Learning During the Age of COVID

The past eight months have been different for everyone. Going back to school this year after working in the state legislature for over four years, I was eager to see how a legislative session (which in Maryland spans from January to April by constitutional mandate) would operate during a still-raging pandemic. While my brain was still thinking about what my former work career would look like, I didn’t spend much time thinking about how my learning experience over the next year would differ from my past academic experiences.
Over the fall semester, I was fortunate to be based at a small outpost of Trinity College Dublin located in Belfast, and benefited from being a member of a cohort of less than ten masters students. While almost every other student on the island of Ireland was dealing with remote learning, our cohort was meeting for in-person (socially distant) class each week. After almost six months of relative isolation (including a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Northern Ireland), it was so refreshing to be able to learn and socialize with my peers again. We understood the risks associated with the pandemic, but each did our best to maintain our “bubble”.
Moving into the winter, the UK-based COVID variant increased caseloads throughout the island, leading to additional restrictions, and for the time, an end to our in-person class experience. But, I can confidently say that my learning experience has not suffered. Over the past months, I’ve spent plenty of time on Zoom (like most of the world at this point), but I’ve connected with some of the top conflict transformation scholars in the world, from Colombia to South Africa to Palestine. Although my cohort hasn’t been able to retreat to the various conflict resolution centers located in Northern Ireland, we’ve made up for it by creating meaningful interactions with both local and global practitioners. I cannot give enough credit to my professors, and the support staff at Trinity College Dublin for making these experiences possible, and maintaining an extraordinary learning environment during such a difficult time.
Moving out of the most severe COVID restrictions in Northern Ireland, I’m confident that we will finish the year strong – similar to how we started it – with safe and responsible in-person learning opportunities. While so many experiences have been impacted by the pandemic, I feel so fortunate to be in a situation where I can still make the most of this incredible learning opportunity in a place like Belfast. I look forward to closing out the academic year strong, and using the additional freedoms to continue the on-the-ground research necessary for my masters thesis.

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