Tag Archives: London

We’re not “made out of sugar”

A student from Brazil recently shared that in her country, people who are reluctant to go out in the rain are teased with the question, ‘Are you made out of sugar?’ Last week’s day-out to beautiful and historic Greenwich proved that while they are certainly sweet people, Birkbeck’s international students are not ‘made out of sugar’, willing to brave the pouring rain. Read this account of the day.

International students visiting Greenwich

Our day began early morning at Westminster Pier, to take the Thames Clipper boat service to Greenwich. On arrival, despite the weather, students were keen to put up their umbrellas and enjoy the sights with tour guide Andrew to discover the history and stories behind this fascinating part of London.

In Greenwich Park, Andrew led the group up the hill to see the famous Royal Observatory. Before ascending, commenting on the grey skies and rain, he joked, “Who knows?  Maybe there’s bright sunshine at the top!”

On arrival, a low grey mist obscured the usually impressive views. Even the tall buildings of the nearby Docklands were hidden. However, within a few minutes the mist cleared, the sun shone and students were folding up umbrellas and reaching for sunglasses. Everyone enjoyed the stunning views of London. “What I said earlier was a joke!” laughed Andrew.

International students standing by the Greenwich observatoyTo round off the tour, we visited the famous Goddard’s Pie & Mash shop, where students enjoyed this hearty and delicious traditional London food.

International students at a pie and mash shopAndrew explained that Pie & Mash predates Fish & Chips as a traditional British dish, and that Goddard’s has been a family-run Greenwich favourite for over 130 years.

International students on the tour of GreenwichStudents ended their day in Greenwich full-up, maybe a bit wet, but also happy and, we hope, with some new friends. Sweet!

 

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Life as an Indian scholar in London

MA Journalism student Vimal found studying in London a totally immersive experience, so much so he wrote a book about it. Here, he uncovers his own story and shares perspectives on the differences between the media in the UK and India, with a personal take on the COVID-19 pandemic news coverage. This is his #BBKStory.

Vimal Chander Joshi

In 2020, Vimal published his first book though he refutes any notion of being the main character in the story: “I am not Ajay but our experiences are closely linked and all the places Ajay visits are places I’ve either visited or lived in.”

Gentlemen: Stories from London tells the story of Ajay Vashishth, a young man from Delhi who comes to London and lodges in different parts of London including Bexleyheath, Ilford, Southall and Golders Green. Even with the exclusion of the Bloomsbury location, where Vimal would have spent much of his time while studying at Birkbeck, you’d be forgiven for assuming he and Ajay are one and the same.

However, Vimal insists not and divulges the details of his own upbringing, sharing aspects of life within a middle-class family, having a lawyer for a father and a grandfather hailing from Pakistan, with family members keen for him to follow a ‘conventional career path’ in either law or medicine. With gentle resistance and with more creative inclinations, he pursued his undergraduate studies in commerce at the University of Delhi then decided on journalism at postgraduate level.

In 2019, his academic transition took him to Birkbeck and a city he’d never visited before. “It was the first time I’d been to London. I enjoyed the opportunity to visit places. I would see people wearing a coat and tie with office bags and a newspaper in hand.”

He accepts that the pre-pandemic period presented him with his best chances of socialisation saying, “I attended all workshops and events which were either very relevant or marginally relevant. I would go and meet people from other departments and would attend most of the events. I never skipped any classes. I would go out with friends. I went to the library as much as I could, including at Christmas. I even met friends from my country.”

Studying an MA in Journalism was a logical choice. He’d always liked writing and was fascinated by India’s booming television industry and the increasing acceptance of a career in the media. Prior to his studies, Vimal had spent ten years working in the media, primarily in India.

He has noticed subtle differences between the news in the UK and India, “The biggest difference is the way in which newspapers are heavily subsidised in India. I couldn’t imagine spending the two pounds or so on a newspaper in India. Of course, the newspapers in the UK can be found across the world but Indian newspapers are less likely to have that international reach.”

With a pandemic still in effect and with India having faced the brunt of it earlier this year with the Delta variant of the virus, Vimal shares his own personal reflections of how the media has handled the coverage: “I felt really pained watching the Covid-19 news. I was there when Delhi had one of its earliest lockdowns and I watched how the media covered the evolution of the virus and the spread of the variant. The media has an important part to play in exposing the pandemic but there needs to be accountability and the true picture should always be reflected. But we should also balance that because the reality of the situation can also spread panic.”

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Crossing borders to explore new horizons

Carolyn Stillman travelled to the UK from the USA to complete a degree in Language Teaching/ Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages (TESOL) (MA) at Birkbeck, and used her time to travel and throw herself into a different way of life. This is her #BBKgrad story.

Carolyn Stillman After having completed a Bachelor’s degree in elementary education in the USA, Carolyn decided that she wanted to expand her horizons and take on a Master’s in the UK. When looking around for options of where she could study, Birkbeck stood out as an ideal choice for what she needed because of the flexibility that evening study gave her.

