Reflections on an evening with Angela and her Bach.

contributed by Lizzie Slattery, 2nd Year LANS student

Last Friday a group of LANS students and staff members attended an Angela Hewitt piano recital at the Birmingham Town Hall where she played six suites by Johan Sebastian Bach. Hewitt is arguably one of the most accomplished pianists alive today, having started her piano studies at the age of three in her home of Ottawa, Canada. She has since performed all over the world and is particularly known for her cycle of Bach recordings which took her over ten years to complete.

I am certainly no expert on classical music or piano playing and so cannot comment technically on the performance. However it appeared evident that Hewitt is a pianist of astonishing skill, and is deeply emotionally connected with the music of Bach. It is quite something to sit through six Bach suites, particularly if, like me, you are unaccustomed to doing so, and I sometimes found my attention wandering. It was always brought back, however, when I focused in on the music and listened to the weave of incredibly complex harmonies and rhythms which are constantly interacting in Bach’s music, as well as the dazzling gold dress she wore.

I asked some of those who attended to share their thoughts on the evening:

“Riveting. Ravishing. And Radiant. The whole performance was surreal. Angela Hewitt did not just play piano, she performed with her body and soul. It was extraordinary to watch. A definite must see for anyone who loves piano or classical music!” – Kimberley, year 2

“I’d never seen someone just play solo like that for a whole show which was really cool and it’s not something I’d go to otherwise. I did enjoy it, but I don’t think it was that amazing so I doubt I’ll go to something like it again, but I’m glad I went especially because the venue was so impressive.” – Joe, year 2

“I thought it was a lovely evening and very sophisticated. The playing was amazing, the standard too. And the riff at the end that she played was a funny, I can’t remember what she said now, was it what inspired Bach? Either way the history and playing was lovely.”  Miriam, year 2
“I thought it was an interesting experience. She was extremely talented. I think it may have been a difficult choice of music if you had never seen classical music before. But overall I enjoyed it.” – Sophie , year 2

And if you would like to read a professional journalist review of this show, you can always check the local press’ views

LANS Trip to Kiss Me Kate, by Lizzie Slattery

The Welsh National Opera’s production of Kiss Me Kate which LANS attended earlier this month was one of the most fun and unexpected shows I have seen. Having never watched the show before, and knowing very little about it, I went into the performance not knowing what to expect. For the first quarter of an hour or so I didn’t really know what to make of it and found the acting over the top and the pace a little slow. However, once I settled into the show it was fantastic. The mix of hilariously crude humour, fantastic ensemble dance scenes and some surprisingly touching moments between the lead cast members, made it a thoroughly enjoyable show- not to mention the extensive and lavish, operatic solos which punctuated the performance.

The feature of the show which I enjoyed the most was, without a doubt, the tap solo from Alan Burkitt (playing Bill, the drunkard boyfriend of young starlet, Louis Lane). The pace and skill of the dance was breath taking and utterly captured the audience.

The play within a play element of Kiss Me Kate is also part of the fun (and confustion!) of the production and the relationship between Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and Kiss Me Kate’s retelling of it is very interesting. Discussing the play afterwards with other LANS students, we noted how difficult it is for someone with our modern values of gender equality to accept the ‘moral’ of the tale told in the Taming of the Shrew- which is essentially that a women should change herself into a quiet, submissive and obedient in order to be acceptable to a man. I felt that the production left it slightly ambiguous where they came down on the issue; however Kate’s dominant attitude towards Fred (or Petruchio- his character in The Taming of the Shrew) in the final scene and during the cast’s bows, made me think that the show condemned the outdated attitude towards women which it had shown.

As Cassidy put it,

“Although the ending of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew felt a bit out of place with the modern setting of Kiss Me Kate, and doesn’t sit that well with contemporary attitudes, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the production.”

All in all it was an excellent production of Cole Porter’s classic musical, with a fantastic leading cast and extremely strong chorus!

