The day before my fall semester of classes was sent to commence, I sat sipping a celebratory pint of Guinness at Murphy’s Pub in Galway with my two housemates, and fellow Mitchell Scholars, Kyle and Becca. We were celebrating a successful first day of Zoom classes for my housemates and looking forward to my first day of in-person classes. Just as soon as we had clanked our glasses and shouted, “Slainte,” I received an email stating that my first class would not be happening in-person – Zoom classes were slated for the first week.
I certainly understood the need to transition our classes online, but I was indeed disappointed. I should have known it was too good to be true. We were amid a pandemic, after all. As I logged onto Zoom the next day for my first Irish class, it became clear that my professors intended on bringing us safely into the classroom. They committed that we would be on campus starting the following week, pending university approval. I could not help but be skeptical. To my surprise, my professors kept the promise of bringing us into the classroom, not just that next week, but for the entire semester!
To say that I was lucky would be an understatement. My five classmates and I sat socially distanced and masked-up around a large conference table each class session. Day in and day out, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in active dialogue with my classmates, guest lecturers, and professors. I listened as guest speakers demonstrated their role in planning a better future for rural communities in Ireland. I took part in group exercises aimed at making the group better teammates, researchers, and champions for rural communities.
While most of these events would have been possible online, I am thankful for the social interaction that accompanied the classwork. Daily, my professor would walk the class down to the canteen during our mid-class break and buy each of us a coffee or tea. Each of these trips was filled with hilarious questions about why the Irish show respect to the Magpies or why Americans are notorious for having road rage. On Thanksgiving, I brought my classmates a pie to enjoy with the expectation that I would have to educate them about the American holiday. To my surprise, I was greeted with a chorus of “Happy Thanksgivings” as soon as I entered the room. Their thoughtfulness warmed my heart and made me feel so much closer to home when I needed it the most.
The Spring semester is shaping up to be much different than last semester – there has been no firm commitment to bring us back to campus due to current Level 5 restrictions. Regardless, I’m thankful for the experiences I had with my classmates last semester and anticipation is building for when it is once again appropriate to gather around the conference table together. Until then, we’ll enjoy our time on Zoom and do our part to make that in-person rendezvous possible.