“During my time at Birkbeck I saw over 100 films and plays in London, travelled over 5 countries, and made so many friends – it was the best time of my life!”

Xiayan Zeng graduated last week with an MA in Screenwriting. She shares her #BBKgrad story in this interview.

Xiayan Zeng

What made you decide to study at Birkbeck?
I was studying for my PhD in China and I felt something wasn’t right. I’d studied playwriting for ten years and I wanted to learn more. I decided I should spend my gap year studying screenwriting in the UK to experience different cultures and meet new people.

I chose Birkbeck because I had a great interview with Professor Paul Gallagher, Associate Lecturer in Screenwriting, which confirmed my decision to study at the College.

Did you enjoy having lectures in the evening?
Yes, I loved having the lectures in the evening because my thoughts are a lot clearer at night.

In the daytime, I read scripts and wrote my assignments. Occasionally I went to see a play in the West End and visited museums or galleries, or just enjoyed sightseeing around London.

What do you hope to achieve in the future?
After I finished my degree, I returned to China to finish my PhD and now I am a Lecturer in a university, teaching playwriting.

As an international student, what would you say were the differences for you in culture that you noticed?
The main problem was the language barrier. English is not my mother tongue, so I sometimes struggled writing in English. My classmates and professors noticed this and they helped me correct my mistakes in my assignments and speaking.

Another difficulty I had was explaining my culture. The difference between Eastern and Western culture is something I wrote about in my assignments. Sometimes my classmates and the professors wouldn’t understand, but later it became clearer when they’d ask questions: “Why did your character do this?”, “Why did your character solve the problem in this way?” I would explain my thoughts and then they’d give me advice and suggestions on how I should write so it would be clearer to the reader.

Thanks to Professor Paul Gallagher, Professor Barbara Cox and so many other professors, I’ve got to know more about screenwriting and the difference between screen and theatre. I had a great time chatting with professors about my assignments, which made my life in London wonderful.

How did you settle into life in the UK?
I had a student community of mostly Chinese students, but I also felt I should spend more time communicating with other people. I communicated with people who don’t only speak Chinese, often having a drink with my classmates after lectures, which helped me to fit into London life.

Do you have any advice that you would give to other international students coming to study at Birkbeck?
I think for the full-time students, you may feel that there are a lot of assignments, but when you spend your time and you concentrate on them, you will find that you will successfully finish them.

And, as for the language – just communicate with classmates and your professors and don’t be ashamed of getting things wrong; you will find that it won’t be a problem.

During my year at Birkbeck, I have seen over 100 films and plays in London, travelled over 5 countries, and made so many friends.

It has been only a year in Birkbeck, but I can say it is the best year I’ve ever experienced!

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“I’ve grown to love the UK just as much as Barcelona”

Alex Jimenez Mendoza is graduating this week with a BSc Business Psychology degree. This is his #BBKgrad story. 

Alex Jimenez Mendoza

The first time I visited the UK in 2008 I instantly fell in love with the country – it’s diversity and its tea and coffee drinking culture. I decided to move to London in 2012, to continue my job as a technician for Formula One but instead be based in the UK rather than Spain.

I loved my Formula One job and the travelling around the world that came with it but after a short time I decided I wanted to pursue my dream of becoming a student at a university in London. I vividly remember wandering around the streets surrounding Birkbeck and seeing students coming in and out of the buildings, wishing I was one of them, but worrying that I wasn’t good enough.

In 2016 I decided I should put aside my fears and I applied to study BSc Business Psychology (part-time). I was convinced Birkbeck was the right university for me as I could work and study at the same time and gain a prestigious University of London degree. Soon after I applied, I was offered a place – this was definitely one of the most exciting times of my life.

I started my degree in October 2016. The first year was quite challenging due to the language barrier, but I was so motivated to learn. The lecturers were very supportive and the quality of teaching was always excellent. Throughout my four-year part-time degree, I managed to balance working in luxury retail and studying, and I also learned to better manage my disability (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

I loved my time at Birkbeck so much I’m now enrolled onto a Master’s degree – MSc Management with International Business. I’m only a few weeks into the course but I’m already finding it is helping me to broaden my knowledge and open my horizons to future careers. I would advise international students considering studying at Birkbeck to go for it and not be put off by the language barrier – instead it should motivate and inspire you. Also, Birkbeck is so diverse – you will meet such a range of people. I’ve definitely grown to love the UK just as much as Barcelona, if not more!

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Virtual Beatles in London tour

La Young Jackson, Liason Officer (International) shares details of a virtual Beatles tour of London that Birkbeck students enjoyed earlier this year.

Beatles Tour London

Beatles Tour London

In July we had two special virtual tours exploring the history of The Beatles in London. Our guide Andrew has presented his Beatles London Walking Tour to international students for many years, but this year due to COVID-19 was the first time he did them online as a virtual experience.

Andrew prefers to call himself a Beatles fan rather than an expert, but he impressed students with his knowledge both of the ‘Fab Four’, and of London. ‘The Beatles are my favourite group, and London is my favourite city, so taking students on the tour is always a huge pleasure’ he says. ‘Most people know that the Beatles came from Liverpool, but in fact, during their time together as a band, they all lived in London, and all their records were recorded here, at the famous Abbey Road Studios. Two of the Beatles, Paul and Ringo, were married in London – no not to each other, to their wives!’

Leading the tour online presented both challenges and opportunities. ‘I wanted to create the feeling that we’re really taking a walk through London together, so I filmed not just the places with Beatles history, but also the walking segments in-between, using these as an opportunity to chat with attendees and answer questions, just as I would on a real tour. But being online made it easier to present video clips and audio, which can be quite difficult on busy London streets’.

Andrew presented the tours as Part 1 & Part 2 on separate days, such is the wealth of locations in London connected to the Beatles’ professional and personal lives. Both tours finished at Abbey Road studios, with its iconic traffic crossing. Students expressed a high level of satisfaction with both events and praised Andrew’s friendly and knowledgeable presentation.

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Birkbeck students embark on virtual tour of the City of London

While we’ve been unable to head out and explore our capital city in person, Birkbeck students toured the historic City of London virtually with the help of guide Tim Kidd.

Picture of the City of London

Whilst we would all love to be together in person, Birkbeck is bringing London to its international student community.

On Thursday 26 June, Birkbeck students were treated to a fascinating virtual tour through the historic City of London.

Courtesy of Tim Kidd, a member of the British Guild of Tour Guides, the Birkbeck community was brought together to explore London’s ancient origins. As Tim explained throughout the event, the City of London has a vibrant and varied history which tells the story of our famous capital. From the Bank of England to the walls of the Tour, Tim was able to explain London’s Roman roots and their role in shaping the world of finance today.

For many of Birkbeck’s students, the City offers world-class employment prospects and a foothold into the world of banking, trading and insurance. The City of London is today regarded as one of the major financial capitals of the world, and with good reason. Tim’s tour told the tale of the City of London, exploring why it is so such a unique place within the UK and Europe. At the end of the tour, an insightful Q&A session followed.

With the international situation evolving rapidly, it’s as important as ever that Birkbeck continues to adapt its student experience. Indeed, we very much look forward to hosting more engaging virtual tours in the future.

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