One World Festival: Excursion to Bletchley Park

On this historical day trip, Birkbeck’s international students took a firsthand look at the key role played by British codebreakers during the Second World War.

The One World Festival is a programme of free events to celebrate Birkbeck’s diverse, international culture. The first outing in this year’s festival took place on Saturday 16 November, with Birkbeck’s international students gathering at Euston Station for a day trip back in time.

In just under an hour, students were transported out of Bloomsbury and into the secretive world of Bletchley Park, the headquarters of British codebreakers during the Second World War. Besides its historical context, Bletchley Park offers stunning scenery and an insight into the world’s earliest computers. Furthermore, with the legacy of Alan Turing hanging in the air, Birkbeck’s international students were able to experience what a difference a great mind can make with determination.

Students spent the day exploring the secretive world of Bletchley Park.

Throughout the Second World War, Bletchley Park led the British efforts to decode the encrypted Enigma messages of the German armed forces. After years of trials and tribulations, Alan Turing was successful in leading a team of mathematicians to success. In creating what was at the time one of the world’s most intricate computers, the German Enigma code was cracked against the odds.

A team of mathematicians developed computers to decode German communications.

Whilst it is always refreshing to experience a change of scenery, this excursion allowed Birkbeck’s international students to see another side of Britain and its history. With a great deal of emphasis placed on the role of the armed forces in times of war, Bletchley Park tells the story of academic genius and its potential to change the course of history.

Bletchley Park grounds: a refreshing change of scenery from central London.

La Young Jackson and Will Richards would like to thank all students who attended, and look forward to more exciting One World Adventures in the future.

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Student Circus and Tier 4 Employment

In November, Birkbeck Futures delivered two workshops for international students to set them up for career success.

November proved to be an informative month for Birkbeck’s international students, with Birkbeck Futures offering two key employment events.

Birkbeck Futures is a one-stop service that combines the Careers Service, Enterprise Pathways and Birkbeck Talent to support our students and graduates in their future lives.

On the 5 November, Jenna Davies spoke to a bustling audience about Birkbeck’s Student Circus initiative.

Presenting an insightful and inspiring workshop detailing the British job market, Birkbeck Futures encouraged all international students to explore entrepreneurship. Among other topics, this workshop presented students with an overview of the employment environment in the UK as well as tips and tricks for Tier 4 students looking to a begin their professional careers.

Following the Student Circus event, Lucy Robinson then led a session on Tuesday 19 November which outlined employability for Birkbeck’s Tier 4 students.

In her role as head of the Enterprise Pathways scheme, Lucy shared her insight into student employability and the many ways in which work can support students’ evening studies at Birkbeck, from meeting new people to getting a foot in the door of your future career.

Alongside work, she reminded students of the many extracurricular opportunities at Birkbeck, both in their Departments and delivered by the Students’ Union.

Lucy advised students to plan ahead and work out how many hours they can commit to work and other activities in order to get the most out of their time at university.

By seeking to enhance students’ entrepreneurial skills and to help develop business ideas, Enterprise Pathways provides bespoke support for those looking at starting a business.

For further information about the Student Circus initiative, and all other divisions of Birkbeck Futures, please visit the Birkbeck Futures website.

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Setting an example: mother and son graduate in the same year

When Miroslava Ezel’s teenage son started browsing university prospectuses, she couldn’t resist taking a look as well.

Miroslava Ezel had always wanted to study Mathematics, but prioritising work and family life meant plans for further study were put on hold. Still, while encouraging her son to apply to university, she couldn’t resist taking a look for herself.

Then she stumbled across Birkbeck. “The evening study model appealed to me as I could fit studying around my work and family life,” she explained. “I also felt it would help me meet people a similar age to me – it did, but in reality I’m friends with people of all ages on my course, so I needn’t have worried.”

Miroslava began studying the BSc Accounting at Birkbeck’s Stratford campus, which was conveniently located near her home in Southeast London. She attended academic writing workshops on campus to develop her skills and prepare for full time study. “Coming back to the classroom after a break and as a speaker of English as a second language, I wanted to make sure I was prepared to write an academic essay,” she explains. “I love Maths, so I applied to study accounting, but I became really interested in microeconomics and macroeconomics, so in my second year I transferred to BSc Accounting with Finance.

“I had some fantastic lecturers, like Dr Ike Ndu, who teaches Financial Economics – we loved Ike! Another lecturer also told us “we are not here to fail you, we are here to help you” during exam term, which was really reassuring. I think it’s really important to see your lecturers as people who are there to support you and help you do well.”

