Tag Archives: #BBKgrad

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.”

Further information

Share

Never betray your dreams, they are yours!

Aygun Badalova recently graduated with an MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropsychology. This is her #BBKStory of growing up in a low-income family in Azerbaijan, and how she taught herself fluent English to fulfil her life-long dream of studying in England.

Aygun Badalova

My desire to study abroad in England started when I was studying at school in Azerbaijan in a small, tiny town called Lerik. It is located in a mountainous region where there are only three secondary schools, and there were families around us whose children could not go to school at all. At that time, many girls in our district only went to school until aged 15 or 16, because of financial issues and social and cultural problems – most parents are still reluctant even now to let their girls leave for university. However, despite all the challenges, my mind was different and I always believed that I didn’t belong there. I had only one goal and mission: to study hard and leave my hometown for a better future.

Coming from a low-income family struggling with financial issues and hardships, my dream to leave felt impossible. There were days we couldn’t even have dinner. We used to wear our relatives’ clothes and when my father could buy something that was celebration for us. Because my father was our only breadwinner, he used to work all day and night just to cover our basic needs. My mother was brilliant housewife, despite our poor lifestyle she always taught us how to be brave and encouraged us to keep our heads high no matter what happened. Because I had four younger siblings, I knew I had to be their role model and I was like another parent to them. I am truly happy that I had a great family and a strong belief in a better future!

When I used to say “one day I will study in England”, everybody around me smiled at my naive desire. But there was a feeling deep-down in my heart which made me work very hard. My passion for England and the language made me study English – no one could believe that I became fluent by myself. I still remember the hard days: on the cold winter nights, with the dim light of a lamp, I used to open my books and believe. Believe in my dreams…

After finishing high school I left Lerik to study at a university in Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan. At university, my love for the English language presented many fantastic opportunities for me. I worked as a translator for many important events and internatonal companies. Later, I taught English to professionals and I even wrote an English book for self-learners when I was working at the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences (ANAS) as a research assistant and interpreter.

Years passed, and many things changed, but my desire was always the same. Two years ago and after hundreds of struggles, I finally arrived in the UK to pursue my dream. It was a period of my life when I was working back at home and my family did not want me to go away. They thought I didn’t need to go, and they also were not comfortable that I’d be alone and far away from them. It took a while to make them agree to my decision.

Studying for a Master’s degree in the UK and getting my degree was not easy. My field of study required strong mental and physical strength and there were financial needs which I needed to fulfil by working. Learning about how the brain functions and how it changes in different mental disorders was really breathtaking and interesting. I also worked in healthcare settings and got a chance to see patients who suffered brain disorders. Moreover, I made many great friends who always supported me.

During my studies I met a lot of experts, amazing people and the great environment at Birkbeck has made me who I am today. Our professors’ approach to us was really impressive – they explained everything and were always willing to answer questions. My supervisor Dr Eddy Davelaar was one of these people who always supported me. I have been influenced by such great people and have become a better listener, as well as kinder and less judging.

After lots of research, unfamiliar topics, sleepless nights, weekend library days and assignments I have finally graduated! I would like to thank Professor Nazanin Derakhshan who constantly motivated us to achieve. One of her favourite quotes was: “Don’t look at where you are, look at where are you came from. Then you will see how far you have come.”

My aim for the future is to be a well-known neuroscientist and neuropsychologist and contribute to the treatment of Alzheimer’s and anxiety disorders in future. I am living in London now, doing my research and working in healthcare settings. I am also a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Counseller, working with people with different mental problems and I love my job. I’m also pleased to say that all my siblings went on to achieve degrees from prestigious universities.

I’d encourage others to never give up on their dreams! Don’t let anyone or anything make you to feel that you are not enough. Believe me, if I can pass thousands of miles and come for my dreams, you also can. I am just at the beginning of my amazing life.

Further Information

Share

“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.”

Further information:

 

Share

Overcoming alcohol and drug addiction to achieve a Master’s degree

Azad Ashim Sharma graduated in April with an MA in Creative and Critical Writing. Here he tells his remarkable story of life growing up, his battles with alcohol and substance misuse, starting a publishing company, and his aspirations for the future.

Azad Ashim Sharma celebrating on his graduation day

My childhood was strange in a way. I’ve come to look at it not through rose-tinted glasses or nostalgia, but through a sense of compassionate inquiry. Being raised in an intergenerational home deep in South London, I was co-parented by grandparents, who were political exiles from apartheid South Africa. My grandmother was a political activist and our family in South Africa are quite close to the anti-apartheid liberation movement.

Our family home was always busy: my younger brother is autistic, so we had a large care team. During my school years, I attended two local independent schools, and my brother, who is severely autistic, was home-schooled. I was bullied at school, which was really quite traumatic for me at the time. I sought solace in music and art from a young age and my most special childhood memories are of attending exhibitions with my mother.

My family’s love of reading certainly made its mark on me, as I went on to study BA English at the University of Sussex. After finishing my course, I knew I wanted to pursue a Master’s degree in Critical Theory at Sussex. Whilst I was on track for a distinction in 2015, my mental health deteriorated. I had returned to London to look after my brother who was unwell and under-supported due to austerity. I came home to support my mother with his care and all three of us were also trying to cope with the grief of losing our grandmother a couple of years before that. What started off as something I did socially spiralled out of control into alcoholism and drug addiction. I had to drop out of my Master’s degree to contend with that dark patch in my life.

I’d always been writing poetry at Sussex and this continued during this difficult patch. I published my first poetry collection in 2018, exploring islamophobia and racism in the time of Brexit Britain. In 2018, I received a surprising invitation to read at a poetry festival in India. Reading outside in Delhi, surrounded by flora and fauna in the pleasant hazy sunshine, I had something ignite in me that made me think, wow I want to do this for the rest of my life.

When I got back to the UK, I applied to Birkbeck because I knew several alumni who recommended studying there. I managed to get sober by the time I submitted my application. For a period of nine months, I was totally integrated back into normal life. Approaching a year at Birkbeck and filled with so much energy, I founded a publishing company with two friends called The 87 Press, named after the number of my family home. Our company mission was to change the landscape of publishing, by advocating for fairer trade and more smaller presses in bookstores, but also a more clearly defined representation of under-represented writers. We started off very clueless as to what owning a company would entail, but thrived off the energy of hosting events, publishing books and visiting universities to hold creative writing workshops with students, offering them the chance to get their work published.

Everything was going really well for me, but I was growing wearisome of being ‘that guy’ that always has the lime soda. So, I started walking out the door of sobriety again. I suffer from depression and anxiety too, and everything was taking its toll. During this time, I also met the love of my life who’s stuck by me through all of this recent drama. Both her and my family have been steadfast and invaluable supports.

At the beginning of 2020, I felt really disorientated with everything going on. I needed some counselling, so I signed up to Birkbeck’s counselling service. My counsellor was wonderful and compassionate, and really listened to me. I’ve now been clean for over a year – it’s not been easy, but I’m pleased that now sobriety is my normality.

My ultimate career goal is to become a lecturer, so this autumn I’m pursuing a PhD in English and Humanities at Birkbeck. I got the news that I had been awarded funding for my PhD on the day I was a year clean, which is serendipity to the max.

I plan to continue with The 87 Press during my PhD. We’ve just published our 15th book and it’s such a joy – it continues to surprise me what our initiative can do and the people it can reach. After my PhD it would be a dream to become a lecturer at Birkbeck and have the opportunity to give back. Birkbeck really is a place that gives people second chances in life.

Further Information

Share