Author Archives: Rebekah

“It’s never too late to achieve your goals and ambitions and don’t let anything get in the way.”

Netty Yasin spent her life advocating for her daughters and her community, before deciding to pursue her life-long ambition of a legal career. This month she graduated from the Qualifying Law Degree (LLM); this is her #BBKgrad story.

Netty Yasin

Netty always had ambitions of a career in law, but life got in the way of her dream. She had intended to return to education once her two daughters (born 16 months apart) were in nursery, however when her youngest daughter was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, learning difficulties and a speech and language disorder, Netty channelled her energy into ensuring her daughter was able to thrive.

When her daughter was of school age, she found that the independent special school she was attending was not helping her progress, so she took matters into her own hands. “I could not find a school that suited her complex needs, so I found an American programme that really resonated with me because it didn’t set unjustified limits on what she could achieve. I did it myself, set up a classroom for her in one of our bedrooms and I taught her all day everyday while my other daughter was at school and she started to make really amazing progress.”

After home-schooling her daughter for six years, Netty was able to secure funding from the local council that meant that she could hire people to take over the day-time teaching. She then set about finding a role for herself, taking on a series of volunteer roles and eventually a full-time position as a Special Education Needs and Disabilities advisor, a job which she describes as rewarding. However, for Netty, her love of the law was never far from her mind and it was a conversation with her eldest daughter that spurred her back on to the path she had always intended to take. “We were talking about careers, one of those deep mother-daughter chats, and I was encouraging her not to limit herself and to pursue her dreams… she turned to me and said well, why don’t you just take your own advice. It was a lightbulb moment!”

Although she describes Birkbeck as a welcoming place, she recalls the challenges of her first year, having to balance studying with full-time work, and caring for her daughter and her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to that she felt nervous about starting education at that stage of her life. “I had the sense that maybe I had left it too late. In the beginning I was so insular and nervous.”

To get past this, Netty threw herself into university life wholeheartedly. She  spent the weekends on Birkbeck’s mooting programme, even after initially suffering from a bout of stage fright in a practice session, she went back again and again, eventually entering two competitions and achieving second place out of six teams in the sole team competition.

Netty Yasin throwing up her capNext, she took hold of her fear of public speaking and made her debut at the Bloomsbury Theatre in the play, Othello on Trial, as part of a week of events for the School of Law’s 25th anniversary celebrations. Also, through her Birkbeck contacts she even spent some time volunteering with the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire, an experience that she describes as ‘profound’, and took up the opportunity to have career coaching sessions that boosted her resolve in her future plans.

In her second year, Birkbeck’s careers service Birkbeck Futures put her in contact with Aspiring Solicitors, a leading diversity platform that helped her get commercial legal work experience at American Express and Sky while she was studying.

When asked about her favourite modules, Netty exclaims, “I am the nerd who enjoyed everything!”, even taking the time to voluntarily audit other modules in an effort to soak in as much as she could.

For many 2020 was defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, however for Netty, it was an unexpected illness that further tested her resilience. “In February 2020, I was hospitalised after suffering a sudden terrible headache and lost vision; it was really terrifying.” With doctors unable to provide a diagnosis, she suffered debilitating headaches for six months, while still being determined to finish her course. “I worked when I could, even if that meant waking up at 2:30am and working for four hours, taking a nap and then getting up with my daughter. I just did what I could to get through it and then, in a completely unexpected scenario, I got my highest ever mark in one of my exams.” In the end Netty surpassed her own expectations and achieved a distinction overall.

With her illness now behind her and her Master’s degree in hand, Netty is looking forward to qualifying as a commercial solicitor. This summer she’ll be completing a summer vacation scheme at a global law firm with the hope of obtaining a sponsored training contract at the end of it.

Undeterred by her age or circumstances, Netty believes that pursuing her ambitions came at the right time in her life and in closing reflects, “I can look my daughters in the eye and say I am doing what I am telling them, it’s never too late to achieve your goals and ambitions and don’t let anything get in the way.”