“One of my room mates mostly worked nights so we would leave at the same time so I had time to see her during the day. I did not have classes on Fridays so I had more time if I wanted to travel over the weekend – one time we took a weekend trip to Ireland.

“Also, if I wanted to work on assignments, it was really helpful when I had the big essays due to have time during the day to research and get those finished.”

During her time in the UK, Carolyn faced the challenge of homesickness. “I was there with barely anybody, I had my boyfriend, but I had met him before I came to London and he lived in Newcastle, which is three hours away. If I wanted to see him, he would have to come down during the weekend or I would have to go up there. So, at first, when I came to London, I didn’t have anyone, I didn’t have my mum obviously, I didn’t have any of my friends and it was such a time difference so homesickness was my biggest challenge because it was just me by myself for the most part.”

Despite the difficulty she first had to adjusting to a new country, Carolyn was able to overcome her homesickness through a mix of time and building connections with people. “I met people on my course at Birkbeck that I was pretty close to and we would hang out, and I had my boyfriend. I had to get over the initial shock of being on my own in another country but I loved it either way, it was hard at first but I still loved it.”

She fondly recalls the small class sizes at Birkbeck which differed from the 100 person classes she experienced during her undergraduate degree. “It was really intimate, so we all got to build off of each other and do different activities and those were my favourite classes.”

When the pandemic hit, Carolyn was finishing up her classes and she recalls it being hard going from in-person to online learning, but she was grateful that all the online videos were easy to access.

Having completed her Master’s, Carolyn is back in the US where she has resumed her teaching career, a job which she hopes to continue now that she has the knowledge she gained from her course. “I have a couple of students at the moment and English isn’t their first language. The course has helped me a lot with coming up with different modifications to lessons.”

Carolyn also hopes to be able to travel more once the pandemic subsides and hopefully, one day, return to the UK to teach. In the meantime, she’s telling everyone she knows about Birkbeck: “I really enjoyed Birkbeck, I talk about it all the time! People are really interested in hearing about it whenever I bring it up and I don’t regret it at all, I loved my time in London.”

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William Matthews Lecture 2020: ‘One grim evening’: The Colonial Migrant in Britain

Caryl Phillips, acclaimed novelist and playwright delivered, this year’s William Matthews lecture, offering a moving and sobering view of the experience of the colonial migrant in Britain.

Jamaican Immigrants to Britain in 1948

22 Jun 1948, Tilbury, Essex, England, UK — Original caption: Emigration In Reverse – The Men From Jamaica Arrive At Tilbury. The ex troopship. Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

Caryl Phillips begins by reflecting on the jubilation of the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, and the moment when in the telling of British history a representation of the HMT Empire Windrush emerges marking the era of mass settlement of British colonial subjects from the West Indies. A moment when it could be assumed that the Windrush generation was accepted as part of the narrative of British history, a moment Phillips says was eclipsed by the ‘antics’ of the British government who later, in 2018, would strip them of their jobs and homes, and even try to deport them on the basis that they were never really British citizens, despite having built lives in Britain at the invitation of the British government.

Phillips speaks of his own childhood, having arrived in Leeds aged four months, a second-generation child of colonial migrants from St Kitts, who as he grew up felt ‘no great love’ for Britain. He witnessed the ways in which it rejected the colonial migrants who came with the hope and promise of being welcomed into what they considered the ‘Motherland’ – this love for the country had always puzzled him.

Caryl Phillips

Caryl Phillips

He says for the colonial migrant, “they are not leaving home, rather they are leaving to go home”. A sentiment that was echoed by the 1948 British Nationality Act which granted members of British colonies citizenship in Britain.

Phillips tells us the story of the colonial migrant through the lens of two, David Oluwale and author Sam Selvon, in their respective cities; Leeds and London.

David Oluwale

David Oluwale

David Oluwale was a British Nigerian who in 1969 drowned in the River Aire in Leeds following years of abuse from gangs and the police after coming to Britain with dreams of becoming an engineer. Oluwale was met with disdain and life on the streets and was even committed to a psychiatric hospital for eight years, an experience that forever altered him. One might question why Oluwale never left Leeds, a place that had taken so much from him.

Oluwale’s experience is parallel to the protagonist of Selvon’s book, The Lonely Londoners, published in 1956. Moses Aloetta is a Trinidadian émigré who faces great hardship throughout the novel, yet in the end he cannot move away from his preconceived notions of Britain, and the promise it held.

Selvon’s book opens with the line ‘one grim winter evening’ encapsulating the often hostile and bleak circumstances colonial migrants found themselves in. But for people from the colonies who had been taught that they were British, their status as British subjects had come to be a part of their own identities, so to reject Britain was to reject a part of themselves. This allowed them to “absorb the abuse and humiliation” and participate in British society, staying and fighting to make a place for themselves.

The plight of the colonial migrant, Phillips reminds us, is echoed now in the fallout of the Windrush Scandal, for those who had come between the years 1948 and 1962 and found that ‘one grim winter evening’ was a reflection of the evening of their lives, characterised by betrayal and disappointment.

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