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Spotlight Series

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!

Sara French, BISC’04

For Mississauga’s Sara French, the Castle represented the perfect mix of adventure and academics. Her time at the Castle gave her the self-confidence to chart her own path.

Asheefa Web

Sara applied for university back in the days when Ontario’s online application system required you to select three schools. She knew she desperately wanted to go to Queen’s, so the Castle represented an opportunity to select Queen’s twice! She was surprised but delighted when she was accepted by the BISC.

During Sara’s time at the Castle, she fostered an interest in European integration and, in particular, the relationship between Canada and the European Union. Sara recalls, “This was at a time when many Canadians were concerned about how Canada could diversify its relationships to be less dependent on the United States in the aftermath of 9/11.”

Her interests led to an internship in Brussels at the Mission of Canada to the European Union. During this time, the EU was considering a ban on the import of sealskin products from Canada, which opened Sara’s eyes to the nexus between domestic and international politics. She became more aware of the role many Indigenous nations were playing in international affairs, which would become the focus of Sara’s career for the next ten years.

Sara completed both her undergraduate and her Master’s degrees at Queen’s, then returned to England to study at the London School of Economics. The start of her career was not all plain sailing. “I graduated in the middle of the ‘Great Recession,’ “recalls Sara, “and was disappointed when the Global Affairs community practically suspended all recruitment.” Luckily for Sara, Dr. Thomas S. Axworthy was departing Queen's to become the President of The Gordon Foundation. He hired Sara to be his Executive Assistant, typing pages of handwritten notes into academic articles.

The Foundation's focus was on the North, and through this experience, Sara came to know an amazing cohort of leaders who were driven to spur real reconciliation amongst Indigenous peoples and the Crown. Sara eventually left the Foundation to work as a consultant with many of these groups, and in 2018, she convinced her husband and children to pack up their house in Toronto and move to the Yukon, where she now works as a negotiator for the Government of Yukon on agreements with Indigenous governments.

Sara remembers her time at the Castle extremely fondly. “I made life-long friends, both among my peers at the Castle and rugby teammates in Hellingly,” says Sara.

“It was an alum who created this opportunity for us, so we should continue to pay it forward to future students. I would not be who I am today without the Castle, and I hope that other students will have the opportunity to say the same.”

Joshua Chan, BISC’04

Originally from Vancouver, BC, Joshua credits his experience at the Castle with instilling a desire to seize the initiative and follow his interests.

Michelle Web

Joshua’s undergraduate studies centred around linguistics. He came to the Castle because he wanted an international exchange experience for his first year of university. The BISC’s close proximity to mainland Europe offered ample opportunities to travel. “After travelling throughout Europe during my first year, I definitely focused on taking more German and French courses when I got back to Queen's, based on the positive travel experiences I had,” says Joshua.

After finishing his Bachelor of Arts at Queen's University in Linguistics, Joshua went on to study Law at the University of Toronto. “I finished law school and began my career as an Assistant Crown Attorney in North York,” says Joshua, “I then moved to the Peace River, in Northern Alberta, where I was a Crown Prosecutor for three years before moving to Calgary.” Joshua spent five years in Calgary before returning to Toronto, where he is now an Assistant Crown Attorney in Scarborough.

For Joshua, his experience at the Castle taught him to explore and push his limits. “It pushed me to try new experiences and take risks.” says Joshua, “During my first year at the Castle, I played with a local rugby club, travelled throughout Europe on my own the entire year, and spent Spring Break sleeping in a bookstore in Paris!”

Joshua believes the BISC definitely influenced his career at the decision to move from the largest city in Canada to Peace River, a town of six thousand where he had a wonderful experience prosecuting as well as seeing the Northern Lights, hunting, snowshoeing, ice fishing… and running away from a moose in his backyard!

“The Castle provided me with lifelong friends, unique memories and helped me grow as a person,” says Joshua. “It definitely challenged me to take my own initiative to follow and develop my own interests and hobbies.”

Joshua has high hopes for the Castle as we all move into a post-pandemic world. “I think we owe it to the future to keep the Castle program alive for everyone else to have even better experiences,“ he says.

Yetunde Ashiru, BISC’04

Originally from Lagos, Nigeria, Yetunde heard about Queen’s while studying at Columbia International College in Hamilton. When a friend applied for the Castle she just had to apply too!

Elamin Web

Yetunde had already been accepted by Queen's University when a friend started talking about how she applied not just to a Queen’s program at a castle – but at a castle where you could spend a whole year and have the opportunity to visit different places in the UK and Europe, too. “I was so excited to hear about it as I already had a bit of wanderlust,” says Yetunde, “I went online to see what it was all about and then got even more excited!” Yetunde applied and after waiting anxiously for a response, was so happy to be accepted that all she could talk about for weeks was going to England.

Yetunde’s academic interests varied during her time at the BISC. She describes how her learning took a whole turn because she had such an immersive learning experience. “I'm so happy I took History,” says Yetunde, “because we got to go to the places we were learning about in class. The opportunity to add context to the dates and stories that were being discussed in class was invaluable.”

“The experience most likely played a part in choosing my final degree too,” says Yetunde, “I graduated with a degree in Geography with concentrations in Economic and Political Geography.”

After the Castle, Yetunde completed her undergraduate degree at Queen's and went on to do a Master's degree in International Business at Grenoble Ecole De Management in France. “My experience from the Castle gave me the strength, if you want to call it that, to be open to the unexpected,” says Yetunde.