“It was great, it wasn’t what I expected at all. It was very funny, the two gangsters made it. I’d never been to an opera before so I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a very modern play and wasn’t traditionally operatic. Very enjoyable, 10/10 would recommend to a friend”

Miriam, second year LANS student.

”I loved Kiss Me Kate. It was very different to the Marriage of Figaro that we went to last year – more of a musical/opera cross. It was properly laugh out loud funny, from the moment a pigeon got shot out of the sky to the lyrics of Brush up your Shakespeare.”

Cassidy, second year LANS student

LANS trip to the Colour and Vision exhibition, October 2016

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A number of Liberal Arts and Sciences students attended the Colour and Vision exhibition at the Natural History Museum, as part of our cultural programme during October 2016.  A few of them gave their review of the exhibition below.

‘Visually spectacular and informative with interesting interactive activities, would have liked it to be longer’ — Emily

‘I really enjoyed the whole thing, especially the model of evolution of the eye and seeing how on the way some organisms got themselves freakiest sets of those light sensors. And the colour symbolism wall was really interesting as well – I myself was surprised by my answers. ‘–Ada

‘I thought that there were some amazing parts- the eyeballs of different animals and the bit when you could see what colours other animals see. It was visually so stunning and there was lots to look at. For me it was a little short – I felt like I was just getting into it and all of a sudden it was over which was a shame, but there were some unique parts to the exhibition, like at the end when you were asked to associate certain colours to certain concepts like Femininity, Power and Danger.’ —Cassidy

‘I was slightly intimidated by the large collection of animal specimens. Nevertheless I enjoyed looking at things that were very strange to me— spiny shapes and beautiful burgundy shells. The exhibition tried but did not succeed in linking more to humanity, which I would have enjoyed more than biology. There was an interactive wall of colour cards that you could correspond to different humanity concepts, such as deceit and attraction. But instead of expanding on that, it cut short and ended with a beautifully-shot and colourful video.’ —Jennifer Z

LANS Rome trip, 2016 by Professor Diana Spencer

Here is an overview of our inaugural trip to Rome (27 June-2 July 2016), the inspiration for which lies in the core values and objectives that underpin Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences at Birmingham. Learning to learn in all kinds of unexpected environments, and from unfamiliar experiences, is crucial to the academic and personal development of our students and there is no better place to learn than Rome!

Day 1

Once the twelve students, from a mixture of year groups, had settled into their apartments and done some independent exploring, we all reconvened at Palazzo Taverna in the grand Salon, for a welcome from Professor Davide Vitali (Director of our host institution, the University of Arkansas Rome Center, and Architect).

This was followed by a 20-minute romp through Rome’s early and legendary foundation and republican history, touching on the political and ethical qualities that classical Romans believed to have been baked into citizen identity by the Founding Fathers. Photo 2

Next, we were treated to a whistle-stop lecture by University of Arkansas faculty-member Dr. Ryan Calabretta-Sajder tackling Rome’s identity as a cinematic city, starting with Roman Holiday but ending up with some contemporary visions from Turkish-born director Ferzan Ozpetek.

With that, we retired to a nearby restaurant for food, wine, and conversation about the days ahead.

 

 

Day 2

We met with our guide, Agnes Crawford, at the Arch of Constantine. Students were introduced to the powerful ideological and visual connotations of the arch form.  The important interplay between monumental form, political ideology, and military might, took a different but complementary shape as we moved to the Flavian Amphitheatre, aka the Colosseum.

This site also helped students to get a sense of the hidden layers which urban markup conceals and reveals. The popular name ‘Colosseum’ was first associated with a gigantic statue of the last Julio-Claudian Emperor, Nero.

What remained of the morning was spent moving up and down the Palatine Hill, discussing how it transformed in the last years of the first century BCE from a pleasant residential zone to the bureaucratic and autocratic heart of a transformed governmental system.

 

Students saw how one space, the traditional Forum Romanum, transformed from a focus for Rome’s civic self, increasingly became a venue for grandiose monuments and contestations of power which often escalated into street violence and gang warfare, with electoral disruption happening year after year.

