European Waves

The tricky transition to online education

In March 2020, we all received the news that would change our lives far more than originally expected. “We are all going home for two weeks, until the situation gets better”. Spoiler: it was not two weeks. One year later, we are all still trying to understand what the hell just happened!

When lockdown hit…

 

At the time, as a 1st year EPS student, I was about to finish my first month of classes at Leiden University. The exam week was scheduled for mid-March, and my classmates and I were anxiously trying to understand the complexities surrounding the Economics of the EU class, as well as completing final papers for other subjects. Leiden University’s teaching system is nerve-racking to say the least, so when we received the news from the Dutch Government that we were all going home until the 8th of April, those weeks of interregnum were seen by us as a blessing, a breath of fresh air in comparison to that first busy month in the Netherlands. But, by the 8th of April, we had not returned to the university.

As I saw many of my colleagues suddenly packing up their suitcases, and many countries closing up their borders, I confess that I panicked. I did not see myself happy in lockdown, in a somewhat cold and rainy country, paying a fairly expensive rent with most of my friends headed home… So I also packed my bags and, fighting my tears (or trying to), went back to Portugal. My five months in The Hague were suddenly reduced to one and a half.

Doing an Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters allows not only for the possibility to study in top universities, but also to live abroad and grow as a more rounded adult ready to discover Europe, surrounded by an international community capable of opening ones’ eyes to the diversity of the world. The pandemic took that away from us. After a memorable and extraordinary semester in Prague, the expectations for the 2nd semester in Leiden and Kraków were high. However, my friends in Kraków, who started their semester later in February, only had one week of face-to-face classes and social interaction. If our learning in Leiden was negatively affected due to distance learning, theirs was even more so.

Distance learning

I did not like the transition Leiden underwent as we moved from offline to online teaching. From weak teaching programmes/online platforms, to professors who did not even bother to show up and just required a final assignment after asking us to “study individually from the PowerPoint-presentations”, I can admit that the months of April and May 2020 were easily the most stressful and demanding ones of my entire academic career. And as a self-payer, I felt hard done by when paying the full tuition fees, because I could not see the academic excellence nor the prestigious institutions I was paying for.

Nevertheless, even though all my classes and plans seemed compromised, it was obviously not the EPS Consortium’s fault. In fact, it was not anyone’s fault – no one was expecting a global pandemic. Thus, I truly appreciate the support and emails that I was sent by the Consortium, showing their understanding for possible mental health issues or concerns due the extraordinary circumstances with regard to the programme.

Stronger for it

I believe that, from what is written above, any reader can understand that I am a strong supporter of face-to-face teaching and interaction, and a firm believer that online classes are not the most effective method to learn, nor to teach. This is especially true for a Masters where all students like to engage in debates and create discussions under the sometimes contested topics taught in class. Poor WiFi connections, different time schedules and the general feeling of solitude and of being powerless towards the global pandemic that demoralized many of us made the transition even harder.

However, on a happier note, one year later, I can scroll through my Instagram memories and feel proud for the difficult days I could overcome one year ago. And, all in all, the knowledge I gained in Leiden and the experiences I had there during those cold winter months, are all memories I will cherish as the last memories with my EPS gang before Covid separated us all. On top of that, we all showed the resilience necessary to continue learning, despite the unfortunate circumstances. As a 2nd year student, now, I am proud of the knowledge that I have continued to gain – even as a global pandemic turned many of our lives upside down.

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