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Renad Mansour, BISC’06

For Pickering Ontario’s Renad Mansour, the Castle provided not just a classroom, but a glimpse into a world of possibilities for travel and a career in international affairs.

Asheefa Web

Renad was born in Tehran and grew up in Damascus, Syria, Scarborough and then eventually Pickering, Ontario.

He attended the BISC in his first year, deciding early on that he wanted to study social sciences and international relations. The opportunities to travel around the UK and Europe set the Castle apart from other programs in Canada at the time, “So I applied and crossed my fingers, eagerly watching the mailbox for months,” he says.

Renad had taken classes in world history and current affairs at school in Canada, but his time at the Castle offered a deeper dive into European history and its role in shaping the international system. “I became particularly interested in the colonial history of the British Empire in the Middle East, where I was from and where my ancestors had lived,” says Renad.

After finishing his undergraduate degree, Renad decided that he wasn't finished with either school or the UK. He crossed the Atlantic again to complete a masters and a PhD in International Relations at the University of Cambridge. Renad says his time at the Castle played a big role in this decision. “After finishing my PhD, I began working in think-tanks and policy research, while occasionally teaching,” he says. “After submitting my dissertation, I went back to Beirut, Lebanon, where I had lived before. I took a position as a research fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Centre. Then, I returned, yet again, to the UK to take up a position at Chatham House (the Royal Institute for International Affairs), where I am now a senior research fellow.”

Renad is also an educator. He has taught International Relations of the Middle East at London School of Economics (LSE) and the University of Cambridge. Many of the concepts that interest him, the subjects he teaches and much of the policy research that he conducts, can be traced back to things he learned during his year at the Castle – both inside and outside the classroom. “In a way, the BISC made my life more international,” says Renad, “it opened up networks into Europe and the UK, where I currently live and work.”

Renad admits that at the time he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do in life, but after leaving the Castle he definitely felt much more committed to policy research and greatly appreciated the opportunities he had been given to engage with policy-makers in London, Brussels and Paris. “Living abroad is an important learning experience for any student,” says Renad. “The BISC not only provides small classrooms and high levels of engagement with your professors, but life skills that simply can’t be taught in the classroom. I often find it difficult to describe my exceptional experience at the Castle to friends and family, and really do it justice.” He recently co-authored “Once Upon a Time in Iraq” based on a BBC series that he consulted that looked at the legacy of the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Amy Hall, BISC’03

Amy’s time at the Castle fuelled a love for travel and learning through experience - but most importantly, it taught her how to leap into the unknown, take risks, and trust in herself.

Michelle Web

Queen's was already at the top of Amy’s list, and when she saw a presentation on the BISC at a university fair she was immediately hooked. The opportunity to study abroad as well as attend Kingston campus the following year felt like the best of both worlds.

“I already knew I would be majoring in Art History, so the opportunity to see the works I would be studying first-hand felt like a once in a lifetime experience,” says Amy.

Amy remained an art history major throughout her academic career. Appreciating the benefits of experiential learning at the Castle led Amy to apply to Queen's Venice Summer School in her third year of undergraduate studies. She eventually went on to complete a Masters in Art History at Queen's, graduating in 2010.

"My career path since graduation has been somewhat non-traditional,” says Amy, “but each step has, in hindsight, greatly contributed to me being able to start my own business.”

After graduation, Amy worked with a graphic design studio as a Client Relations Manager, and then as an Events and Marketing Coordinator for a wedding venue located on a 75-acre farm. Each of these positions were during the first three years of the respective businesses starting, so in addition to all of the skills she learned that were specific to her job title, she also gained an important sense of what it really takes to get a business off the ground.

Amy says she has always had an itch for travel and greater adventure. She eventually made the decision to move from Lindsay, Ontario, to Vancouver Island, but she had no idea what she would do for a career, or indeed if the move would end up being a total flop! “I didn't want to live with the feeling of ‘what if?’" says Amy, “so I took some time off to travel before making the move. I chose to explore the South Pacific and volunteer with a shark conservation project in Fiji.”

Besides the awesome opportunity to scuba-dive with sharks, the biggest impact of the volunteer work was seeing first-hand what plastics were doing to marine life in our oceans. As Amy continued her travels through Australia and New Zealand, the experience was always in the back of her mind, as was a commitment to living a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

“I first heard of something called beeswax wraps (an eco-friendly alternative to plastic wrap) on my journey throughout Australia and upon returning home to Canada, decided to try and make some as a gift for my mom, the proverbial 'Plastic Wrap Queen'.” says Amy. “It turned out to be more difficult than I had anticipated but I eventually got it right. My mom loved them, and so did her friends. And the rest, as they say, is history.”

