Author Archives: Katrinah Best

Birkbeck says ‘au revoir’ to international students at an exquisite French afternoon tea party

In celebration of our international students, who bring a glorious array of experiences and diversity to the College, and in advance of next week’s International Student Day, we’re looking back over the past summer of events and excursions in a series of blog posts. Here, we share the delicious and stylish afternoon tea enjoyed by outgoing international students at the end of last term.

international students afternoon tea

The exquisite Mariage Frères Tea Rooms in London’s Covent Garden was the location and the special guests were Birkbeck’s international students, enjoying the final international student event of the academic year, providing another chance to socialise and make friends, especially for those students about to finish their studies and move on to new pastures. 

After a welcoming glass of French champagne and iced Japanese tea hosted in the Mariage Frères reception room and museum, Professor Kevin Ibeh, Pro Vice-Chancellor (International), started proceedings with heartfelt congratulations to the students for enduring this unprecedented time of pandemic and thanked La Young Jackson (Registry Services) for organising this and so many other ‘delightful events’.  He encouraged students to be proud of their achievements and of their university, and to stay close to the institution in their lifelong futures as Birkbeck alumni.  
international students afternoon tea

Host Julien of Mariage Frères gave a brief and interesting introduction to the history of the company, founded in Paris in 1864 and still the quintessential French high quality tea emporium.  He introduced the company’s concept of ‘travelling the world through tea’ especially with their signature Marco Polo tea blend.  He introduced items from the small museum collection and demonstrated in his beautiful French accent the correct pronunciation of ‘Mariage Frères’ – it’s not easy! 

afternoon tea for international students

Then it was down to the serious business of scoffing cakes and savoury treats and drinking delicious teas in the beautiful surroundings of this historic 19th century building.  In case you’re wondering how a French afternoon tea differs from an English one, the answer is perhaps not so surprising – the French food offerings were simply more stylish, exquisite and, well, trés chic!  Each savoury and cake was a small mouth-watering work of art.   

Both students and staff in attendance agreed that the French afternoon tea party was a truly wonderful experience and everybody left feeling happy and very full.  

Thanks go to all of the wonderful students for making the event such a joyous occasion.  For those of you embarking on the lifelong journey as Birkbeck alumni, please remember as the saying goes – “this is not ‘goodbye’, it is merely ‘au revoir’”. 

FURTHER INFORMATION:

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A ’late learner’ looks to counsel others to achieve great things

Nikesha Morris always knew she had it in her to learn despite only learning to read and write at ten years old. Graduating this week with a BA Psychosocial Studies and Principles of Psychodynamic Counselling degree, she’s setting an example on how to overcome life’s obstacles. This is her #BBKstory.

Nikesha Morris in graduation cap and gown

Ten years’ experience working in schools, supporting parents and students with their wellbeing, alongside having a natural capacity for advising others, provides Nikesha Morris with an ideal platform to pursue her goals in the field of counselling. Advising and supporting people has always been a key driver for her relationships with others.

Having recently completed a BA in Psychosocial Studies and Principles of Psychodynamic Counselling, she’s setting herself up well to progress her career and expand her support network.

With a baby on the way and raising “two beautiful children” with her husband, it’s difficult to imagine Nikesha facing any predicaments as she cheerily speaks of her husband trying to calm her down with her plans post-graduation: “I’m already planning and he’s right to say: ‘No. We don’t want to go through that again’. He tells me: ‘Just give yourself a break’, but I don’t want to. I mean, initially when I started this course, I wanted to go to PhD level. I’ve always viewed myself as a doctor or psychotherapist…something along those lines.”

Yet academic accomplishments eluded her during the earlier years of her education and life didn’t always appear so rosy. She explains: “There were very high expectations from my mum and she would just say, ‘Oh she can do it!’ I felt really embarrassed knowing that deep down I couldn’t do it. I was bullied in school. I was called ‘dunce’ as well. I wasn’t the smartest in class and it was quite a struggle which knocked my confidence.”

It wasn’t until Nikesha was working through her degree at Birkbeck, in 2018, that she reached out and received the necessary support from services at the College, and learnt that she was dyslexic. It led her to reflect on those earlier years of ‘poor achievement’: It’s funny because I felt it deep down throughout my whole childhood, I’ve always wanted to get to the next stage (of education), but I knew I didn’t have it in me and I didn’t have the support. I think moving to a new country from Jamaica, with new opportunities, kind of put me into a new dynamic and new mindset where I just thought: you know what…this is an opportunity and I’m going to try and see if I can catch up on what I’ve missed out on.”

Recognising and understanding the core of those earlier issues has given her some peace and she’s keen to use this personal learning to apply to her career. She’s also aware that a strong support system goes a long way in helping to achieve your goals in life.

“Anything is possible with organisations such as Birkbeck. It’s good to be honest in your own abilities and accept help wherever possible. There’s no shame in gaining knowledge from others, and it’s never too late, no matter what age you are or what your position is. Doing my degree at Birkbeck has been a life changing experience. It’s been fraught with lots of challenges, but in those I’ve found growth through a renewed effort, reaffirmation of self-belief, and most of all faith. I kind of feel like it was an experience that was needed.”