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Crossing borders to explore new horizons

Carolyn Stillman travelled to the UK from the USA to complete a degree in Language Teaching/ Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages (TESOL) (MA) at Birkbeck, and used her time to travel and throw herself into a different way of life. This is her #BBKgrad story.

Carolyn Stillman After having completed a Bachelor’s degree in elementary education in the USA, Carolyn decided that she wanted to expand her horizons and take on a Master’s in the UK. When looking around for options of where she could study, Birkbeck stood out as an ideal choice for what she needed because of the flexibility that evening study gave her.

“One of my room mates mostly worked nights so we would leave at the same time so I had time to see her during the day. I did not have classes on Fridays so I had more time if I wanted to travel over the weekend – one time we took a weekend trip to Ireland.

“Also, if I wanted to work on assignments, it was really helpful when I had the big essays due to have time during the day to research and get those finished.”

During her time in the UK, Carolyn faced the challenge of homesickness. “I was there with barely anybody, I had my boyfriend, but I had met him before I came to London and he lived in Newcastle, which is three hours away. If I wanted to see him, he would have to come down during the weekend or I would have to go up there. So, at first, when I came to London, I didn’t have anyone, I didn’t have my mum obviously, I didn’t have any of my friends and it was such a time difference so homesickness was my biggest challenge because it was just me by myself for the most part.”

Despite the difficulty she first had to adjusting to a new country, Carolyn was able to overcome her homesickness through a mix of time and building connections with people. “I met people on my course at Birkbeck that I was pretty close to and we would hang out, and I had my boyfriend. I had to get over the initial shock of being on my own in another country but I loved it either way, it was hard at first but I still loved it.”

She fondly recalls the small class sizes at Birkbeck which differed from the 100 person classes she experienced during her undergraduate degree. “It was really intimate, so we all got to build off of each other and do different activities and those were my favourite classes.”

When the pandemic hit, Carolyn was finishing up her classes and she recalls it being hard going from in-person to online learning, but she was grateful that all the online videos were easy to access.

Having completed her Master’s, Carolyn is back in the US where she has resumed her teaching career, a job which she hopes to continue now that she has the knowledge she gained from her course. “I have a couple of students at the moment and English isn’t their first language. The course has helped me a lot with coming up with different modifications to lessons.”

Carolyn also hopes to be able to travel more once the pandemic subsides and hopefully, one day, return to the UK to teach. In the meantime, she’s telling everyone she knows about Birkbeck: “I really enjoyed Birkbeck, I talk about it all the time! People are really interested in hearing about it whenever I bring it up and I don’t regret it at all, I loved my time in London.”

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Welcoming the year of the Ox

Di Luo, Chair of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association at Birkbeck, reflects on this year’s virtual Chinese New Year celebration that took place on 15 February and what hopes the group has for the year of the Ox.

An ox hanging with some ornamentsThe year of the Ox began on Friday 12 of February 2021, and this is an especially exciting new year, as people all around the world cannot wait to say goodbye to the year of the Rat in which we have suffered heavily and lost due to the strike of COVID-19. The Ox is the second of the 12-year periodic sequence of animals that appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar, it represents values of reliability, strength, patience, and trustworthiness. People from all around the world have wished and hoped to see that this new year will start a new chapter in life and will defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday 15 February 2021, the Chinese Students and Scholars Association at Birkbeck University of London (BBK CSSA) hosted an online gathering event to spread good wishes to everyone and start to recruit its new community members. All students and scholars from all cultures and countries are welcome to join BBK CSSA.

Students and staff who attended the event were invited to share their new year wishes and targets, not surprisingly, after a long lockdown, everyone jointly wished to meet each other and come back to campus again once it is safe to do so. Indeed, since the first lockdown was issued by the UK government on 16 March 2020, the year of the Rat has been a memorable one for all of us. Students cannot attend school, people have to work from home, COVID-19 has physically separated us. However, distance cannot stop our hearts from growing closer and cannot stop our kindness and wishes. This is also one of the small goals that BBK CSSA hoped for its online gathering event on 15 February 2020.

