For History professor Dr. Rebecca Clifford, her time at the Castle not only sparked a love affair with Great Britain, but an insatiable desire to travel and experience other cultures.
Rebecca made the brave decision to come to the Castle in only its second year of operation. For students at Queen’s, the Castle was still something of an unknown quantity at that time. “I think I just fancied trying my hand at living abroad -- although what I chiefly remember is that I was quite frightened by the prospect as well,” she says, “It took all my courage to get on that plane to Heathrow!”
Originally from Kingston ON, the BISC was Rebecca’s first ever experience of being outside of Canada. It had a profound effect on her future and not just academically. Rebecca says, “It wholly re-shaped me as a person. I fell in love with travel, in love with the experience of seeing another culture from the inside, and utterly in love with Great Britain. I eventually made Britain my permanent home.”
After her time at the Castle, Rebecca returned to Queen's and finished her degree (a BA Honours in History). She admits that she always longed to return to Britain, and eventually went back to England to complete a PhD at Oxford.
“I think 'meandering' is probably the best word to describe my career path,” says Rebecca. “I have had different jobs in different fields, and I have enjoyed them all, but the one common thread is that all of my work has been abroad; after the Castle, I remained permanently hungry for that experience of immersion in a foreign culture.”
Rebecca taught English on the JET program in Japan for three years and then worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs in China. At the age of nearly 30, she won a scholarship to do a PhD in Modern History at Oxford, and that has led to a very fulfilling academic career. Rebecca does not see it as the end of her career journey however. “I remain open to new experiences - and that all started with my time at the Castle,” she says.
“My time at the Castle opened the world up so that everywhere felt like a potential home, and I no longer felt bound by my culture of origin. You might say I was bitten terribly hard by the travel bug, and I have never been able to stop travelling.”
Rebecca first visited Wales on a weekend trip with friends from the Castle and the experience certainly left its mark. “I held the sweeping, foggy vistas of the Brecon Beacons in my mind for many years,” says Rebecca. “In 2009, I came back - this time to work as a history professor at Swansea University - and ten years on, the romance of the culture and the beauty of the landscape excite me just as much as they did in 1995.”
Svetlana Mitsuko Delous, BISC’05
Svetlana’s alma mater UBC offered her the chance to apply to the Castle by writing an essay. Seizing the opportunity ultimately led to her dream job as an acrobat and aerialist in Cirque du Soleil.
University of British Columbia (UBC) graduate Svetlana began her undergraduate studies with a year on exchange at the Castle. “I was able to take a broad range of courses at the Castle in subjects I was not necessarily familiar with,” she says. “I discovered a love of Spanish Literature, which I later chose along with Psychology as one of my double majors.”
It was while at the BISC that Svetlana recalls persuading some of her classmates to take the train to London to watch Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Alegria’ at the Royal Albert Hall. “Studying at the Castle gave me access to all the incredible art, history, science, and architecture that living in a European hub has to offer,” says Svetlana. “It was inspiring, motivating and completely eye-opening!”
“At the Castle, I learned to set high goals and was surrounded by exemplary classmates with equally large ambitions,” says Svetlana. “We were juggling classes, travel, homework, essays, Duke of Edinburgh awards, mid-term trips, London visits, and much more.” This metaphorical and literal juggling continued on her return to UBC where in addition to her double major studies, she worked full-time at a school for children with autism and also trained in the circus arts full-time. She would go on to co-found a circus school called The Circus Lab in Langley, BC. The Circus Lab now hosts hundreds of recreational students, pre-professional young adults, and students with autism each year, tutoring them in the circus arts.
While completing her final year of a Master's in Education at UBC, Svetlana’s career path changed drastically when she received an invitation to audition for Cirque du Soleil. She seized the opportunity and now travels the world full-time as an acrobatic character, aerialist, artist-coach (and understudy clown!) in Cirque du Soleil’s renowned show, ‘OVO’.
In 2018, things came around full circle for Svetlana, when she performed with Cirque du Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall, facing the very seats from where she had once sat in awe of ‘Algeria’ as a first year BISC student.
Svetlana says, “My time at the Castle surrounded me with high-achieving peers who had huge goals and aspirations of their own. It encouraged me to aim high, which I definitely did. The BISC also nurtured my curiosity, willingness to learn and a spirit of adventure – concepts that have never let me down!”
Camilo Montoya-Guevara, BISC’10
Camilo Montoya-Guevara – who grew up in Toronto and hails from Pereira, Colombia - opted for the immersive, experiential-learning-focussed experience at the BISC.