Graduating with a first, Miroslava admits to being very strict with herself and prioritising her studies, and with two students in the family at the same time, it was easier to stay on track. She also credits the friends she made through her course for helping her succeed: “We would be great motivators for each other – we knew what we wanted to get out of the experience and we pushed each other to do our best.” She admits that the first day of a new course can be daunting, but has now made friends for life at Birkbeck.

Miroslava’s confidence grew so much through her studies that, before finishing her degree, she had switched careers from retail to banking. Her son graduated from his degree in Law in July, although she had to rush back from the celebrations to sit one of her final exams in the evening!

For Miroslava, studying at Birkbeck has fulfilled a lifelong dream: “I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve always enjoyed learning, but I never knew before what I was capable of, especially in a second language. When I got here, I realised that age is not a limit: all that matters is knowledge, drive and your desire to prove yourself.”

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The Booker at Birkbeck: Atonement

Ian McEwan, the best-selling author of over twenty books, came to Birkbeck to discuss the process of adapting a novel into a film with Atonement screenwriter Christopher Hampton and Birkbeck Lecturer Dr Agnes Woolley.  

L-R: Christopher Hampton, Agnes Woolley, Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan joined Birkbeck’s students, alumni and wider community to discuss his Booker Prize shortlisted book, Atonement, alongside screenwriter Christopher Hampton, with whom he adapted the title for the big screen. The discussion was mediated by Dr Agnes Woolley, Lecturer in Transnational Literature and Migration Cultures at Birkbeck. Focusing on the collaboration between the writers, they discussed the process of adapting a book for cinema, and the unique challenges and opportunities this brings to storytelling.

Atonement is set in three time periods; 1935 England, Second World War England and France, and present day England. It hinges on the fateful mistake of upper-class Briony, who as a child witnesses – and misinterprets – a series of events which lead her to falsely accuse her family’s housekeeper, Robbie, of raping her cousin, Lola.

“Sometimes powerfully in people’s lives,” explained McEwan, “believing is seeing. It’s part of the reason the police no longer rely on identifications from line-ups. Memory is very malleable.”

Robbie, who is truthfully in love and beginning a relationship with Briony’s sister, Cecila, is imprisoned; and the lives of all three are irreparably damaged by the lie. Following his release, Robbie joins the army, and is seemingly able to reunite with Cecilia prior to fighting in the war. In 1940, Briony visits Cecilia to atone for her actions, while Robbie is home, on leave from the army. Cecilia and Robbie both refuse to forgive Briony, who nonetheless tells them she will try to put things right.

McEwan, an accomplished screenwriter himself, turned down the job of adapting the title for film declaring himself “in a long term sulk” about the process following a particularly excruciating previous experience. This decision, he says, was vindicated when Hampton came on board, who himself said he had become enthralled with the novel while reading it on holiday: “I scarcely left my hotel.”

The ending of Atonement, wherein the reader learns that Briony is the author of the preceding story – and that Cecilia and Robbie were in fact never able to reunite before their premature deaths – was an “overwhelming” challenge from a screenwriting perspective. “Part of the success of the film,” said Hampton, “was that after going through a lot of labyrinths [to tackle this], what we ended up with was much more simple.”

He remembered one possibility they explored involved Vanessa Redgrave, who plays 77 year old Briony, appearing throughout the film observing her ‘characters’ and narrating different parts; but in the end they kept the three-part structure of the book, with the final section seeing Briony’s older self, a successful writer whose health is in decline, explain that the fictionalisation was her atonement: it finally allowed the lovers to be together.

McEwan noted that “the breadth of the imagination in the adaption” was complemented by the “fidelity to the source material.” He added that while he wouldn’t dare to intervene with the filming, there is a certain “chaos” to film sets, and where things are filmed out of sequence, the author can be useful as they “always know what’s going on in the psychology of a character’s head.”

McEwan is one of the most adapted novelists working today, a testament to “how well his novels work as dramas,” according to Hampton. “Even Atonement, which is a very ruminative novel, is very dramatic.”

Before the event, McEwan attended a prize-giving for a creative writing competition at Birkbeck, and kindly presented the awards to the winner: Richard Roper for his short story The Carousel of Progress; and the runners-up, Matthew Bates (Another Language) and Marienna Pope-Weidemann (Dandelion).

The Booker Prize has been the UK’s leading literary award for over 50 years. Every autumn, Birkbeck hosts an evening with a Booker Prize nominee, which gives students, staff and alumni the opportunity to hear from, and pose questions to, a celebrated writer.

Find out about Birkbeck’s previous Booker events, with authors including Ali Smith, Kazuo Ishiguro and Hilary Mantel. 

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