Yetunde has had a varied and interesting career. She started working in Logistics with FedEx, then moved on to do her Master’s in France. Using her degree in business, Yetunde started working in financial services as a credit analyst in France. “It was a great time for me, and when I moved on, I transferred the skills I had learnt from my previous position and moved into research.” Yetunde worked in the market research space for three years before moving on to her current role as the Operations Manager for a start-up business, Vetifly, in Paris.

“I believe my time at the Castle gave me the courage to be able to move on and be positive about the outcome of my actions. No risk, no reward, as some would say,” says Yetunde.

Yetunde has only great memories of the time she spent at the Castle. From the Headless Drummer, to the winding roads around the residence, ELOs and even the food in the Dining Hall. “It was an experience that I would not trade as it was my first exposure to ‘what could be’,” says Yetunde.

Yetunde was only too happy to share her experiences and believes alumni are often delighted to observe the changes for the better that have been made since people left the BISC. She hopes there is another reunion soon. “I'd love to reconnect with the people I went to the Castle with,” says Yetunde, “It would be very cool to meet up!”

Kaylia Little, BISC’11

Vancouver native Kaylia still recalls the day her father delivered the acceptance letter from the Castle as one of the most exciting memories of her teenage years.

Laurel Web

Kaylia describes having a love of travel and discovering histories and different cultures from an early age. She stumbled upon a brochure for the Castle at a university information fair and fell in love with the idea of small classes in a historic castle, with ample opportunities to learn various topics at their sources across Europe. “Studying the First World War at Ypres and art history at the Louvre sounded like a dream come true for my first year of university,” says Kaylia. “I was eager to explore the diverse courses offered at the Castle and study with like-minded peers who were interested in learning and travelling with a sense of adventure!” After sending off half a dozen applications, Kaylia realized the only one she was waiting anxiously on was her offer letter from the BISC, so she was absolutely thrilled to be accepted.

Kaylia’s courses and experiences at the Castle opened her up to new possibilities. “I rediscovered my interest in French at the Castle after a three-year gap,” she says, “and I went on to minor in French for my undergraduate because of the great experiences I had at the Castle.” As for her Major, Kaylia decided to combine her interest in Geography, History, and International Affairs and returned to Queen’s to Major in Global Development Studies. “I was very happy to see that the introduction to global development was added to the course offerings at the Castle since myself and many of my peers were very interested in this subject,” Kaylia recalls.

Kaylia remembers her time at the Castle fondly because it fostered her interest in volunteering in the local community. “I volunteered at the Brownbread Horse Rescue,” says Kaylia. “My time at the Rescue allowed me to connect with locals and care for horses who otherwise wouldn’t be alive. It was a beautiful reminder to get outside and work with your hands to break up the long days of sitting in a classroom, or at my desk studying.”

After studying at the Castle, Kaylia spent the remaining three years at Queen’s and greatly enjoyed her time in Kingston, where she was able to get involved with the community in various ways, including two years as President of the Nyantende Foundation - a non-profit founded by another BISC Alumni that subsidizes the costs of school for young students in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After receiving a strong theoretical foundation at Queen’s, Kaylia went to the University of Waterloo for a Master’s in International Development Practice. There she was able to continue the love of travel and hands-on learning that was solidified at the Castle with an international practicum in Southern Cameroon with Cuso International.

“After my MDP in 2016, I wanted to gain work experience in Canada,” says Kaylia, “In 2018, I decided to return to school once more, this time for a PhD in Sustainability Management and back at the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development at Waterloo.”

Working with the Ontario Native Women’s Association in Thunder Bay, Kaylia was able to work on many impactful policies and advocate for the needs of Indigenous women at a provincial level. Still eager for learning and travel, she attended numerous conferences across Canada. “My career and education paths have always been intertwined, which I attribute to my time at the Castle,” says Kaylia. “I enjoy connecting my learning in the classroom to real-world experiences.” Inspired by her time at the Ontario Native Women’s Association and in Cameroon, her PhD research intersects with gender politics, renewable energy and remote communities.

More recently, Kaylia has embarked on a new adventure, moving to Iqaluit, Nunavut. Kaylia’s move north has been motivated by her growing research and professional interest in the Arctic and Arctic communities. During her time as a PhD researcher, Kaylia has worked on a project with Global Affairs Canada, and most recently, she has advised the Government of Nunavut on economic development policy.

“The most obvious lasting effect of the Castle would be meeting my partner, James Barsby, BISC ’11 (BAh ’15, MPA ’16), who I met at the Castle in 2011.” says Kaylia, “We were able to travel Europe together throughout first year and have continued our adventures since.”

More broadly, Kaylia thinks the Castle helped her prove to herself that getting outside your comfort zone and being open to new experiences is the best way to learn and grow.

Kaylia would recommend the Castle to any student looking for a unique and engaging first-year experience. The small class sizes made the transition to university a highly positive experience, and the small cohort of undergrads also encourages a deeper sense of collaboration. ”I think every student benefits from experiential learning and think the BISC is a prime example of how to do it effectively.” says Kaylia.

In closing, Kaylia remarked, “I want to acknowledge that the Castle is not accessible to every student, and I deeply believe in the bursaries that Queen’s offers to interested students. The Castle is a wonderful and unique opportunity that should be available to everyone, so I highly encourage alumni and supporters that are in a position to give to do so.”

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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
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