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Introducing the BISC Alumni Spotlight Series

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In June 2019, the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) celebrated 25 incredible years of teaching and learning at Herstmonceux Castle. A generous gift from visionary philanthropists and proud Queen's alumni Alfred and Isabel Bader, the Castle opened its doors to students in 1994 and has now welcomed more than 7,000 students from across Canada and around the world to live, work, and play on its beautiful 15th-century rural estate. 

Definitive25thThe BISC is a very special place to study. Small class sizes and graduate student-style contact with faculty encourages critical discussion, lively debate, and inspires our students to delve deeper into their course material. Experiential Learning Opportunities (ELOs), move the learning out of the traditional classroom environment and encourage active learning by visiting museums, galleries, and exhibits, taking part in guided walking tours, and engaging in lively discourse with a broad range of visiting speakers.

Students at the BISC share a special bond. They form fast, firm friendships in a close-knit and supportive environment. Time at the Castle teaches students to be independent and resourceful, whilst appreciating the free time available to explore local towns, nearby London, and even onward travel to mainland Europe.

As we celebrate 25 years, the BISC Alumni Spotlight Series aims to connect and celebrate the unique Castle alumni community and inspire future Castle students by shining a light on individuals who were deeply impacted by their Castle experience.  

Cha Gheill!

Jay Dickieson, BISC'07

Entrepreneur Jay Dickieson has founded a number of companies, including the Summerhill Group, a London-based consulting company, and Rosedale Capital, which works with start-ups and early-stage companies and venture capital firms.

Jay Web

Originally from Guelph, Ont., Jay was always destined to attend Queen’s. "I knew Queen's was the university for me after a campus tour with my Dad during March break when I was in Grade 11,” he says.

Back at school, Jay’s guidance counsellor introduced him to the Castle. Although he thought about doing the first-year program, he didn’t want to miss out on the first-year experiences on main campus. He decided to wait to go to the Castle in his third year. (Jay admits it felt like a really long wait at the time!) The biggest appeal of the Castle for Jay was maintaining a connection to Queen's, but having a launching pad for the U.K. and Europe. He was mostly excited about the small classes and the ability to travel regularly. Jay was a political studies student, but took primarily took history classes at the Castle. He remembers his time fondly.

“I remember visiting the Lewes archives regularly to do research, and having tea with some of the residents of the nearby village, to learn first-hand about their experiences during WWII, and the positive impact Canadian troops stationed in the area in the lead-up to D-Day had on the community,” says Jay. “This was a totally unique experience, and something not possible at main campus."

As soon as Jay graduated, he moved back to the U.K. and settled in London for a year to complete an MSc in Management. His plan was to stay for the year, but 10 years later, he still lives happily in London. As an entrepreneur, Jay has founded a number of companies, including the Summerhill Group, a London-based consulting company he started in 2016, and Rosedale Capital, which is involved with a portfolio of start-ups and early stage businesses.

"The Castle was a transformative experience. It was a great introduction to the U.K., but also the rest of Europe and the world,” says Jay. “I visited more than a dozen countries during the term, met amazing people, and had exceptional experiences that wouldn't have been possible anywhere else."

Jay is actively involved with the London-based Queen’s alumni network. "There is a large, diverse, and accomplished network of Queen's alumni in London and the wider U.K. This group is disproportionately also Castle alumni. We all benefited from the contribution of alumni and the Queen's community when we were students, and so it is important to maintain a connection to the Castle and give back in the same way.”

Cynthia Harris, BISC'99

Cynthia was determined to return to the U.K. to continue her studies in art after a summer at the Castle. She has managed the Silver Department at Sotheby's since 2008, where she has been exposed to some of the world's most extraordinary collections.

Cynthia Web

Nanaimo, B.C., native Cynthia was lucky enough to get a heads-up from her older sister who had studied at the Castle in 1998 and loved it. As a history and art student, she was excited by the idea of being able to study both in the U.K. Add to this a family connection to the Castle and the village of Herstmonceux, and the BISC proved too much of a draw to resist.

Cynthia attended the BISC for the summer term in 1999. At the time, the Castle offered a course on country houses, taught by Professor Pierre du Prey, where students travelled around southern England and visited old stately homes. It provided Cynthia with her first experience of studying art collections and architecture in such an immediate way, and by her own admission she was hooked.

“After my summer term at the Castle I was determined to return to the U.K. to continue my studies in art with a focus on antiques” says Cynthia, “Three months would clearly not be enough, so after graduating from Queen's, I moved to London to attend Sotheby's Institute of Art where I completed a masters degree in Fine and Decorative Art.”

The course proved the perfect follow-up from Cynthia’s studies at Queen's (BAH in history and art history) and her experiences at the Castle. After graduating from Sotheby's she spent a short time working in Vancouver and travelling in Europe until she moved back to London to join Sotheby's Auction House full time. After a year she moved into the Silver Department where she was exposed to some of the world's most extraordinary objects and collections. She has managed the department since 2008 and had the opportunity to work with amazing colleagues and clients all over the world. By a strange twist of fate, Cynthia has even been involved in country house sales of collections that she studied while at the Castle!

