Josh de Cruz
Humanities offered the broad view and broad-based approach I needed.
'I was in an unrewarding office job, not career, that found me slumped in front of a computer during working hours and slumped in front of the television at night. I had spent over 10 years as a trade union activist at work, representing and defending colleagues, encouraging others to realise their potential and make the most of the limited developmental opportunities that came their way, and had begun to believe it was about time that I took the same advice I gave others.
'I had dropped out of further education within a year of leaving school but had maintained my interests in a haphazard fashion, reading widely but without purpose, developing interests in music, film and current affairs, but modern history remained a fairly constant obsession. However, without the focus that studying at Birkbeck brought to it, looking back, my interest remained mostly just a hobby and a directionless one at that. Despite dropping out before and again ten years later with the Open University, I still believed I had the ability to get a degree as did my family and friends.
'At the start of 2004, the Government announce its intention to begin a programme of job cuts within the Civil Service, where I worked, and I felt I needed a Plan B in my life and get some letters after my name, so any job cull would not leave me and my family - I’m married with a young child - exposed. So it was a combination of a feeling of unfinished business with academia and the need to broaden my mind and my job/career opportunities that led me to Birkbeck. I could not afford not to work, there were (and still are) too many bills to pay, but the Open University’s extended degree programme took far too long and the isolation of the OU student had tripped me up before. Birkbeck had it all – part time study within a realistic timescale and regular weekly contact between students and tutors in the form of lectures and seminars: no remote learning, but a real prestigious degree programme that mirrored the demands of an authentic academic life but designed for busy hardworking Londoners like myself. What I didn’t bargain for when I began my degree was how enjoyable and stimulating it would all be for me, and Plan B soon became Plan A..
'Although my main interest was and remains modern history, I didn’t want to restrict myself too much and wasn’t sure exactly where my true strengths and abilities were. The kind of history I was interested in understood that history cannot be seen or truly understood in isolation. Humanities offered the broad view and broad-based approach that would give me the wide perspective I needed. By combining Humanities with other academic disciplines, English, History, Philosophy, etc, I got the best grounding I could have asked for. I was able to pursue my interest in modern history but also to study, with Humanities, the incredibly wide cultural contexts we all live in and within which history takes place. In my time with Humanities, we were introduced to a variety of sources, materials and ideas from philosophy, politics and psychology to film, art, and music, from Gothic horror novels to modern detective fiction. It was exhilarating, exciting, sometimes exasperating, but always stimulating, blowing the cobwebs from my brain. It developed my interest in the interplay between ideas, cultural, political and social history, in the fundamental inter-connectedness of things, and I am now following my Humanities degree with an MA in World History which retains the multi-disciplinary approach I found so rewarding with Humanities.
'The most inspiring element of my degree was none of the above however, it was my fellow students. It was their friendship, their encouragement and their example that got me through those dark days when the work/life balance seemed to be squeezing Birkbeck out of time and when the pressure of work and my studies seemed too heavy too bear. Sometimes it did get hard but you only get out what you put in and the benefits of making good friends, and having a cheap bar on site, were massive. It was a humbling experience too with many students doing their degrees with English as a second language. I’ve made some good friends at Birkbeck, friends that will last a lifetime.
'I finished my BA Humanities and History in summer 2008 and was awarded a first class honours degree. My relationship with Birkbeck is ongoing as my MA will take me into 2010; beyond that remains to be seen. I fully intend to translate my studies into something positive and to try to share my enthusiasms in the pursuit of a new career when my studies finish, one that unchains me from the computer screen. My friends and family have noticed the change in me for the better, without their support and without Birkbeck none of this would have been possible.