This week, she’s leaving her adversities in the past, including years of depression, a recent diagnosis of bipolar and fighting homelessness; and is setting her sights firmly on more positive things, with graduation being the first stop:

“Gosh, this means everything. When I clicked the submission button on my final assignment and I knew that I was coming to the end of my degree…when I received the graduation email and my grades… I was like ‘Oh my God’. It was one of the best moments of my life. Elation cannot come close to describing the feeling of achievement and reaching the summit, so to speak. It really does drive home the mantra of being halfway up the mountain, you know, keep going, never give up and just continue on the path to success.”

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New toolkit and board game to strengthen Indigenous culture and language

A new Teaching and Learning Toolkit was recently launched, based on Kew Gardens’ Richard Spruce collections from the Rio Negro Indigenous Territory in Northwest Amazonia, one of the outputs of Professor Luciana Martins’ research project ‘Digital Repatriation of Biocultural Collections’.  Here, she shares details of the event and its importance for Indigenous communities.

pic of toolkit and boardgame

  • Can you share details of the event and who it was aimed at.

The event was the launch of the teaching and learning toolkit, composed of a book, A Maloca entre Artefatos e Plantas: Guia da Coleção Rio Negro in Londres (São Paulo: ISA – Instituto Socioambiental, 2021) and board game, A’pe Buese – Aprender Brincando (São Paulo: Instituto Socioambiental, 2021); with illustrations by the artist Lindsay Sekulowicz.

The launch coincided with the meeting of knowledgeable elders at the São Pedro community in the upper Tiquié river in the Northwest Amazon on the occasion of the inauguration of their longhouse (maloca), the centre of their cultural life; and was attended mainly by teachers at the Indigenous schools from the neighbouring communities, with the participation of the Indigenous researchers who visited the European collections.

Attendees at toolkit launch

  • What was the rationale for the teaching and learning toolkit?

This project, funded by British Academy Knowledge Frontiers and Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF QR), forms part of a UK-Brazil research programme that aims to reanimate the objects collected by nineteenth-century botanist Richard Spruce in Amazonia (currently housed at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the British Museum), linking them with the knowledge of Indigenous peoples (partners in Europe include Birkbeck, RBG Kew, the British Museum and Berlin Ethnological Museum; in Brazil: Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro, the Socioenvironmental Institute-ISA and the Federation of the Indigenous Organizations of the Rio Negro -FOIRN).

The teaching and learning toolkit, associated with these collections, was co-produced with Dagoberto Lima Azevedo, a Tukano Indigenous researcher and translator. It includes a guide for the collections, with scientific and indigenous information about a selection of artefacts, including a broader historical overview of the Upper Rio Negro region in the nineteenth century, European collectors and their collections, and a lesson plan; and an innovative board game that asks players to combine plants and animals used for creating particular artefacts, going through a path by the different habitats where these raw materials are found.

launch of toolkit

  • How do you envisage it being used?

Targeted principally at secondary-level Indigenous schoolchildren, the toolkit aims to enable pupils to have fun while learning about their biocultural heritage kept in European museums. We aim to ensure that the knowledge and skills associated with traditional craftsmanship are passed on to future generations so that crafts can continue to be produced within their communities, providing livelihoods to their makers and reflecting creativity.

  • How does this directly link to the original research?

In the concluding session of a project research workshop at Kew in June 2019, Indigenous researchers highlighted the need to produce, in addition to a proposed project website, printed pedagogic materials to be used in community schools in remote regions, where WiFi and electricity are scarce and unreliable. Responding directly to this identified need, the project plan was revised to include the production of this teaching and learning toolkit based on the biocultural collections. The production of this toolkit in Portuguese, with all the main terms translated into Ye’pamahsã (Tukano) language, fits within the larger context of current linguistic projects in Northwest Amazonia, which aim to strengthen and enhance Indigenous languages.

The online guide is available here and it is hoped that the project website will be launched by the end of November 2021.

Further details of the research can be found here.

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We’re not “made out of sugar”

A student from Brazil recently shared that in her country, people who are reluctant to go out in the rain are teased with the question, ‘Are you made out of sugar?’ Last week’s day-out to beautiful and historic Greenwich proved that while they are certainly sweet people, Birkbeck’s international students are not ‘made out of sugar’, willing to brave the pouring rain. Read this account of the day.

International students visiting Greenwich

Our day began early morning at Westminster Pier, to take the Thames Clipper boat service to Greenwich. On arrival, despite the weather, students were keen to put up their umbrellas and enjoy the sights with tour guide Andrew to discover the history and stories behind this fascinating part of London.

In Greenwich Park, Andrew led the group up the hill to see the famous Royal Observatory. Before ascending, commenting on the grey skies and rain, he joked, “Who knows?  Maybe there’s bright sunshine at the top!”

On arrival, a low grey mist obscured the usually impressive views. Even the tall buildings of the nearby Docklands were hidden. However, within a few minutes the mist cleared, the sun shone and students were folding up umbrellas and reaching for sunglasses. Everyone enjoyed the stunning views of London. “What I said earlier was a joke!” laughed Andrew.

International students standing by the Greenwich observatoyTo round off the tour, we visited the famous Goddard’s Pie & Mash shop, where students enjoyed this hearty and delicious traditional London food.

International students at a pie and mash shopAndrew explained that Pie & Mash predates Fish & Chips as a traditional British dish, and that Goddard’s has been a family-run Greenwich favourite for over 130 years.

International students on the tour of GreenwichStudents ended their day in Greenwich full-up, maybe a bit wet, but also happy and, we hope, with some new friends. Sweet!

 

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