Amy’s company - Goldilocks Wraps - was founded soon after and has been flourishing for the last three years. Each reusable beeswax wrap is made individually by hand in small batches. What started as a hobby in Ontario has quickly become a full-grown business that continues to expand into more eco-friendly products.

Isabelle Duchaine, BISC’09 and ’13

Isabelle is the Director of Operations for a fast-growing not-for-profit: the Business+Higher Education Roundtable. She attributes her time at the Castle as the place where she first became confident in her own abilities.

Elamin Web

Brighton, Ontario native Isabelle enjoyed her first year at the BISC so much that she returned three years later for a specialized summer program.

The decision to attend the Castle was an absolute no-brainer for Isabelle. “I grew up in a very small town. We didn't even get a Tim Hortons until after I graduated high school,” she says.

Isabelle explains that there are perks to living in relative isolation (walking to school through an apple orchard, wear-your-rubber-boots-to-school-day, and prom at the local curling club, for example) but there can also be drawbacks. “I used to be a fairly introverted person,” says Isabelle. “I fell in love with history by reading the Magic Treehouse series as a little kid, and I couldn't believe that there was a chance to spend my first year in the United Kingdom. I was the type of teenager who got excited when we got to go to a Walmart!”

After spending her first year at the BISC, Isabelle returned to Canada to continue her studies in Kingston. Any concerns she might have had about not transitioning well from the Castle to a traditional campus environment proved unfounded. “Thanks to the friends I made at Herstmonceux and a number of clubs on campus, the transition was actually pretty smooth,” says Isabelle.

Isabelle studied conflict resolution at the Castle in the summer of 2013, and she split her time between Herstmonceux and Istanbul, Turkey. “Not only did I meet people and deepen friendships, but [the experience] prepared me for the following summer, when I served as an intern in the Democracy Program at The Carter Centre in Atlanta, Georgia,” says Isabelle.

Isabelle credits the Castle as the place where she learned to think quickly, parse information, and balance having fun with focusing on her schoolwork. “Coming to the Castle was not just an opportunity to embrace my incredibly nerdy passion for history and learning,” she admits. “It also taught me how to take risks - both in terms of travel and academically. If you want to seriously engage in rigorous academic study alongside people who embrace history and are curious about the world, go to the Castle!”

Isabelle may be a proud advocate for the BISC, but she is also pragmatic in her closing remarks. “If we’re honest, the Castle is simply out of reach for many students,” she says. “So if we truly believe in equitable access to education and the Castle experience, we need to do everything we can to ensure that students from all racial, financial and family backgrounds are able to attend.” For opportunities to support bursaries for current Castle students, please visit the BISC’s giving page.

Stacia Loft, BISC’18

To-date, Stacia is the most recent Castle alumna to be featured in the BISC Spotlight Series. Dedicated to serving Indigenous communities, she proudly served for four consecutive years as Band Councillor of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, ON

Laurel Web

Queen’s Law grad Stacia is committed to empowering Indigenous peoples to access cultural, language, educational and employment opportunities and to achieve financial independence. She has a deep knowledge of the justice system and its impact on Indigenous people, and has worked in various capacities in areas of mental health services, homelessness, youth programs and policy development.

Stacia came to the Castle in the summer of 2018 to attend the BISC’s International Law Program. She says she wanted to expand her legal career to include the study and application of international law, particularly in relation to Indigenous issues.

She says, “I have always had an interest in international law and there were interesting areas covered in the program that I had not considered studying before, such as Oceans Law, and the Law of Armed Conflict.“

On leaving the Castle, Stacia completed her Juris Doctorate at Queen's and graduated in January 2020, a full semester ahead of schedule. “The International Law Program at the Castle led me to apply for articling positions with a focus on international law,” says Stacia. “I am currently articling with Amnesty International Canada, putting learnings from the program directly into practice.”

Stacia recalls the International Law Program at the Castle was challenging but rewarding, describing the opportunity to study abroad and learn from practitioners in the field as invaluable. “My time at the Castle opened up a number of personal and professional opportunities for me,” says Stacia. “It not only broadened my interest in international law, but also highlighted a number of potential areas of future practice.”

Unsurprisingly for someone who has been involved in various youth projects, development  programs, and advocating for positive change for so many years, Stacia is keen for all BISC alumni to forge a deeper sense of community.

“It is important for alumni to share their insights, experiences and recommendations to improve access to programs and offerings at the Castle,” she says. “Staying connected also facilitates life-long learning and assists with identifying solutions to issues of national and international importance.”

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