Camilo’s academic interests were enhanced and changed in two very profound ways while he was studying at the Castle. Firstly, while he initially thought he would be focussing on art, cultural and language studies, he was also exposed to the political sciences. This greatly influenced his future studies and career path as a whole - so much so that he was torn between majoring in Political Science or Art History.
The opportunity to learn about political history, theory, and contemporary political relations expanded his understanding of cultural studies by connecting the processes of cultural development with the realities, opportunities and constraints of politics. This exposure developed into a strong passion for cultural and development studies, leading Camilo to eventually opt for a major in Art History, with the political perspective provided through an International Studies Certificate at Queen’s.
Secondly, Camilo took the opportunity to begin learning German at the BISC. His appreciation for the language has greatly influenced his professional growth as he continued to study German throughout his Master’s studies. “My passion for language learning would not have grown were it not for the chance to study German at the Castle,” says Camilo.
After the Castle, Camilo completed a full-year exchange at the University of Edinburgh, a city that he had first visited during one of the Castle’s mid-term trips. Then, after graduating from Queen’s, he went on to obtain a Master’s of Cultural Heritage Policy and Management at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary.
As the Research & Evaluation Officer on the Grow Food Tourism consulting team at the Culinary Tourism Alliance, a non-for-profit organization, Camilo works with diverse communities to grow food tourism by leveraging the history, heritage, and culture behind the food and drink that makes their destinations unique.
Prior to his current role in research and evaluation of food tourism growth, a position that allows him to combine his passions for cultural development and political studies, Camilo also spent three months in Colombia researching Indigenous and Government relations in cultural governance and worked in Germany at a cultural development consultancy.
“The exposure to different cultures, languages and the new sense of adventure fostered by my travels while at the Castle has pushed me to put myself out there and take advantage of opportunities in different places,” says Camilo. “I’ve had the chance to explore the world, to grow as a person, and to better understand my academic and professional interests.”
Camilo’s time at the BISC has had a deep impact personally as well as professionally. “I met some of the most important people in my life, with whom I’ve grown up and shared so much,” he says. “Our friendships since the Castle have been extended to include multiple shared life-experiences around the world. This group of friends is like a family - they have visited me when I've lived abroad, I visit them all over the country, and we have shared multiple new journeys around the world since our time at the BISC.”
Ashlie Corcoran, BISC’97
Drama major Ashlie went from stage-managing a play in the Castle Ballroom to Artistic Director of the Arts Club Theatre Company, Canada's largest non-profit urban theatre company.
White Rock, BC native Ashlie was given an opportunity through the University of British Columbia (UBC) to apply for a first-year scholarship to the BISC. She regards it as an opportunity that completely changed her life. “I feel really fortunate to have been given the opportunity to study at the Castle,” says Ashlie. “It had a huge impact on my life.”
Acquiring a passion in high school, Ashlie always knew she wanted to study Drama, and ultimately work in theatre, although she didn’t know what that meant in practical terms. “When I was at the Castle, I saw a play a week (often in London) with my Drama class. [I also] co-produced and stage-managed a play in the Ballroom at Herstmonceux Castle!” says Ashlie. “It was during those experiences that I realized I wanted to be a director. As I remember putting it to my parents in an email that winter, as much fun as I was having stage managing, I definitely wanted more creative control!”
After her first year at the BISC, Ashlie transferred from UBC to Queen's, where she completed a BA Honours in Drama. She returned to England in 2003/04, as a Chevening Scholar to do her MA in directing at the University of London’s Goldsmiths College.
Ashlie started her career as a freelance director, and later created her own independent theatre company. She later spent five years as the Artistic Director of the Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, ON. For the past year and a half, she has been working in Vancouver, BC, as the Artistic Director of the Arts Club Theatre Company, Canada's largest non-profit urban theatre company.
To this day, Ashlie regards the BISC as a rather extraordinary way to launch her adult life. “I learned so much there - not just in my academic studies (which were rigorous, challenging and exciting) - but also from the other 100-or-so Canadian first year university students who were there,” she says. “In some ways I think I learned more about Canada than Britain!”
Ashlie’s obvious affection for the Castle is difficult to ignore. “The experiential learning opportunities, small classes, and passionate professors launched me into my academic career with curiosity, joy and gratitude,” she says. “I feel so fortunate I was given this life-changing opportunity!”
Ashlie laughed out loud when we asked if she would recommend the Castle to a prospective student. “Not only would I recommend it hypothetically, but I actually already do whenever I am given the chance!” she said.