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Asheefa Sarangi, BISC'97

Asheefa’s enchantment with the UK began at a young age after a holiday with her mother. Her time at the Castle deepened a connection that ultimately led to dual Canadian-British citizenship via naturalization.

Asheefa Web

Scarborough, Ontario native Asheefa Sarangi looks back on her time at the BISC extremely fondly. “I really enjoyed the intimate class sizes, the calibre and companionship of my fellow students and the opportunity to see so many culturally significant sights in the UK and continental Europe that were relevant to our studies,” she says.

There was, however, one major drawback; Asheefa had to miss an entire figure skating season to attend the BISC. This was quite a wrench because during high school, Asheefa was a member of the Canadian Synchronized National Team at both the junior and senior level. She even placed second at the 1996 World Spring Cup in Milan, Italy.

After her time at the Castle, Asheefa went back to Queen's for one year and continued to skate. She was named to the Canadian Synchronized National Team in the summer of 1999, but was forced to make the difficult decision to retire from competitive figure skating when she was accepted into the Ivey School of Business at Western. It became impossible to juggle assignments and the time off required to attend national and international competitions.

After Asheefa retired from skating, she became a figure skating judge and gave back to the sport until she moved abroad. She has lived and worked around the world, won numerous accolades (including being named as one of the top 40 under 40 rising stars in Investment Banking across Europe, the Middle East and Africa) and climbed the ranks to be a Managing Director in a brokerage and investment group in Hong Kong, where she currently resides. Throughout all of this, Asheefa never lost her love of skating. Most recently, she was appointed to the Board of British Ice Skating in 2019.

“My time at the Castle influenced me enormously,” says Asheefa. “In my view, it was a pivotal decision that has had a very positive impact on my life. I moved back to the UK after a few years of working in Toronto, obtained British citizenship via naturalization and subsequently married a Brit!”

Asheefa feels honoured to feature in this edition of the Spotlight Series. “The Castle network is a relatively small but powerful group of immensely talented and interesting individuals who have experienced something utterly unique,” she says. “Why wouldn't you want to keep in touch, reminisce, and help ensure this opportunity remains available to others?”

Michelle Kasaboski, BISC’12

An award-winning Jazz and Contemporary singer on the Canadian music scene, Michelle credits her time at the Castle and the impact of BISC Musicians in Residence, Diana Gilchrist and Shelley Katz, in particular, with deepening her love affair with music.

Michelle Web

Growing up in Kingston, professional musician Michelle had always wanted to study abroad, but the Castle experience presented itself at something of a crossroads in her undergraduate studies. Michelle had taken a year off after her second year at Queen's because, by her own admission, she had become unsure of her goals and was struggling to stay motivated.

“I remember learning about the Castle's Spring and Summer semesters (the format is a little different now) and knew immediately that I wanted to go there,” says Michelle. “I also remember telling my Dad about my decision to go and how determined I was to save up the money and apply.”

Michelle felt that the Castle could be a great way to transition back into her studies, and her instincts proved to be spot on! “I found myself feeling very inspired by the campus and grounds, as well as being exposed to so much incredible art and culture on trips to London,” she says. “The course content combined with more ‘hands-on’ opportunities to take in the subject matter made me hungrier for educational experiences that excited me and were more integrated in their approach.”

After the Castle, Michelle returned to Queen's to complete a BA with a specialization in music and graduated in 2013. She then went on to complete a post-graduate diploma in Business Administration in Human Resources at St. Lawrence College, before moving to Montreal. Inspired by the city’s spirit and art scene, Michelle ended up working in a fashion photography studio, but it soon became clear to her that pursuing a full-time career in music was what she needed to do. For Michelle, that meant returning to Queen’s to complete a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance, where she currently juggles her studies while performing as a professional musician.

Michelle has been commended for her rich tone and vocal command. She continues to draw praise from audiences and musicians alike, with sold-out performances at the Isabel Rehearsal Hall and Kingston’s Grand Theatre. Michelle’s most recent stamp of approval has come from platinum selling recording artist and Canadian tenor, John McDermott, with whom Michelle joined as a guest at his Kingston and Ottawa Christmas concerts in December 2019. In addition to such performance successes, Michelle was one of six artists to win the YGK Emerging Musician competition in 2019 and to perform at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts at Queen’s.

“My time at the Castle holds a special place in my heart as a professional musician because my perspective on singing was changed there,” says Michelle. “Studying with Diana and Shelley changed my life because they helped me to connect with my voice and with music in a way that I had yet to experience.”

For more information on Michelle and her upcoming events, visit www.michellekasaboski.com.

