Category Archives: College

Celebrating the winter solstice at Birkbeck

This month, Birkbeck’s International experience committee and Chinese Students and Scholars Association (BBK CSSA), hosted a networking event to mark “Dongzhi”, the winter solstice. The event gave Chinese students from the broader community the opportunity to share their experiences of studying in London.

In this blog, Di Luo, Chair of BBK CSSA, discusses the importance of the festival to Chinese people and how attendees marked the occasion.

Students in  classroom with masks on, the people in the front row are holding up a branded bag with an orange owl on the front

In Chinese, the winter solstice is called “Dongzhi”, which literally means “the arrival of winter”. The Dongzhi Festival is one of the most important celebrated by the Chinese – as important as Chinese New Year, in fact. It is a time families come together and bond over the preparation of a symbolic dish.

The winter solstice occurs when either of Earth’s poles reaches its maximum tilt away from the Sun. This happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere (Northern and Southern). In the Northern region of China, to celebrate Dongzhi, people eat fatty dumplings that contain meat and high Yang warming herbs such as ginger and garlic. In the Southern region of China, people gather together to make and tangyuan, a Chinese dessert made with glutinous rice flour, which symbolizes family unity and prosperity.

Due to COVID-19, this year’s celebration at Birkbeck had to be adapted. Nevertheless, we were pleased to see over 25 students from Birkbeck, SOAS, Queen Mary University and Goldsmiths University, who enjoyed the wonderful event. Attendees were served traditional British snacks and Bubble Teas, courtesy of guest Xiaoyu Chang, from Ying Tuan.Hula hoops, cheddar cheese packets and bubble tea on a table

The afternoon included a question-and-answer session with an introduction to the College’s facilities. There was also a session on how to study more efficiently, and fun things to do in London, as well as games and quizzes, such as the “who is undercover” game, and a talent show. Zoe Stephens, an MSc International Security and Global Governance student at Birkbeck, introduced herself in SIX different languages, including; English, Mandarin, Korea, Japanese, German and Dutch! It was very entertaining, and congratulations to Zoe on winning one of the prizes. The event was filled with laughs and the sharing of good wishes for 2022 from attendees.

BBK Chinese students and scholars’ association, hereby, on behalf of all Chinese students studying at Birkbeck and our alumni, wishes everyone a happy and warm winter this year, and the very best of the new year of 2022, which will soon be upon us!

Further information:

 

Share

Welcome to Birkbeck for 2021 Chevening Scholars

International culture and exchange are once again celebrated with the new cohort of Chevening scholars; and all are encouraged to ‘leave their mark’ on both Birkbeck and wider society.

2021 Chevening scholars

On the 9th of November 2021, the International team held a Welcome event for the 2021 Chevening Scholars. The Scholars this year hail from 23 countries: Paraguay, Ethiopia, Iraq, South Africa, Nepal, Uganda, Sudan, Russia, Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Dominica, Bolivia, Albania, Montenegro, Georgia, Morocco, Santo Domingo, Tunisia, Peru, Ukraine, Guatemala and Laos. The International diversity of the Chevening Scholars is a pivotal part of Birkbeck’s success and this was demonstrated during the event.

Professor Kevin Ibeh, Pro Vice Master (International) opened the Welcome event by highlighting Birkbeck’s achievements over the years and emphasized to Chevening scholars the importance of leaving their mark. Professor Kevin Ibeh said: “Birkbeck will be celebrating 200 years as an institution in 2023, and you we all be part of it as you are the 198th  year of students at Birkbeck University.”

There were also speeches from academics from several of the Schools including Professor Sanjib Bhakta from the School of Science, Professor Alexandra Beauregard and Andrea Williams from the School of BEI, and Dr Ali Guven from the School of SSHIP. The academics shared knowledge on their expertise. Professor Sanjib Bhakta discussed the significance of diversity and encouraged everyone to always embrace their different cultures.

The event celebrated the rich diversity of the Chevening Scholarship recipients through a Welcome to Birkbeck presentation by the international team and gave the scholars an opportunity to learn about each other’s talents, goals, and aspirations through a fun group activity. To conclude the event, the scholars enjoyed light refreshments and shared with their student journeys and advice they would give to future international students wishing to study at Birkbeck.

Nina Perunovic from Montenegro spoke about the benefits of studying at Birkbeck: “Getting to know other international students, their culture and share experiences and different approaches to the same problems is quite interesting to me”.

We look forward to celebrating and sharing more stories from our 2021 Chevening Scholars.

Further information

Share

A cap, gown and hijab teach tolerance and triumph

BA Politics graduate, Soumaya Z, moved to the UK from France to escape discrimination and overcome barriers to her education as a young, Muslim woman. Now she’s hoping to encourage others, like her, to pursue their ambitions. Here’s her #BBKstory.  