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The afternoon took us through Rome’s medieval story, moving through the picturesque narrow streets that characterised the city as it re-found its power as a Christian capital and — with the Pilgrim trade developing — began to manifest new kinds of commercial and spiritual authority.

Ship-shaped Tiber Island offered a welcome break for gelato, and some quick facts about the island’s history as a ‘hospital’ zone, such as its ancient dedication to the imported Greek god Aesculapius, a healer.

 

Trastevere (the place ‘across the Tiber’) was where our students’ apartments were located, close to the charming Piazza San Cosimato, so en route we took in two iconic churches linking the earliest post-classical Christian era with the developing power of the papacy.

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We all had some free time then, before reconvening back at Palazzo Taverna for a stand-out lecture by Professor Vitali explaining and exemplifying Rome as a ‘palimpsest’. I was also especially happy to hear Professor Vitali’s assessment of our students: one of the most inquiring, alert, and thoughtful groups he has worked with.

Day 3

We met at the caffe at the Porta San Paolo light rail station before boarding the train for Ostia Antica. Once Rome’s port town, as the Tiber silted up, the town was abandoned and gradually fell into a mysterious quasi-burial. Not as dramatic as Pompeii but with surprisingly similar results in terms of excavated and visible ruins.

 

We saw dramatic mosaic pavements in some of the town’s public bath-houses and in the so-called Piazza of the Corporations where trading companies had booths and offices decorated with mosaics representing their origins or business.

Photo 17We strolled through some luxury townhouses (marvelling at one with its own private toilet!) and played at barmaid-and-customer in a remarkably intact bar, before beginning to make our way back to the sleepy medieval town close to the site, and lunch at L’Alimentari.

Photo 18Heading home, we got off the train at EUR to recuperate from Ostia and to think further about what one does with ideologically compromised spaces and structures. EUR was framed as a way for the new regime to build the Rome of the future – a Third Rome.

The ‘Square Colosseum’ characterises the Italians as ‘a people of poets, of artists, of heroes, of saints, of thinkers, of scientists, of navigators, of boundary-crossers’ (Mussolini, 1935).

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That Italian fascist vision of history as a triumphant advance from the foundation of Rome to the rule of Mussolini gains narrative expression in a massive sculptural relief by Publio Morbiducci which drew our brief visit to EUR to a close.

We met up at Palazzo Taverna for our final evening lecture, which introduced the gardens and water-features of the sixteenth-century theme park that is the Villa d’Este, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

 

 

Day 4

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We met at the Pantheon, a great spot to firm up the city’s palimpsestic quality, looming over the Renaissance Piazza della Rotonda. The Pantheon, so called because it was a temple to ‘all’ the gods, survived relatively intact because it was reused as a church – Santa Maria dei Martiri.

Now, the Pantheon houses tomb-monuments to unify Italy’s first rulers – Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I – forming an interesting echo to one of the few ‘new’ builds in the historic centre of Rome.

From the Pantheon we took a walking tour, stopping at Bernini’s elephant, and viewing the luminous Filippino Lippi frescoes in the Carafa Chapel of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.

We thought more about the papal city this morning, and used visits to Sant’Ignazio, with its trip ‘fake’ dome, to discuss counter-reformation politics and the ways in which art and architecture were leveraged to create a sense of perfect union between man and God.

Moving on, we saw the Piazza di Pietra, in which a temple to the posthumously deified emperor Hadrian has been incorporated into what was once the Stock Exchange. We had a gelato stop next, before working our way through the narrow twisting streets that eventually give onto the spectacular Piazza Navona.

The baroque splendours of Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers gave us a glimpse of the territorial ambitions of the post-Renaissance world, encompassing the greatest known rivers in a water-feature.

After lunch, we let the students explore, then met again at the Altar of Augustan Peace, a monument excavated on Mussolini’s orders and relocated to a piazza. It was dedicated by the Senate in 13 BCE, in honour of Augustus’ pacification of Spain and Gaul, and the Empire.

