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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Building your personal brand

Did you know that you have just seven seconds to make a first impression? William Richards reflects on this insightful Birkbeck Futures event and the importance of honing your personal brand.

Have you ever thought about your personal brand?

On Monday 8 February, Birkbeck students were treated to a specialist talk on ‘Personal Branding’ by Jenna Davies, Employability Consultant in the Birkbeck Futures team.

The talk sought to enhance students’ understanding of their individuality and their personal mark, whether in their studies or beyond. It can often be hard to define our own individual strengths and weaknesses, especially when such topics can be difficult to discuss. While we may not typically think of ourselves as ‘brands’, it can be eye-opening to do so!

By giving ourselves our own personal brand, Jenna explained that students will be able to make themselves more easily understood and more successful within a pitching environment.

Recent studies have shown that humans will make a first impression on someone within the first seven seconds of introducing themselves. By making the most of these precious moments, we can dramatically affect others’ understanding of who we are and what we stand for.

We are each unique beings with unique strengths and it’s never too late to celebrate and uplift our own individualities. What are the unique selling points that could help you stand out to employers or collaborators? Let us know and help inspire others in the comments below.

A big thank you to Jenna and all of those who made Monday’s session a success.

Birkbeck Futures is Birkbeck’s own in-house career support team. If you would like to learn more about employability opportunities or are looking to enhance your presence on platform such as LinkedIn, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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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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A place for new beginnings

Rajivan Rajamohan’s Birkbeck journey was fraught with personal challenges that brought him to the brink of giving up on his MSc in Economics. However, through will, self-care and support from friends and staff, last week he graduated. Here is his #BBKgrad story.

Rajivan Rajamohan

Rajivan Rajamohan

After completing a BA in Accounting and Finance from the University of Essex, Rajivan set about making his ambition to become an economist happen. The first step on his way to achieving his dream was completing a Graduate Diploma in Economics (GDE) to get him onto an MSc in his chosen area of study.

In 2016, Rajivan left his Wealth Management role at a bank in the City to begin his MSc at Birkbeck. Like many Birkbeck students, Rajivan felt the physical and mental demands of working full-time in a professionally demanding role while studying a subject that he didn’t have much previous experience in, “I had to work harder to fill the missing gaps in my knowledge, considerably more and quicker than most of my peers as my MSc was funded by myself with my full-time role as a Waiter for Nando’s”, he says. But that didn’t stop him diving headfirst into other commitments, taking the time to volunteer at Great Ormond Street Hospital and for Birkbeck’s Academic Panel on behalf of the Student Union, which earned him the ‘Birkbeck Colours and Honours Award’ in 2018.

It was during his GDE that Rajivan realised that the stress of exams was affecting him more than other students, with a fellow student urging him to seek help. Eventually Rajivan was diagnosed with the mental health condition Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which he discovered was triggered by exams. He explained, “While undertaking my GCSE exams at the age of 16, I went through unexpected and substantial trauma during the year of my final GCSE exams, which was not correctly diagnosed as PTSD for eight years. Due to the extremely delayed diagnosis, my PTSD was untreated and served to exacerbate the original trauma and exam-related anxiety.” Rajivan was able to begin treatment for his PTSD in the summer of 2016.

Being at Birkbeck meant that Rajivan could access disability support to help him with managing his rigorous and technically challenging exams for the first time in his academic studies, as well as receiving support from fellow students and lecturers who urged him to keep going with his degree, despite the challenges he faced.

Unfortunately, Rajivan suffered a further setback when he lost his creditworthiness due to a mistake made by a bank, meaning he could no longer work in that field, a huge blow as he had previously held roles in the financial sector. He said, “I am currently still seeking legal representation to take further legal advice and actions to rectify this error.”

Yet, now having completed his MSc, after three years, Rajivan can proudly declare that he has done it! “The support, kindness and compassion of my therapist, my Econometrics lecturer and a few of my friends from my undergraduate and postgraduate cohort helped me to stay focused and not to drop out of my degree.”

When asked what advice he would give to someone thinking of studying at Birkbeck, Rajivan urges you to, “Go for it and follow your dreams”. He believes the College’s flexibility is a saving grace, and the character of the students is fascinating: “it is only at Birkbeck where you meet incredible people with extraordinary stories and a whole community of individuals who have dedicated work ethics and a burning desire to reach their ambition.”

Rajivan’s concluding message would be to be kind and compassionate, to yourself and to others, because it’s not always clear what challenges people are facing, even if they project that they are coping well. He urges anyone taking up the challenge to “look after themselves with running, meditation and yoga because things could go unexpectedly wrong and when they do, always work with it and not against it. Be ready to look after your Mind, Body and Soul.”

Although his journey had its ups and downs, Rajivan recalled a quote that kept him going; “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”-Maria Robinson.

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