falling between the end of January and the end of February, there’s some overlap with animals in any given year. The animals come around every twelve years.

So, does the calendar run with the smallest animal to the largest?
Not quite. Chinese folklore states that the Jade Emperor had beckoned 13 animals and thereafter named the years on the calendar according to the order in which they arrived.

13 animals?
Yes- one dropped out of the race. A very unlucky cat who is said to have drowned in the race. Not to be confused with the lucky cat charm, Maneki Neko, the Fortune Cat which is believed to bring good luck to its owners and is known for its signature wave.

Are there observations one should make in making sure they enjoy prosperity and good fortune?
Absolutely. Those celebrating are likely to skip a porridge breakfast on the Lunar New Year so as not to start the year off ‘poor’; and don’t expect to see them doing any work involving scissors or needles either, as this is said to lead to a loss of wealth.

We extend our well wishes for a safe, prosperous and Happy New Year to all within our community who are celebrating.

Read more about Birkbeck’s Chinese Society.

Joining instructions for Birkbeck’s free event here.

Find information for our International Student community.

See how Birkbeck students celebrated Chinese New Year last year (2020).

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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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