The museum, a (fairly) new building designed by starchitect Richard Meier offered an airy, cool space ideally suited to contemplating this masterpiece and also has helpful displays explaining the complex family tree of the Julio-Claudian imperial dynasty.

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At the end of the day, we walked across the Tiber, past another classical mausoleum of the emperor Hadrian, to the great street — Via della Concilazione — created by Mussolini to mark the new rapprochement between Vatican and secular authorities.

 

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We had the privilege of entering St. Peter’s through the Holy Door — open for the 2016 Jubilee year.  I find myself newly moved by Michelangelo’s Pieta every time, but seeing our students respond to art as a medium of faith and humanity, confronted by the sculpture, was hugely rewarding.

 

 

Day 5

We headed for the Villa Adriana and Tivoli, with Francesca Riccardo (expert on architectural design, and UARC faculty member). The lush countryside was a lovely respite from the marble and bustle of Rome.

 

The Villa is a hot, unshaded place on a late June day, and we ended up lingering at the iconic ‘Canopus’ pool, which gave me an opportunity to talk to students about the traditional ascription of names to parts of the estate. A late imperial biography of Hadrian suggested that he named parts of the villa for sites that particularly thrilled or pleased him, based on his travels around the empire. Canopus, in Egypt, might have recalled the tragic death of his lover Antinous, who drowned in the Nile.

Our minibus took us to Tivoli, where we had a brisk lunch break, meeting up in an hour to start our tour of the Villa d’Este.

The Villa took shape in response to a failed political dream – Cardinal Ippolito d’Este’s unsuccessful attempt to become pope – and in its design he hoped to demonstrate, like Hadrian, that power could reside outside Rome.

Ippolito’s theme for the villa and its elaborately themed gardens was steeped in classical myth. It evoked Hercules’ legendary quest for the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, the dragon he fought to seize them, and the hero’s role as a powerful civiliser.

Visitors are challenged to see in Ippolito’s Tivoli a better-than-life vision of what power looks like, mediated through myth, geopolitics, cutting edge engineering, and the latest in archaeological discovery.

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Originally, plantings used scent and sensory nudges to create and give atmosphere to particular routes through the gardens. We were lucky to hear the Fountain of the Organ play for us just before we left, adding melody to what had already been an extraordinary day.

Back in Rome, it was time for a farewell dinner at Ai Spaghettari to discuss the new insights and approaches our visits had enabled.

Day 6

Check-out day was a valuable day to think through what we had gained from the week. Rome is a city of great dissonances as well as enormous beauty, and in these frictions, I think much of the most powerful learning resided.

For our first years, fresh from their core interdisciplinary module on ‘modernity’, the lessons of history manifest in Rome were an excellent postscript to that semester 2 programme of study. We definitely hope to do a similar trip next summer!

 

 

LAS Abroad: Impressions of Vancouver

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We watch the lunar eclipse from Stanley Park. Tonight, the moon is the moon of Nick Drake and Neil Young: pink and harvest and super, in all senses. She appears gradually, first as smoke, then as something more. A growing murmur spreads through the crowd. I move to get a better view, weave through crowds of stargazers and stoners and other Vancouver sky searchers.

I point my camera at the sky. The blood supermoon over the city. Downtown’s high-rise lights reflected in the bay.

At UBC, I walk 15 minutes from my on-campus residence flat, through the Pacific Sprit National Park and onto a beach. “Clothing optional” warns the battered wooden sign.

At Birmingham, I walk 15 minutes from my gradually subsiding terraced house, through the remains of last night’s chicken massacre and onto a building site.

I’m not passing judgment on either walk but the experience is very different.

I take courses in Theatre, Creative Writing, Film Studies, Philosophy, Art History and Visual Art. I am Mr Employable.

However, the more time I spend around people for whom Liberal Arts is university, the more I am convinced that it is absolutely the best way to do things.

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Downtown is surrounded by water on three sides and as a result is mostly vertical. The architects of the centre have built upwards rather than outwards. Therefore, there is a feeling of compactness; I can explore the city and, even in eight months, make it my own.

