The international student experience at Birkbeck: Cooking up a storm

In a follow up to the School of Business, Economics and Informatics’ recent cooking classes at L’atelier des Chefs, students Nomvelo Mlotshwa and Mariem Ben Maallem share their experiences first hand.

“As an international student, the reason why I came to London was to catch a glimpse of the diverse cultures and traditions that are as diverse as the people at Birkbeck, University of London. The cooking classes for international students organised by William Richards have been such a wonderful opportunity to do exactly that.

I have been able to attend the cooking classes at L’Atelier des Chefs on Wigmore Street and all I can say is that it has been a wonderful experience to whip up something so simple and outright delicious in just under thirty minutes. The staff at L’Atelier des Chefs are so friendly and the chefs really make one fall in love with cooking again. The atmosphere of the cooking class starts when we meet at the Malet Street building, the laughs, the walk to L’atelier des Chefs has really cemented friendships that go beyond the class.

The cooking classes have allowed me as an international student to talk to other international students, make friends whom I would have not met as we are all from different levels in our studies. I have met undergraduate and postgraduate students from the Department of Management and this has made my time here at Birkbeck worthwhile.

Not that the time at the kitchen hasn’t come without freak accidents. My first time trying to look all cool and fast with the knife, I then had the knife go into my left forefinger. No one saw really what had happened because it all happened so fast but all I can say is that I have learnt a lesson or two from these classes!

Many thanks go to William and the entire team at the School of Business, Economics and Informatics.” – Nomvelo Mlotshwa, Sport Management (MSc)

“This cooking class is my favourite event and I have not missed any Friday class. We meet in front of our university and we will go together to the cooking class. It is a very nice walk where we look forward to what new dish experience we will have (and also to catch up on our life in London’s premier University😊), some of which I have cooked at home, to the delight of my flatmates.

Our exceptional plate this week was to prepare Japanese noodles with fish.

This was my third class, and I always have the same feeling, impressed by the chef and his passion for his work. As a start, the chef shows us all the steps to prepare our lunch, explaining all the ingredients that we will use for today’s meal. I like this chef, he is very energetic, very communicating, and he will continuously try to get all our interest by telling us the story behind each meal. He will make us understand every technique that he is using while cutting the onions or slicing the pepper. The chef was not only teaching us how to cook, but also sharing the best tips that he learned during his career.

The cooking class was about discovering new recipes, but also, about teaching us how to work in a group, it was teamwork! We were 5 members per table, and were sharing tasks between us, in order, to prepare our lunch. It is not a competition, but we found ourselves competing; who is going to finish the first using the same techniques as the chef, who the chef will say is best 😉. The funniest part of this class is that we all followed the same instructions, the same chef, but almost none of us was doing it in the same way. What is also hilarious, is that we were waiting for the first person to start so we all will follow, and copy, him or her immediately.

This meal was extremely delicious, like all the previous ones, but this time it was with a special flavour “orange”. I ate it all… everything I had on my plate, while also, of course, enjoying the interesting and different company, of fellow Birkbeck international, students. My favourite part was the dessert time. I wait excitedly for the surprise, because we do not know what we are having, but what I know is, that it is always very delicious! Let’s not forget the group photo; it is becoming a ritual to have a picture every time.

I will keep going to these classes because I am truly learning new recipes and I am always trying to cook the same thing at home. Sometimes, I am even adding my Tunisian touch 😎” – Mariem Ben Maallem, Business Innovation with International Technology Management (MSc)

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Challenges and opportunities for university-business co-creation: comparative perspectives from the UK and US

Organised by the Centre for Innovation Management Research, this panel event explored how universities and businesses can build mutually beneficial partnerships from an international perspective.

On Wednesday 19 February, Birkbeck’s Centre for Innovation Management Research was proud to welcome academics and consultants alike to a guest seminar led by Professor Helen Lawton Smith and chaired by Dr Renos Savva.

The title of the discussion was Challenges and Opportunities for University-Business Co-Creation, with Adrian Day, Dr Federica Rossi, Professor Tomasz Mroczkowski and Evelyn Wilson each bringing their individual expertise to the panel.