Elamin Abdelmahmoud, BISC’08

Journalist Elamin Abdelmahmoud from Kingston, Ontario, cherishes his memories of the Castle and credits the experience with instilling in him the resilience and empathy he needs to succeed.

Elamin Web

Elamin would love to say that it was a shiny brochure for the BISC that persuaded him to apply (after all, as he points out, it is a truly stunning location) but the truth is it was his then girlfriend, now wife, Emily Burns, who insisted they apply to the Castle.

“I hadn't heard much about it,” Elamin admits. “Meanwhile, for Emily, the Castle was one of the main reasons she decided to apply to Queen's in the first place.”

At the time he attended the BISC, Elamin was planning on majoring in philosophy. However, since graduating from Queen’s in 2011, he has pursued a career in journalism with highlights including: hosting a podcast for CBC’s “Party Lines” with Rosemary Barton; appearing as a regular guest on both TV and radio panels; and working as an Editor with BuzzFeed Canada. As of fall 2020, Elamin will also become a published author with the official launch of his first book of personal essays: Son of Elsewhere.

“Part of my job is to summarize the news for newsletter readers. I think back to that time at the Castle, an extended period of stay away from home, and really cherish it,” says Elamin. “It's one thing to travel and visit places, but it's another to stay in a context different than your own for a while. It builds resilience and empathy and those are skills I use every day at work.”

Elamin feels that it was the Castle’s ability to bring history to life that had the most profound effect on him. “It's one thing to read about Canada's involvement in the Dieppe Raid, but it's another to be standing on that beach,” suggests Elamin. “It deepens your relationship to everything you've read.”

Elamin would recommend the Castle to any prospective student. “It’s all too easy to believe you don't live in a bubble. That is, until you're put in a different context and realize how much bigger the world is than you thought. The Castle is a brief and beautiful window into that wider expanse. And you get university credits for it!”

On the subject of staying in touch with the Castle network, Elamin is quick to point out that he was only able to attend the Castle thanks to an incredibly generous bursary. “I know what the Castle experience means to me personally, so I get excited for the students who are getting to go to the Castle now,” says Elamin. “I think in turn, having alumni staying in touch can help to make their experiences even more valuable. And what a privilege that is!”

Laurel Hilton-Devitt, BISC'08

Proud Castle alumna Laurel jumped at the chance to attend the BISC’s 25th anniversary celebrations last summer. She says her time at the Castle has impacted her life in a huge way.

Laurel Web

Originally from Peterborough, Ontario, Laurel enrolled at the Castle for the winter term in her third year at Queen’s.

“A trip to Europe when I was 18 solidified my hope to be a citizen of the world and started my love for travel,” says Laurel.  “The Castle was the perfect choice because it seemed like an ideal balance of international education - a place with a rich history and a great base from which I could check out other European countries.”

Laurel was able to take elective courses such as Early Modern England History and Art History that weren’t directly related to her degree, but had been personal areas of interest for a long time. Ultimately, while studying at the Castle, Laurel became more interested in business, marketing and current affairs and also made a fairly momentous decision: “I really did become focused on the idea of coming back to the UK to live and work,” she says.

After graduating from Queen’s, Laurel completed a marketing internship at Flare Magazine, Rogers Media Inc. in Toronto. “I had always wanted to work in publishing, either as a writer or on the business side,” she says. “As I became more interested in business, I enrolled in a graduate marketing certificate at the University of Toronto and completed it while working.”

Following a successful internship, Laurel started full time at Rogers Media and worked in marketing on almost every major title they owned including Maclean’s Magazine, Canadian Business, Today’s Parent, Sportsnet and Chatelaine brands. She then took her other passion for current affairs to the business-to-business world and to PwC Canada on their Marketing, Brand and Sponsorship team.

“I still had that desire to work in the UK that the Castle had inspired in me,” says Laurel, “so when I turned 30, I realised I needed to finally make it happen! I applied for a visa and a job at PwC in London.”

Just over three years later, in her current role as Marketing Lead in Deloitte’s UK Global Office, Laurel drives marketing and business development activity across key geographic markets, identifying strategic partnerships for the firm.

Laurel describes the Castle as the catalyst for her international career. “I have adapted to life here and cannot imagine my love affair with all things England without my experience at the Castle. I met my London-born partner here and hope to pursue British citizenship next year.”

For Laurel, the BISC’s 25th anniversary celebrations were an opportunity to show her partner the special place that had made her want to live in England. “We had an incredible time with friends, and I decided it was time to give back,” she says. “I have set up annual contributions to the BISC as a proud alumna, because of the impact my time at the Castle ultimately ended up having on my own life.”

Back to the BISC Spotlight Series

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