In 30 minutes, I can walk through the West End’s luxury residential tower blocks; down Davie Street with its gay bars and bright pink bus stops; past the smug restaurants and galleries of Yaletown; into Chinatown which seems alive with construction and food; avoid the temptation of West Pender’s ramshackle bookshops; down the Granville strip illuminated with commercialism and seediness; into gentrified Gastown which fashionably sits in absolute denial of its past and present; up one block to Hastings – the original Skid Row – and east through drug markets and homelessness. Pieces of a contradictory jigsaw, tightly fitting and flowing with life.

And out of all of this, Brewery Creek quickly becomes a favourite area of mine. Lets just say that it is very aptly named.

I realise why four years at university is a good idea.

I have to submit an original piece of conceptual digital art. This, for me, is new and exciting.

So, naturally, I walk for 3 hours along the 99 express bus route from the University bus loop, all the way down to Broadway at Commercial. It is the busiest bus route in North America. Every time a 99 bus passes me I turn to my right and take a photograph.

I like to think that this is a comment about displacement and discovery, about the observation of the everyday in the face of commercial mass transit.

And because it’s supposed to be conceptual art, I believe it. Just.

Tomorrow, I have a lecture on Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. I have to read Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. I find Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness interesting, in theory. In practise, I hate Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and I hate his Nothingness as well.

The mountains loom constantly like a well-worded threat. Or a memory. It is winter now and they are dusted with just the right amount of snow to be optimally photogenic.

I don’t ski.

I have skied before but that was on a small hill covered in wet rope on the outskirts of Gloucester. I imagine this is a different experience to doing it on snow down a Canadian mountain. In fact, I suspect this means that I have negative experience of skiing. I have friends who have gone up to Whistler, however, and they say that the views are beautiful. I believe them, completely.

Down below, on the sidewalk (never pavement), the resorts emerge from the forest with a strange elegance. In the evening, their lights hover over the city like alien constellations.

Occasionally, we go to a place where we float in sensory deprivation tanks for 90 minutes. It is pitch black, silent and motionless. After a while I tend to forget where my arms are. It’s an experience I can heartily recommend.

Afterwards we go to the pub.

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I now know and am friends with people from Canada, the USA, France, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Chile and South Korea, as well as meeting someone that lived a ten second walk away from me in Birmingham last year, whom I had neither met nor seen before.

It is a massive small world.

University work is assigned constantly throughout the year. This means that you have to work more but also that you have to think more. This takes some getting used to. It feels beneficial in the end though.

I secure a paid Dramaturgy internship at The Arts Club, one of the foremost theatres for Canadian new writing development. Dramaturgy is a strange professional area that means different things depending on where you are in the world and who you work for. In North America, it means working with writers on new plays, as well as more “traditional” dramaturgical work – compiling resource books on productions and so on. It’s the kind of thing I’d like to do back in the UK and any experience will be worth it. I’ve had enough practice explaining my degree to be ok with explaining a job as well.

I play David Bowie all day. His last album is perfection.

I turn 21 on the second day of the second semester (never term). There is a party on Friday and it isn’t shut down at 1am like on-campus parties normally are. I think this must be a sign of something but I‘m not sure what.

We turn away from the moon and leave her hanging in the midnight air. Instantly she grows bigger, fills our mind’s eyes with her rose blood.

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We merge back into the smear of city traffic. On the first of our three buses home, a man with a bulging combat coat and impressively unkempt beard tells us, “The end is coming!” He is talking about the incoming Liberal Prime Minister and he stinks of medicinally legal weed.

We, however, hear his prophecy and cannot shake the moon from our minds.

And when, in three months time and it is time for me to leave, Vancouver will be similarly unshakeable. I will miss its staggering natural and urban beauty and the way the buses always run on time. I will miss its bars and cafés, its hipster hangouts and microbreweries. I will miss its unmistakeable feel and the way that everywhere doesn’t so much close at night, as it comes to an elegant pause. And I will miss the moments when the sun finally falls below the horizon, when all that is left of its deep setting amber are lilac clouds and distant ocean warmth, when the mist rolls down the mountains and welcomes in the evening.

