Tag Archives: international student

“I flew to the other side of the world to study at Birkbeck, leaving my family and children behind”

Shernette Edwards-Rowe left her home and family in Jamaica to pursue her life-long dream of studying in the UK. This is her #BBKgrad story.

Shernette Edwards-Rowe on her graduation day

Shernette’s fascination with England started from a young age. She was drawn to the UK for its history, architecture and fashion, and in 2006, during her first degree, she visited London to see it all for herself.

That was when her love affair for London truly began. She came back as often as she could, every few years, and made it her mission to study in the city one day; “we model the British education system in Jamaica so I know how high a standard the British education system is and I wanted to experience it for myself.”

Shernette’s career path has not always been straight-forward. She undertook her first degree in business administration in Jamaica. Despite being encouraged by her teachers and peers at school to become a counsellor, at the time she felt it wasn’t for her. She worked in business for a few years, but soon decided she desperately needed a career change and a job where she was directly helping others. This led her to enrol onto a BA Counselling course at Northern Caribbean University in Jamaica in her late twenties, where she studied for four years. When she finished her Counselling degree, Shernette began working in a school with children up to aged 12. She has worked in a number of different schools ever since.

Her desire to undertake a Master’s degree in England and expand her career opportunities never went away so when the opportunity for her to study in London came in 2019 she took the plunge and flew across the world to London, leaving her two boys (now aged 10 and 7) and her husband behind.

Shernette Edwards-Rowe with her family on her graduation day

A year and a half later, Shernette reflects on her experiences of being at Birkbeck and in London, “I’m so glad I pursued my life-long dream of studying in the UK. I’m really proud I fulfilled my dream, but I did face more challenges than I expected, including several illnesses and the anxieties that came with the global pandemic and being away from my family. My academic tutor offered me tremendous guidance and support which I am hugely grateful for.

“My son recently said to me how proud he was of me battling my illnesses and never giving up. This really melted my heart and made me so happy. I wanted to show my children that whatever dreams they have, they can accomplish them with hard work and perseverance.”

Shernette moved back to Jamaica when the borders re-opened in May 2020, getting the first flight home to Jamaica to be back with her family and finish her degree remotely. She cites the degree as really opening her horizons and giving her the confidence to work with older children. She is now searching for a job in a secondary school and is excited for what the future holds.

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“Don’t call me El Chapo!”

Azucena Garcia Gutierrez has made it her mission to represent the very best of Mexican culture to the rest of the world. This is her #BBK Grad story.

This is a photo of Azucena Garcia Gutierrez

Growing up in Toluca, a city close to Mexico City with parents who didn’t graduate but who still provided for their small family has given Azucena a perspective on life which has her always returning to her humble beginnings.

With just one sibling, the two had spent practically all their lives side by side so when Azucena decided to leave Mexico to study MA Applied Linguistics and Communication at Birkbeck, it left her stunned and a little lost. Not surprisingly, her sister would go on to also study languages.

Seeing first-hand the misconceptions that prevail about Mexico was part of Azucena’s culture shock throughout her international travel: “People would shout out ‘El Chapo!’ They had a view of Mexico which concerned me. When I was growing up as a teenager, it was very safe. But I realise the situation with crime is bad now; but that is not the only thing we have to share with the world.”

At Birkbeck, she would make every effort to explain the best parts about Mexico: the diversity and richness of the country, wanting to show others “what Mexicans are made of.” She applauds Birkbeck for its encouragement of international community and the support of students who comprise that. Azucena is both a Chevening scholar and the winner of the Michel Blanc prize for best MA dissertation and credits both with supporting students, like her, from around the globe.

Whilst lamenting the fact that indigenous languages are dying out in Mexico, Azucena also recognises the value in being able to speak English, seeing this “open doors for so many, including myself.” It was just fifteen years ago, at the age of 18 years, that she made the decision to be an English language teacher. She had previously learnt English at secondary school and found it hard at first, especially since her first teacher was American and spoke very fast.

It’s that experience and understanding which now crosses over into her own teaching of English. She witnesses students who are challenged with learning English as their second language but is fervent in her teaching and reinforces the message that the hurdles of learning another language, especially English, must be overcome in order to reach one’s aspirations.

For her beloved home country of Mexico, this is a matter which is even more paramount. With the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently citing Mexico as the second most unequal country, education reform is a critical matter Azucena wishes to address. She says, “Education means hope for Mexico. When the people of a country are well educated, things will improve, it will shape better citizens and give them a thirst for knowledge which will contribute to a better country.”

Azucena returned to Mexico in February and is working on progressing her career in Education, using learnings from her time spent at Birkbeck and the contact with people of different mindsets to apply to her homeland in a meaningful way. She sees it as her duty to contribute to the education and social landscape in Mexico to improve the country’s academic and economic standing and in turn its international reputation.

Find out more about the Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication.

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“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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