One World Festival: Lunar New Year Celebration

This blog was contributed by Fengzhi Zhao, who is reading a PhD in Applied Linguistics and is Chair of the Birkbeck Chinese Society; Kevin Lau, who is studying Management at Birkbeck and is the SU Postgraduate Officer; and La Young Jackson, International Liaison Officer at Birkbeck.  

Birkbeck students celebrating Lunar New Year

On January 24 2020the day before the Lunar New Year, a celebratory event was held at Birkbeck.  

London has a large international community and so here at Birkbeck, University of London we held our own Lunar New Year celebrations to celebrate the start of the Year of the Rat! As part of the One World FestivalLa Young from International Student Administration, Kevin from the Students’ Union, and Fengzhi from the Birkbeck Chinese Society teamed up and transformed an ordinary teaching room into a room of festive activities and fun!  

Lunar New Year is the most important festival in many Far East countries such as China, Korea, Singapore and Vietnam. The event not only celebrated the festival for students, alumni and staff from these countries, but also provided a chance for those from other countries to experience the festival atmosphere of different culture. Students and staff had the opportunity to try various Asian snacks and drinks, with many snacks and decorations being directly shipped from Hong Kong, China.  

“With typical decorations such as Lucky Cat, Chinese couplets, and red lanterns, we are immersed in true Chinese New Year atmosphere”, said Fengzhi.  

There were many activities for students to participate. One activity was crafting Red Envelope Fish, which is commonly taught at primary school but can be easily be enjoyed by university students. As part of the New Year celebrations in China, in Mandarin, the word “fish” sounds similar to “surplus” and so it is considered to be auspicious and brings wealth to the person.  

Lucky red fish for Lunar New Year

It was a pleasure to introduce students to our traditions of celebrating the start of the New Year. I really appreciate all students from around the world taking an interest and understanding of why the colour red is so important to many of our cultures. And to all students, I wish them “学习进步” (progress in studies) and “金榜题名” (success in examination),” said Kevin. 

Students were also challenged to compete in a traditional Korean game of Jegichagi, where students would kick a jegi and keep it in the air for as long as possible. A feat that may be easy for those on the Birkbeck Football Team, but may be challenging for others!

Red envelope giving is a traditional Chinese gift that contains money and is given during holidays and special occasions. This tradition is about bestowing good luck and fortune to others. Students were shown how to make their own red envelopes and to write their own messages of good luck and fortune to those they wish to bestow fortune to, but were also given a more modern red envelope shipped directly from Hong Kong. Everyone who attended the event left with a red envelope with (chocolate) coins!

And so from all of us here at Birkbeck, we hope everyone will have a great Lunar New Year!

Fengzhi and Kevin

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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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