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—-

Words and pictures by Sam Forbes, 3rd year Drama Major and Liberal Arts and Sciences student; currently studying at the University of British Colombia on Year Abroad.

Liberal Arts and Sciences Cadbury Research Library Internship

By Zoe Emery (year 3 Liberal Arts and Sciences)

pic 127There is something incredibly exciting about handling first-editions of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, as well as Queen Victoria’s personal diary, the Mingana collection (a group of Middle Eastern manuscripts dating from as early as the 6th century), ancient Egyptian papyri, Neville Chamberlain’s copy of Mein Kampf and a letter describing his first impressions of Hitler. I got to do all of this and more as part of my four week internship with the Cadbury Research Library.

For me, one of the best things you can get out of a job is variation. As part of my role here, I, along with two other interns, was not only involved in cataloguing archives, but also helped to create an exhibition on travel diaries in the Main Library and on Flickr, helped conserve a number of documents, taught a group of school children and created several Vox Pop videos to encourage students to use the CRL and its fantastic resources.

Furthermore, we received a series of in depth tours by members of staff, module-choicesshowing us the ins and outs of their different roles as archivists, librarians and conservators. From a personal point of view, it was fascinating to see how the Research Library worked behind the scenes, from the perspective of an employee on a day to day basis. My cataloguing project focused on Bridget Stevenson, a woman who worked for the Save the Children Fund, in German refugee camps from 1948-1962. Steph, an early modern History PhD student, looked at 20th century records of the Women’s Amateur Athletics Association, and Katherine, who just graduated with an English Literature degree, worked on University of Birmingham Medical Society.

Liberal Arts and Sciences is a degree that encourages you to step outside your boundaries, explore different subjects and broaden your wider interests. Having taken modules in Geology, Psychology, Spanish and French over the past two years, my subject choices did not naturally lend themselves towards applying for an internship typically based around History and Literature. However, internships like this allow you to test the waters. Moreover, there are an extensive variety of resources in the collection including Science, Medicine, Art, Sport, Archaeology, Anthropology and Politics, making this internship genuinely interesting to anyone from any walk of life.

Untitled-6Irrelevant of subject, the skills that I have learnt here will be invaluable in the wider working world. Throughout the past four weeks, I have developed my ability to work as part of a team, and as an individual in a professional environment, as well as time management, organisation and the ability to work to a deadline. We also learnt more specific skills including Photoshop, IT, research and conservation.

I can honestly say that I have taken so much away from this experience and have thoroughly enjoyed working with an incredibly lovely and welcoming team.

Our Flickr exhibition on travel diaries – https://www.flickr.com/photos/cadburyresearchlibrary/

http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/facilities/cadbury/index.aspx

To read about the job of an archivist – http://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/blog/jenny-childs-day-life-archivist/

To see upcoming exhibition dates (Noel Coward & Transatlantic Style and Toc H. archive) – http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/facilities/cadbury/events/index.aspx

The Quran in Birmingham:

http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2015/07/quran-manuscript-22-07-15.aspx

How to set up a new student society… One Liberal Arts and Sciences student’s experience

An Italian Society for the University:

An insight into the process and motives which helped make a vision become reality.

A blog entry by the Chair, Federico Stillitano (Liberal Arts and Sciences, 2nd year).

If you were to ask any of my friends back in Italy, coming to study in Birmingham was quite an odd decision given that I am Italian. Indeed, most Italians choose London as their university (or work) destination.

Unsurprisingly, this intensive migration has led London to become the sixth city by number of Italian inhabitants, surpassing cities like Florence, Venice, Verona and Parma. It might be London’s hectic nature, its uncompromising development, or the cocktail of culture which the city has to offer that might trigger the desire to live there. And although these characteristics greatly fascinate me, they have instead led me to choose a vast, green, campus-based university for my undergraduate years of study, knowing that I would then have the rest of my life to live and work in a massive global metropolis.