Photo of graduate, Soumaya Z

Family values, discrimination and the will to persevere 

At just twenty-years-old, Soumaya possesses the insights and wisdom of a person much older. It’s hardly surprising when you listen to her recall stories of her grandparents migrating from North Africa plus the lessons both her parents and grandparents have taught her along the way. Soumaya shares that her grandmother had made the move from Algeria to France and was forced to give up on her education in order to support her family. Despite this, she still reinforced in Soumaya the values of learning and was so proud of her granddaughter for her recent academic accomplishments. Her parents, too, sacrificed their education when Soumaya was born and always sought to push her beyond the limits, to always dream and aim high. 

Soumaya credits those values with inspiring her to pursue her studies. However, despite being home-schooled by her parents, reading and writing at four-years-old, and completing the first year of her undergraduate degree in France aged just sixteen, Soumaya soon realised that the politics of her native country were counterintuitive to her progress and ambitions. 

She says, “As a Muslim (in France), it’s impossible to find a job, access education or do simple activities when you wear a hijab and it’s difficult even if you are just practicing your religion, praying or fasting. Hijabs and other Islamic clothes are also not allowed in schools and I faced Islamophobia when I was at school.  It was really hard. When I had exams for my French baccalaureate, I was insulted by a woman in the school talking negatively about my hijab. Alongside that, there is a lack of opportunities for Muslim women. I feel that I have a brighter future here in the UK.” 

Tolerance 

Fortunate to be able to make the move to London just two years ago, the advice of her English tutor helped her to apply through the clearing system, with sights set firmly on Birkbeck to complete the second and third years of her undergraduate degree. 

Soumaya had to navigate a whole new academic system, alongside mastering a language which was not her mother tongue. There was also the added challenge of the pandemic and the ensuing isolation throughout her degree, though she applauds Birkbeck’s online programme for both her lectures and to be able to still meet with peers in the virtual world.  

With the obstacles to education now behind her, she is hopeful that others around the world can cease the “close-mindedness” and “change their mindsets to assimilate more people into their societies.” She reflects on the benefits of more tolerant and inclusive policies as not only improving the opportunities for Muslim women, but also women, in general, and other marginalised peoples. 

Triumph 

With one degree firmly under her belt, Soumaya is is aiming to complete a master’s degree programme and is already considering a doctorate. 

She reflects, “As a French student, it was a challenge to adapt to a new environment, country and language. However, I met incredible professors at Birkbeck who are committed to their work, as well as classmates from all over the world who made my university experience invaluable. In France, it would have been impossible to achieve what I achieved at Birkbeck, because of the adversity I suffered as a Muslim woman. Now two years later I have completed my bachelor’s in politics with an upper second-class degree at just 19 years old. 

“I really hope that sharing my personal experience will help other students to understand that they are not alone in their academic journey and that despite their differences they can go beyond the limits and attain their goals, without forgetting who they are, their identity.”

Further information 

Share

An introduction to Birkbeck with Access and Engagement

In this blog, Ali Dunk an Access Officer shares how the Access and Engagement Department welcomed new students to the College during an online event.

At the beginning of September 2021, the Access and Engagement (A&E) Department invited students across its various programmes to take part in a two-part online Orientation event, aimed at preparing them for taking their first steps at Birkbeck. The sessions were led by both A&E staff members and current Birkbeck students and covered topics such as How do Seminars Work? Learning Online and What Support does Birkbeck Offer? All students who had engaged with Access and Engagement initiatives were invited, including students from the On Track programme as well as scholars coming to Birkbeck through The Compass Project and the Camden Scholarship.

The first session saw attendees take part in a mock seminar, centred around watching a short video before being spilt into breakout rooms to discuss what they had watched. This allowed them to get a feel for university teaching and learning in a safe and supportive environment as well as creating a sense of community with their fellow students. The second session set up a Q&A that allowed them to ask questions to current Birkbeck students, which ranged from requesting advice on time management and handling workload, all the way to asking about how to sign up to clubs and societies. As always, our incredible Team Birkbeck ambassadors gave informative and thoughtful answers which helped to assuage many of the students’ pre-term worries. Common themes emerged, with many of the attendees bringing up concerns about the concept of blended learning, alongside questions about the personal tutor system and contacting academic departments.

Across the two sessions student engagement was excellent and the team used a number of online methods to gain feedback and give students the opportunity to contribute. The increased confidence in using Microsoft Teams to engage with teaching and learning was clear as the sessions progressed, effectively preparing students for online elements of their courses.

The Access and Engagement Department will be running a programme of outreach activity with both current and prospective students across the academic year, with an Is University for Me? event planned for January 2022. For more information about our work and how to get involved, colleagues can email the team.

Further information:

 

 

Share