“It took two pregnancies, a fierce fight against cancer and finally a pandemic, but I made it, I graduated!”

Carmen Cinque graduated last week with a BA Modern Languages degree. This is her #BBKgrad story.

Carmen Cinque with her family

When I enrolled on the first year of my course in 2015, I was pregnant. With my first daughter due to be born in the middle of the academic year I knew that studying would be no easy task. I was also working full time as a bookkeeper for a restaurant. However, I was highly motivated and eager to start my course – finally, at 36, after many professional and personal experiences, I was about to start studying to obtain my first degree.

My daughter was born at the beginning of January. I continued to study and complete assessments and exams thanks to the understanding and availability of lecturers and the support of my husband and sister. I even sat a German exam with my daughter in the room while I was breastfeeding! Everything was going well, but suddenly in spring, I started to feel very, very tired and unable to concentrate.

My doctor thought it was just the difficulty of reconciling everyday activities with caring for a little girl, and at first, I agreed with her. However, I did feel there was something more. So, after a lot of analysis, stress, frustration and many dead-end diagnoses, at the beginning of August 2016, I met a doctor who urged me to have a biopsy. I was given a horrible diagnosis: I had a rare form of pregnancy-related cancer called choriocarcinoma. My world crushed, my family and I had to deal with a long treatment and all its devastating side effects. I had to put my degree on hold. Chemotherapy did not allow me to take care of my daughter alone, let alone studying. I don’t deny – it was hard, but luckily in March 2017, I was cured. Still very weak, but cancer free.

I had doubts as to whether to start studying again or to drop out; I was scared and fragile. My husband, however, did not allow me to give up. In September I started my second year at Birkbeck and this turned out to be a great choice. It was the best way to pick up my life where I left it. Everything started to go well again. In November I fell pregnant, which wasn’t a surprise as we always wanted a second child – only it came a little earlier than expected! Oscar was born on 30 June this year – a week after my last exam and during the pandemic.

Beside learning a new language (German) and deepening my understanding of Portuguese, my experience at Birkbeck widened my horizons professionally and personally. It gave me the motivation to try and change my career path, and I plan to start a qualification soon to become an interpreter, thanks to my degree qualification and the knowledge I gained whilst studying.

2020 is a peculiar year, but the birth of my second child and graduation make it an exceptional year for me! I am so happy and proud of my achievements. It was not always an easy path but not trying is the biggest mistake to make in life and I am very grateful to the professors, my family, and my dear friends for the support I have received in this amazing journey. Studying at Birkbeck was a wonderful experience, a privilege and an important achievement in a phase so full of positive and negative events in my life.

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Birkbeck’s Tier 5 Employment Event

Guest speakers Lucy Robinson and Zenia Chopra helped Birkbeck international students navigate the world of Tier 2 and Tier 5 Visas and employability.

A slide from the talk outlining different types of Tier 5 visa.

Many of Birkbeck’s international students seek full-time employment after their graduation, facing the need to apply for a Tier 2 or Tier 5 visa in the UK, so La Young Jackson, International Liaison Officer, organised a talk outlining the steps students need to take. On Friday 28 February, she welcomed Zenia Chopra and Lucy Robinson to share their knowledge regarding employability at Birkbeck and beyond.

Beginning with a quick overview of Birkbeck Futures and her role as manager of the Pioneer Programme, Lucy Robinson outlined the many ways in which Birkbeck Futures continues to support and guide students in building their future careers. Moreover, in starting a business, or in getting an idea off the ground, Birkbeck’s Enterprise Pathways programme offers plenty of support to students and alumni alike. Lucy’s team continues to help students in developing their entrepreneurial skills, enhancing employability opportunities and advancing their future careers.

Secondly, Zenia Chopra – from legal firm Kingsely Napley – went on to discuss the procedural guidelines for working visas in the UK. As she was once an international student in England, Zenia was able to present her first hand experiences. From official fees to qualifying criteria, Zenia was able to answer all of Birkbeck’s students’ questions regarding the Tier 2 and Tier 5 visas.

La Young Jackson would like to say a big thank you to Lucy, Zenia and to all of our attendees.

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Graduation reflections: five reasons to study at Birkbeck as an international student

BSc Business Psychology student Gina shares how Birkbeck helped her meet people from all over the world and have a fulfilling university experience.

Gina, BSc Business Psychology student

Before coming to Birkbeck, Gina was worried that evening classes and lectures would mean that she’d miss out on traditional student life. Now returning for her Masters, we caught up with her on graduation day to find out what makes Birkbeck so special for international students (to head straight to the video, scroll to the bottom of this post).

1. Time to see London

As part of the University of London, Birkbeck’s location in the heart of Bloomsbury is just around the corner from the British Museum, Leicester Square and Oxford Street. Birkbeck’s lectures are in the evening, which means there’s plenty of time in the day to see the best of London.

2. Daytime Freedom

Gina chose Birkbeck because it gave her the flexibility she needed to develop her skills: “Now that I’ve graduated, I don’t just have a degree, I also have a  lot of work experience and life experience that I gained from having my mornings free to do what I want.”

3. The People

Before moving to London, Gina was worried that she might miss out on the traditional student experience by coming to an evening university. However, Birkbeck’s diverse student base ended up being one of her favourite things: “The unique thing about Birkbeck is that you meet people from all different walks of life … I met people all different ages and all different backgrounds and that was the best part about Birkbeck.”

4. Birkbeck Talent

In her first year, Gina went along to Birkbeck Talent, the College careers service, and found an internship with a financial consultancy, which opened a lot of doors to further job opportunities.

5. Student Central

Birkbeck students have access to the University of London societies at Student Central. Gina found that trying out Kung-Fu was a great way to meet new people.

Watch the full interview with Gina below.

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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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