Having made my decision I considered the fact that, like me, other Italians might also deviate from the apparent norm, and instead decide to go to other cities to study (one of these being Brum). I therefore joined the “University of Birmingham 2014-2015 Freshers” Facebook group, filtered its 5000 or so members by nationality, inputted Italy as native country, which resulted in a list of UoB Italian students, just like me.

Once arrived at University, in between frenzied freshers’ parties and attempting to prepare productively my timetables and courses, I looked around the Freshers’ Society Fair for an Italian society stand, with no success. I in fact learnt that there had been a departmental Italian society in previous years, however it had just been closed. I therefore decided to make it my mission to re-start, and successfully run, a new, non-departmental society open to everyone, with the only requirement being an interest in Italian culture and customs.

My first task was to fill in a society proposal; a 20 or so page document that asks the proposer to highlight the aims and philosophy of the proposed society. Considering that I had a clear idea of what I wanted the society to be, it wasn’t too challenging. In addition, I had to appoint a committee, which again wasn’t too hard, as at this stage I had met a few Italians and knew others from back home. Furthermore, to prove the society would target a proportion of students, I had to collect 20 signatures of people that would potentially become members and favoured the idea of an Italian society.

After having collected, completed and sent the proposal and signatures to the Guild of Students, we were asked to pitch the society at a meeting (where again we stated the aims and philosophy of the group and why it should be officially recognised). Needless to say, the meeting was a success: within a month of having come to University I had managed to complete my first goal! Nevertheless I was aware that the hard part was yet to come: to recruit members and effectively run the society.

I therefore went back to the list of Italians I had found on Facebook and individually messaged each person, pitching some small scale events we organised (like “aperitifs” and “meet&greets”), with the hope they would come, enjoy it and finally join. Together with the committee we started a Facebook page, spammed countless other Facebook pages, and managed to achieve a steady growth of likes. Indeed, at the time of writing the page has 182 likes. We chose the page as the main media with which we would communicate updates and future events to our members. Moreover, as a committee we decided we would never fail to pitch the society to any person which would show an interest to Italy during any conversation.

This proved to be significantly effective, nevertheless we wanted to expand our membership base more rapidly and efficiently to organise bigger scale events. We therefore planned events targeted to any interest: cooking lessons, film screenings, football matches, Italian lessons and meals at home or in restaurants, with the scope of attracting the widest possible audience. And although we managed to organise a few of these events and did achieve a visible linear growth in participation, the majority of our ideas either clashed with other events, assignments or exams in the third term.

This served us as a very valuable lesson, as it caused us to think of a number of procedures that would help us organise events more resourcefully next year. For instance, at our AGM we decided to appoint PR and Logistics managers. The former, being English, would demonstrate that the society is not limited to native Italians, but participation of “foreign” people is in fact encouraged, whilst the latter would help us effectively organise transportation and supplies for any event. Alongside fundraising and events managers, secretary, treasurer and chair, these new roles would be allocated specific tasks, in order to tackle every issue specifically and capably.

With hindsight, although we could have done some things differently and maybe thought of solutions and methods of expanding our number of members in a more efficient way, we did manage to achieve a significant membership base and run the brand new society rather smoothly.

I once read a quote attributed to American writer and lecturer Dale Carnegie, which stated: “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing”. As a response I tend to find myself following this viewpoint in most things I do, as I believe that if you do not expect short or long term happiness, there is little reason to pursue any activity. Therefore while it might sound relatively irrelevant, my third and final aim was essentially to have fun setting up and managing the society: an aim which I can proudly say to have achieved!

The whole process, although at times quite tedious due to the amount of bureaucracy and paper-work, was great fun: I learnt several important skills and really enjoyed all of the events, especially knowing that lots of hard work and determination led to something gratifying. As a matter of fact, I urge anyone to start a society, join a club, play for a sports team or just generally get involved: at the end of the day what you bring home from university, apart from what you learn in your degree, is what you do in your spare time. I cannot stress how important this is!
Now I can proudly say that choosing Birmingham over London and relentlessly pursuing a goal could not have worked out better! Shame on you, London…