MSc EF Experience: Studies under COVID-19 conditions

Hello! I am Lauma and in my last blog post, I have decided to address how COVID-19 influenced my studies.

I know that the past year has been complicated for everyone and most people including me do not want to hear the words pandemic and COVID-19 ever again. However, the hard truth is that it still here and we do not know when it is going away. Therefore, I thought it might be important for new students to get a glimpse of how the international study program has been like in the current conditions, especially the modifications COVID-19 has made.

The hardest hit for all of us, I think was when the field course was canceled. UEF and consortium came up with a solution, instead of moving everything to self-studies, as an addition to it, they wanted to organize small field trips in the spring of 2021 for us. The idea was really good and interesting, unfortunately, the COVID-19 situation did not improve and our small trips were not possible either. Nevertheless, to get a glimpse of the forest conditions in other countries we needed to make a field assignment, where we visited a forest or park (depending on COVID-19 limitations) and explained it. After all, it was really nice to see where my colleagues and friends were and what they were doing. Some of us even made videos, it was really nice to virtually visit carbon measurement plots near Freiburg, parks in Nancy and Vienna, and see harvesting operations in Romania. These are only some of the topic examples, of assignments my colleagues made. It was my first time filming and editing a video, if I am completely honest, there were times when I cursed it, but in the end, I loved, the process and the result (if you want to see it, check out our Facebook page).

An important part of our studies is an internship. In our case, it took place in the first summer of the pandemic, traveling and moving between countries in most cases were possible but very complicated, and therefore, some plans had to be modified. For example, some of my classmates had to change from a face-to-face internship to the completely remote one, or the first month was remote and the second was presential. Some people had to find a new internship option, however, the university helped with all of the necessary changes. In my case, I wanted to have a practical experience in Spain, therefore, it was not possible to move it online. I am very thankful to my supervisor who still accepted me in those conditions. Apart from slight changes in the dates, for me, everything went as planned.

Furthermore, in my opinion, one of the most important questions is the question, how moving online influenced study quality. When the pandemic started, I was very concerned about it. At the very beginning, I think it was hard for both, students and professors. However, with time passing and experience developing things got so much better. Most of the online studies I experienced at the University of Lleida and I can say that they know how to handle things. I enjoyed studying here and education-wise I do not think I have lost anything. Of course, I missed face-to-face interaction, leaving my house, and not needing to cook for myself three times a day but otherwise, my education did not suffer. It was even possible for us to participate in some field trips, which I think for forestry students are crucial. I always learn things better through practical experience and, therefore, I appreciate our coordinators trying to help us to have it as much as possible. More about my internship and second-year experience can be found in my previous blog posts.

Finally, I want to address something that was concerning for many of us. Thesis. For me it was a complicated topic even before COVID-19, I was worried about picking a topic already in my first year in Joensuu, what if something more interesting comes up and then I was worried, what if I end up without a topic. Therefore, when the pandemic was added to this equation I was extremely worried. However, it was not as bad as I imagined. For me, it is quite hard to approach professors I have never met or talked to face-to-face, and before asking to be my supervisors I like to get to know them a bit. COVID-19 made things more complicated exactly from this point of view. I had decided to do my thesis at the University of Lleida and from the very beginning, it was hard to get a grasp of possible topics and professors. Regardless, all of that I had support and I managed to find an interesting topic and good supervisors, who are willing to help me whenever I need it. In addition, there is also something good that COVID-19 has brought – flexibility. We have learned to do things remotely, therefore, for writing my thesis I was able to move back to Barcelona, some of my friends even moved back to Finland. Currently, we can be wherever we feel most comfortable.

I hope this post helped to get a glimpse of my studies in the international program under COVID-19 conditions. I have attached some pictures to show you how beautiful Spain is and that I am not completely missing out on seeing it. In case, you have any questions, feel free to contact me on my personal email: lauma.elza@gmail.com

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