“For me the Castle literally brought my studies out of a textbook and into real life, which is an unforgettable experience. Whether it's visiting a bank in Canary Wharf or an art gallery in London, the proximity of the Castle to one of the world's greatest cities can offer a very special hands-on opportunity,” says Cynthia. “My term at the Castle has had an immensely positive impact upon my life, and I would recommend it to anyone who is considering it. Aside from the academics, I made friendships at the Castle that have lasted 20 years and memories that will last a lifetime. As I write this, I can still remember how gorgeous the Castle gardens looked in the summer and how magical the entire experience felt.”

Cameron Crawley, BISC'09

Cameron discovered a love of history and art at the Castle. He now works to co-ordinate exhibits for the Royal Collection, an art collection held in trust by Her Majesty The Queen as Sovereign for her successors and the people of the United Kingdom.

Cameron Web

Cameron was born in Hong Kong, but then moved to London (U.K.), Auckland, and finally to Toronto when he was eight. He found out about the Castle whilst researching Queen's, and decided to apply as he was looking for as many interesting and unique experiences as possible during his undergraduate career. He says he certainly wasn't disappointed.

Cameron spent his first year at the BISC from fall 2008 to winter 2009. He says being at the Castle helped him focus his academic interests and pursue his passion – arts and culture. As he put it, “The opportunities to be able to visit museums, galleries, and historic sites as part of the curriculum at the Castle is unmatched, and I credit these experiences with helping me get into the heritage field.”

After completing his undergraduate studies, Cameron achieved a Masters in Museum Studies from the University of Toronto in 2015. He is the first to admit that his career path hasn't always followed a nice linear progression, but he did end up exactly where he wanted to be. He now works at the Royal Collection, co-ordinating exhibitions on display at the Queen's Galleries at Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Cameron credits his time at the Castle with helping him to understand the importance of being flexible and doing whatever it takes to achieve his goals. “Studying at the Castle has been a central part of my life, let alone my education. It gave me so much more perspective than spending my first year in Kingston and I am lucky to still be close friends with many people from my cohort,” says Cameron. “Not only is the Castle a completely unique experience, it broadens horizons and gives you lifetime access to a network of incredibly talented, friendly, and kind people.”

Nazanin Afshin-Jam McKay, BISC'98

A former Miss Canada, Nazanin has used her platform to raise awareness of various charitable organizations around the world and campaign fiercely for human rights. She is the co-founder of the Stop Child Executions organization.

Jay Web

Nazanin discovered a passion for international affairs in high school where she started a Global Issues Club. When her alma mater, the University of British Columbia, offered her a scholarship to spend her entire first year (1997-98) at the BISC, it was an offer she simply could not pass up.

Nazanin's time at the Castle further increased her desire to travel and learn more about the world and how to make it a better place. Nazanin visited Paris and fell in love with the city immediately. She recalls, “That trip influenced my choice for where I would apply for my third-year university exchange. I ended up studying at a world-class political science university called Sciences Po. I returned frequently thereafter to work on issues concerning Iran’s freedom and democracy."

After the Castle, Nazanin returned to UBC to finish her Bachelor of Arts with a double major in international relations and political science. She then did a master’s in diplomacy with a concentration in international conflict management at Norwich University in Vermont and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Western Ontario.

During her studies, Nazanin became a Global Youth Educator with the Red Cross, teaching others about the humanitarian crises of landmines, children affected by war and the poverty-disease cycle. In 2003, she won Miss Canada and was first runner up at Miss World. This gave Nazanin the platform to raise awareness and funds for various charitable organizations with issues as varied as natural disasters, fistula, bear bile farming, and bridging the digital divide. In 2006, Nazanin ran an international campaign to save the life of a juvenile sentenced to death in Iran for stabbing a man that had tried to rape her. She then co-founded the Stop Child Executions organization to help put an end to executions of juveniles worldwide.

A celebrated public speaker with the National Speakers' Bureau, Nazanin is a former board member of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, whose goal is to help eliminate racism and discrimination in Canada. She speaks in parliaments, universities, and conferences worldwide and formed The Nazanin Foundation in 2014, a non-profit charitable organization benefiting women and children in Canada and abroad.

"My time at the Castle taught me independent thinking and self-discipline in my studies,” says Nazanin. “My fondest memories are of the explorations we made by guided tours, and trips to incredible museums, art galleries, battle fields, castles, cathedrals, and international institutions. Thank you for all the wonderful experiences that guided my own path and helped me succeed in my journey as an international human rights activist.”

Nazanin clearly holds the Castle in high esteem and is keen to celebrate the special bond Castle alumni share and support the next generation of students. "Any individual, organization, or institution that has helped in your development and has advanced your life should be appreciated, thanked, and given back to so that the cycle continues and others can also benefit and progress for the greater good."

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Get in touch! We would love to hear from you! 

Are you a Castle grad with an interesting story to tell? Are you interested in being featured in the BISC Spotlight Series? Do you know someone who would be great to profile? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For more information on the Queen's alumni network in the UK:Queen's Alumni Association: London Branch

Bader International Study Centre
Herstmonceux Castle
Hailsham, East Sussex
United Kingdom, BN27 1RN
Phone: +44 1323 834444
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