Throughout this fascinating event, each panellist outlined their view of the ever-changing relationship between universities and private enterprise. With a focus on international perspectives; from Japan to Sweden, the US and the UK, attendees were encouraged to outline their experience of joint ventures. Moreover, in discussing the dichotomy between government policy and evolving attitudes towards innovation, the role of today’s universities was brought into the debate.

In looking to the future, this event sought to compare the varying attitudes towards university-business co-creation, with an aim to building new and sustainable partnerships throughout the academic and entrepreneurial spheres.

Thank you to everyone who attended and made this event such a success!

  • Dr Renos Savva, a Senior Lecturer in Biological Sciences at Birkbeck, and co-founder of the Birkbeck-UCL-ICR start-up, Domainex Ltd., which is now an established biotech sector SME based in the Cambridge area.
  • Adrian Day has spent over 15 years working at the interface between academia and the economy, covering all aspects from design of data systems to providing direct advice to the Minister for Universities.
  • Dr Federica Rossi is Senior Lecturer in Business Economics at Birkbeck.
  • Dr Tomasz Mroczkowski, American University, has studied and written about innovation, the management of change, and economic transition for most of his career.
  • Evelyn Wilson is a Founder/Director of The Culture Capital Exchange, established in 2011 and was Senior Manager at its previous iteration London Centre for Arts and Cultural Exchange.

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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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Breaking through the ceiling: BSc Business and Management at Birkbeck

Jeremy Galea came to Birkbeck to further his career. Last week, he graduated with the Best Project prize in the Department of Management.

When I was growing up, there wasn’t much emphasis on education at home, but I’ve always had a strong work ethic. I failed my last year of school in Australia and got a job straight away. I did everything from cleaning supermarkets to polishing stainless steel; being a hard worker was my way of escape.

After moving to the UK to start a junior project management role, I started to worry about hitting a ceiling. I was really into my career and very ambitious, but I could only get so far with no formal qualifications. I’d done courses along the way, but never tackled anything as big as university study.

I chose Birkbeck because it was the only university that would allow me to continue working while studying in the evening. The first two years were tough; I didn’t have access to Student Finance, so I worked seven days a week to fund my studies. Working 70 hour weeks and then studying on top meant sacrificing other areas of my life, but coming into lectures and meeting people who were in the same struggle motivated me to keep going.

I’ve always been able to put on a confident front, but Birkbeck really gave me that self-belief – my ambition is higher now than when I started. I never submitted an assignment in high school – my first university assignment was a 70!

I was just about to finish my second year at Birkbeck when I got my current role in the senior operations management team in the NHS. Drawing on my experience of my course really helped me in the interview, as did the confidence I’d gained along the way.

When it came to choosing a topic for my research project, my seminar teacher gave me some great advice: you don’t get extra points for a ‘sexy’ title! It’s best to write about what you know.

I chose to research whether outsourced organisations or in-house provide better non-clinical support services to the NHS. Having worked in operations for over ten years, I knew my subject matter pretty well. Basing my project on my work has taught me so much; it’s had an effect on how I think and I’m already directing things in a different way than I would have done before. In large organisations, management don’t know what it’s like on the front line and the front line has tunnel vision, so it was fascinating speaking to people across my organisation.

I was lucky to have the support of my line managers at work and of Dr Marion Frenz, my supervisor. In the end, I didn’t come to a definitive answer in my project, but that didn’t stop me from doing well as loads of information on management and relationships still came out of it.

My advice to students undertaking a project would be to start early: it can be hard when your nerves get in the way and you’re juggling work as well, but the quality won’t be there unless you allow yourself time.

If you’re in work, Birkbeck is the place to study to further your career. You can learn so much from other people’s life experience on campus. Undertaking a work-based project gets your name out there within your organisation – even if you work in a coffee shop there’s a business model there that you can learn from.

At school it felt like you were either naturally talented or dumb and there was no in-between, but now I believe that if you set your mind to something, you can achieve it. There’s nothing negative about further education; you learn how to analyse, research and make up your own mind. The world opens up to you once you’ve had that experience.

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