Graduating as a couple and changing their lives for the better together

Henry and Raisa Capetian have been together for 7 years and both graduated on the same day this month. Henry graduated from BSc Economics, Raisa from BSc Economics and Business. This is their story. 

Henry and Raisa Capetian

Both in their early thirties, Henry and Raisa chose to pursue degrees later in life for different reasons. For Henry, this was his first foray into higher education, after years of working in retail and not feeling challenged. “It was a job to pay the bills and live day-to-day”, Henry explained. “Brexit happened and it sparked my interest in finance. I started looking into it, reading the Financial Times, doing a bit of market analysis and managing small investments.” Having no A-Level qualifications, Henry started by enrolling on a Foundation degree in Economics, and then doing a BSc Economics degree at Birkbeck. 

For Raisa, studying at Birkbeck was her third time pursuing an Economics degree. Other opportunities had arisen for Raisa which led to her dropping out of two other universities. She began a career as an influencer, doing YouTube make up, lifestyle and wellness tutorials and blogging, amassing a number of followers. Microsoft headhunted her for a Marketing Manager role, which Raisa decided to pursue. A few years on, Raisa decided to pick up where she left off and chose to transfer her credits from other universities to Birkbeck, meaning she only studied at Birkbeck for one year. 

They describe their time at Birkbeck as life changing. Henry explains, “It’s been interesting because it hasn’t been the journey I expected. I thought I’d hold the same part-time job over the three years, but I’ve had three promotions and four different jobs in that time. Studying at Birkbeck has changed the way I think and approach things and it’s allowed me to grow in ways I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to. I’m now working as an account management executive at a tech company.” Raisa adds, “Henry is a totally different person. You wouldn’t recognise him from when he started his degree.”  

Making friends at Birkbeck was easy for Henry and Raisa, with Henry being part of the Economics and Finance Society. He went to their socials, bringing Raisa along. “Everyone at Birkbeck had different journeys and we felt like we belonged to a community. The society leader introduced me to a network of city banking professionals and it was great to enter that world prior to graduating”, Henry says. “The teaching at Birkbeck was great and we liked the fact that everything was so easy – you get all the course notes well in advance”, Raisa adds. 

On their Graduation day, Henry and Raisa felt disbelief, pride and joy. “I’m the first person in my family to graduate”, says Raisa, “so it was an emotional day for me. My grandparents couldn’t read and write and they always used to say ‘we work with our hands but you work with your brain – keep being creative and never stop studying’ – I was thinking about them the most on that day and how proud they’d be.” 

Both Henry and Raisa are looking ahead to the future and considering Master’s degrees at Birkbeck. Raisa is looking to pursue a Master’s in January in Marketing, “I’m really proud to be part of Birkbeck, an institution where I can hand on heart say it aligns with my values and morals.” 

Further information

Henry and Raisa Capetian

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“I’m capable of much more than I ever imagined”

Despite struggling with education due to illness, Chantelle Ewen had a dream of getting a degree in Criminology. She came to Birkbeck to study BSc Criminology and Criminal Justice in order to fulfill that dream. This is her story.  

Since the age of 16, I’ve struggled with education because of my illness – a condition called Conversion Disorder – which causes neurological systems in my body to shut down, resulting in bouts of prolonged mobility issues, blindness, deafness and speech impairment. I constantly had to miss classes and struggled to do the assigned work. Some of my teachers told me to give up while I could, to just accept that I probably wouldn’t be able to handle further education, let alone higher education, and I almost believed them.  

But then I discovered my passion for criminology. I remember being fascinated by the forensic science module in my BTEC science class. We had this presentation to do, and I went completely above and beyond for it. It awakened a burning interest within me – to know about the criminal mind, to understand the processes of investigation and more. I had this dream of getting a criminology degree, and I said to myself: you need to conquer every little thing, every obstacle in your way to do this.  

It was someone from the admissions team of a different university who put me onto Birkbeck. They explained it was a unique university, which lets people work or parent during the day (I do both!), and study at night. That very same day I was told about it, I went to Birkbeck’s Bloomsbury campus to look around, and fell in love with it.  

I came to Birkbeck and had a heart to heart with the very first lecturer I met. I explained my disability, my educational struggles, and my dream.  They told me that I’d get the support I needed to make sure I could achieve my dream, and that they could already see me graduating. It had been so long since a teacher had words of encouragement for me; it was really emotional. Those words became a source of inspiration for me over the three years that I studied. Even when I had to miss a significant amounts of lectures, due to being bed-ridden or not being able to speak, I knew I would keep studying. 

My lecturers helped me in every way they could to make sure I didn’t fall behind, and the Disability Support and Study Skills services for students at Birkbeck were excellent. I had access to special software that helped me write essays when I couldn’t move my hands, curated study sessions that helped improve my writing skills, and people willing to help me whenever I needed it. 

