Sara Löwgren | 1 December 2020
This post is part of a series written by bachelors and masters students reflecting on their experiences studying at the School of Global Studies at the University of Gothenburg.
I felt discouraged when I first learned that my new master’s program in global studies was going to be taught entirely online. The decision was to be expected, of course, and given the raging pandemic, I immediately agreed that this was the University of Gothenburg’s only responsible option. But even so, and despite knowing that my prospects were still so much better than countless others’ during the pandemic, I felt disappointed.
The global studies master’s program was to mark my move back to Sweden after years abroad, and I had been looking forward to thoughtful seminars and engaging lectures, as well as getting to know our diverse class and connecting with my professors. What would remote classes mean for all those hopes?
It is almost December now, and we recently learned that the spring term will be online, too. And surprisingly enough, this time around the decision did not disappoint me very much.
Of course, nothing compares to sitting in-person with a small group of engaged, well-read students and a professor who seamlessly shifts between facilitating the conversation and sharing their wisdom and enchanting stories. But even in pre-COVID times, most classes aren’t quite like that. So to compare apples and apples and putting on my optimist-glasses, continuing to have Zoom classes in the spring feels doable. Here’s why:
Online classes create flexible schedules. I love getting work done early in the morning, and then around noon taking a long break and a walk in the forest. I live in the outskirts of Gothenburg, and I enjoy not having to commute every day.
Online classes offer technical perks. With the lecturer and the worldwide web at my fingertips, it is easy to look up key terms and peek at maps to fully follow the lecture. The chat function makes asking questions, both to the professor and to classmates, very comfortable. Breakout rooms, while slightly overused, make small-group discussions efficient.
Online classes allow you to move around. Sure, we’re stuck at home, but with the lecture on my laptop, nothing is tying me to an uncomfortable chair. I find that I focus much better when during a two-hour lecture I can stand up, stretch, or sit on the floor—without the constraints of a conventional lecture hall, my back and shoulders feel better than during any other term!
So online classes have exceeded my expectations in some ways. Of course, I’m sad not to be hanging out with my classmates the way I would have without the pandemic. I’m fortunate to have five lovely housemates, and the new norm of socializing and networking through walks in the woods offers somewhat of a silver lining, but ultimately, starting a master’s program this year really only means enrolling in courses. Maybe that’s okay.
The other aspects of being a student get to be paused, carving out space instead for contemplation and reflection, and looking further on the bright side; this temporary isolation will nourish future gratitude for post-pandemic socializing. What other circumstances would make hugging a friend or having lunch with a classmate feel so special?
The pandemic has ruined so many lives, and as a full-time student in Sweden, I’m awfully privileged in that my life during the pandemic is, at worst, a bit boring. With gratitude and humility and acknowledging my privilege, I want to end by sharing that I find aspects of this situation somewhat inspirational.
As a student who came to the School of Global Studies because I want the world to be different, I have been fascinated with how the pandemic has forced us to change the way we live, individually and collectively. The shift has not been smooth or easy, the changes are impermanent and reproduce many pre-existing inequalities, and there are countless things that should have been done differently, but even so, we have witnessed our ability to radically transform our lives and societies. Many of the unsustainable behavioral patterns that I thought were unchangeable are now, albeit temporarily, transforming. The pandemic exposes inequalities and anti-democratic forces, and in response, resistance movements are challenging the systems to rebuild from the roots. Knowing that rapid, nonlinear change is possible fuels my inspiration to work to transform the world in light of other crises. Considering climate change, biodiversity loss, capitalism, injustice, I now believe, more than I did before the pandemic, that a radically different world is possible.
Sara Löwgren is currently in her first term of the master’s program in global studies at the University of Gothenburg. She holds a BA in human ecology from the College of the Atlantic, USA, and she is passionate about climate change, water, and justice.