Games and awards were also organised during the online event to bring more joy and fun. One of the games was to guess the correct Chengyu from the emojis. Chengyu is a type of traditional Chinese idiomatic expression, most of which consists of four characters. Although they are widely used in Classical Chinese, but still very common in today’s Chinese speaking and writing.

One of the new year’s wishes that the BBK CSSA makes is that everyone can “niuqi chongtian” in the year of Ox. This is one of the most popular new year blessings Chengyu that every Chinese person says to each other. “Niuqi Chongtian” refers to the spirit of the Ox and means that with a strong faith in conquering any difficulties and challenges, life and work will both be awesome. BBK CSSA believes the spirit of the Ox will certainly bring the most blessings for the year of 2021 for us to look forward and move on. All the challenges and difficulties that we have had in 2020 are now in the past, we will not forget those precious things and the loved ones we lost. Our faith in life will not be stopped by this pandemic! Lastly, BBK CSSA wishes everyone in the year of 2021 “Niuqi Chongtian”!

 

 

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William Matthews Lecture 2020: ‘One grim evening’: The Colonial Migrant in Britain

Caryl Phillips, acclaimed novelist and playwright delivered, this year’s William Matthews lecture, offering a moving and sobering view of the experience of the colonial migrant in Britain.

Jamaican Immigrants to Britain in 1948

22 Jun 1948, Tilbury, Essex, England, UK — Original caption: Emigration In Reverse – The Men From Jamaica Arrive At Tilbury. The ex troopship. Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

Caryl Phillips begins by reflecting on the jubilation of the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, and the moment when in the telling of British history a representation of the HMT Empire Windrush emerges marking the era of mass settlement of British colonial subjects from the West Indies. A moment when it could be assumed that the Windrush generation was accepted as part of the narrative of British history, a moment Phillips says was eclipsed by the ‘antics’ of the British government who later, in 2018, would strip them of their jobs and homes, and even try to deport them on the basis that they were never really British citizens, despite having built lives in Britain at the invitation of the British government.

Phillips speaks of his own childhood, having arrived in Leeds aged four months, a second-generation child of colonial migrants from St Kitts, who as he grew up felt ‘no great love’ for Britain. He witnessed the ways in which it rejected the colonial migrants who came with the hope and promise of being welcomed into what they considered the ‘Motherland’ – this love for the country had always puzzled him.

Caryl Phillips

Caryl Phillips

He says for the colonial migrant, “they are not leaving home, rather they are leaving to go home”. A sentiment that was echoed by the 1948 British Nationality Act which granted members of British colonies citizenship in Britain.

Phillips tells us the story of the colonial migrant through the lens of two, David Oluwale and author Sam Selvon, in their respective cities; Leeds and London.

David Oluwale

David Oluwale

David Oluwale was a British Nigerian who in 1969 drowned in the River Aire in Leeds following years of abuse from gangs and the police after coming to Britain with dreams of becoming an engineer. Oluwale was met with disdain and life on the streets and was even committed to a psychiatric hospital for eight years, an experience that forever altered him. One might question why Oluwale never left Leeds, a place that had taken so much from him.

Oluwale’s experience is parallel to the protagonist of Selvon’s book, The Lonely Londoners, published in 1956. Moses Aloetta is a Trinidadian émigré who faces great hardship throughout the novel, yet in the end he cannot move away from his preconceived notions of Britain, and the promise it held.

Selvon’s book opens with the line ‘one grim winter evening’ encapsulating the often hostile and bleak circumstances colonial migrants found themselves in. But for people from the colonies who had been taught that they were British, their status as British subjects had come to be a part of their own identities, so to reject Britain was to reject a part of themselves. This allowed them to “absorb the abuse and humiliation” and participate in British society, staying and fighting to make a place for themselves.

The plight of the colonial migrant, Phillips reminds us, is echoed now in the fallout of the Windrush Scandal, for those who had come between the years 1948 and 1962 and found that ‘one grim winter evening’ was a reflection of the evening of their lives, characterised by betrayal and disappointment.

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