I’m so grateful to the entire department for their efforts over my three years of studying. Unlike other tutors I’d encountered, they never turned their backs on me, and never allowed me to give up, even when the odds were stacked against me. I can now proudly say that I’m graduating with a degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice, which, back when I was 16 was something I never thought I’d say.  

I’m excited for what the future holds. I’m eager to use my degree to get into probation work, working in courts and prisons, and eventually rehabilitation. I know it might be challenging, but why not? My time at Birkbeck taught me not to overthink things, and taught me that I’m capable of much more than I ever imagined.   

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From Barcelona to Birkbeck to the world of banking

Pere Gesti graduated from BSc Financial Economics this week. He came over from Barcelona, Spain, to study a Dual Degree, as part of an ongoing agreement between Birkbeck and Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (UIC) Barcelona. 

pic of graduate Pere

The opportunity to study abroad came as a surprise 

I was studying BBA Finance at UIC Barcelona and one afternoon my macroeconomics teacher mentioned that the university was partnering with Birkbeck to offer students on certain courses the chance to study part of their degree in London and asked if I was interested. Without much hesitation I decided to go for it, and three and a half years after studying in Barcelona, I moved to the UK to study financial economics for a year and a half with four other UIC students. 

Moving to London was a huge change 

I like how London is so diverse, with lots of cultures and job opportunities, but it wasn’t easy initially as I wasn’t used to being in such a big city. What was strange was that I hadn’t been in London long before the Covid-19 pandemic happened.  

Working in the day helped me support myself financially 

Studying in the evening worked well as I could work in a shoe shop in the day. I enjoyed attending lectures because I thought the teaching was amazing at Birkbeck – the financial markets module was my favourite. 

Living in a student hall of residence meant I met a lot of people 

It was great meeting students from Birkbeck and other universities, and the street next to our hall of residence was full of restaurants so we’d often go there to grab lunch or dinner together. 

I secured a full-time job quickly after finishing studying  

I stayed in London after completing my degree and easily secured a job in the city as a headhunter at an American global executive search and strategic consulting firm, specialising in financial services. I’m learning a lot and it’s interesting to be working with big firms and bankers. In fact, three out of the five students who came over to Birkbeck from Barcelona stayed after the degree to work in London. 

In the future, I want to work in finance 

My goal is to become an accountant or salesman in the future. I think it’s all about trying different roles and seeing what I like – it’s quite difficult to imagine what it’s like to work in a job until you’re in it. 

I’ve been advising the next cohort coming to Birkbeck from UIC Barcelona 

The next group of students have been messaging us asking about what things there are to do, and they are keen to hear our experiences. I’m very positive about my time at Birkbeck and I’d recommend it highly to anyone! 

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“Birkbeck understood my background and circumstances, and granted me the chance to achieve my dream of becoming a lawyer” 

Gladys Paulsen has just graduated with an LLB Law and Commercial Law degree and is embarking on a new career in law after a 20-year career in sales. This is her story. 

pic of graduate, Gladys Paulsen

I was only 18 years old and finishing my second year of law school in Brazil, when my father informed me that I couldn’t continue studying because of our financial situation. I was heartbroken. 

I decided to embark on a different career and entered the aviation sales industry, working tirelessly to improve our family’s circumstances. Over 20 years, I worked my way up the ladder to a Regional Sales Manager position.  

After a prosperous career, three years ago I decided to pursue my ambition of becoming a human rights lawyer once again. I chose Birkbeck because it was rated as one of the best universities for law in England, and it’s well known in the law field as being one of the best. It was an easy decision! Fortunately, Birkbeck understood my background and circumstances, and granted me the chance to achieve my dream, whilst continuing to work full time.  

Being a Birkbeck student has been fantastic for my career. I’ve been introduced to great law firms through pupillage seminars, and I was able to serve as a volunteer for the Refugee Law Clinic during my studies, as well as being a policy researcher for the Environmental Law Foundation Policy Clinic. Birkbeck provided me with an exceptional mentor who guided me through the process of becoming a commercial lawyer. I’ve found that having a University of London degree adds huge weight to my CV as the University of London is one of the most respected universities in the country. As well as setting me up for my future, through Birkbeck I’ve made friends for life, from a variety of cultures and ages, who I go out for dinner and drinks with, as well as going to the opera house.  

Studying wasn’t without its challenges – English isn’t my native tongue; I was diagnosed with dyslexia during my studies; and my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in my second year. However, Birkbeck provided me with the necessary assistance. I am so appreciative of the mental health, disability support and learning support help I received, which has meant I’ve earned a first-class degree in Law! 

pic of Gladys and family

My entire family is flying over from Brazil to attend my Graduation, as well as my sister, who has won her fight against cancer. I am forever grateful to Birkbeck for providing me with the opportunity to study and assisting me in achieving my dream.  

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