Studying at Queen Mary from Colombia during Covid-19

Anton studied abroad with us last semester, from September to December 2020. As a student at the University of Copenhagen, Anton was looking forward to his study abroad semester in London, as part of the Erasmus+ Exchange programme. As the global pandemic continued and Europe was experiencing its so-called ‘second wave’, and with restrictions in London tightening, Anton had to make a decision. To study abroad in London itself, or ‘study abroad’ with us virtually, from anywhere in the world… Have a read below to learn about Anton’s slightly more unusual Study Abroad programme ‘in’ London!

After having studied remotely at the University of Copenhagen since March, I was hanging on to the slight hope of schools reopening in time for my planned exchange to London. Unfortunately, as the end of August grew closer, it became more and more unrealistic. Not wanting to waste a second before the second wave of Covid-19 rolled over Europe, I jumped on a plane to stay with my girlfriend in Colombia – which is where I have carried out my remote exchange at Queen Mary since.

Although online learning has taken some time to get used to, the setup has been straightforward. Every week the course platform provides lectures, reading material and questions to answer. There is also a seminar on the platform Blackboard with breakout groups, polls and screen sharing. In that sense, technology itself has not been a problem. However, I have missed the physical presence at university, grabbing a coffee after class with new friends, attending quiz nights, listening to external speakers and playing university sports. As a lucky trade, I have instead had the chance to see the Colombian countryside on weekends, driving a few hours down the mountains of the capital Bogotá to ride horses and chase sunsets.

The Bogotá countryside was a very different view for Anton to the city of London…

I have taken four modules at Queen Mary, ranging from the politics of the Middle East to the history of the UK’s relationship with the EU. Besides finding the content of the modules extremely interesting, their format has also been a great match with my personal preferences. Due to a time difference of six hours, I had to wake up at 4 AM on the Thursday of the first week. However, after asking the administration for help, all my classes have been between 8 and 10 AM, which has given me ample time to write class assignments, exercise and explore Bogotá.

Granted, at times it has been hard to remain motivated when sitting in front of a screen all day for weeks on end. My main way of coping has been to study at a local coffee shop called ‘Caffa’, where I have made friends with the owner. Rates of Covid-19 infections have been much lower in Bogotá this fall, and city life has remained open, albeit with masks, temperature checks and disinfection. Besides making great coffee, ‘Caffa’ also works to improve the livelihoods of their coffee suppliers by teaching human rights classes in areas affected by the long-lasting conflict between the Colombian government and the guerrilla group FARC. Their work has been a great motivation, and it has allowed me to reflect on the way that civil society can leverage both law and business to create societal change, which is something we also discussed in my class on the politics of international law.

Colombian coffee at its finest…

In terms of my academic experience, there have been some stark contrasts to my degree in Political Science at the University of Copenhagen. Where Queen Mary’s assessment format relies on individual essays and self-chosen prompts from a range of options, most of my assignments at home are written in study groups, they are considerably longer and we usually have to come up with our own research questions based on the course curriculum. I have also had fewer teaching hours at Queen Mary. Interestingly, I have found it easier to focus in the one-hour discussion seminars compared to the two-hour ones I have at home, where the first one is usually spent going over the theory of the lecture. Furthermore, the international composition of the student body at Queen Mary has meant that my classmates have drawn on their personal experiences in discussions. For instance, in my class on comparative European politics, several of the European countries discussed, such as Spain, Italy, Germany and Denmark, were represented, which made it easier to compare their political systems.

Overall, I have had a great time studying at Queen Mary. In fact, my class on the UK’s relationship with the EU has opened my eyes to the blended form of Political Science and History that maps and traces international negotiation processes. I hope to draw on this approach in my thesis this coming spring, where I intend to analyse the Danish negotiation of the Single European Act of 1986 using European integration theories and historical documents. My two semesters of remote learning have taught me the importance of creating a daily routine – making sure to eat proper meals, going outside for walks and staying in touch with the people you love. Until the European vaccines are rolled out, it looks like I will have to continue those habits in Copenhagen.

In the future, I hope to pursue a career in one of two areas. One of my aspirations is to work in the European Union, either as a civil servant in the Commission or as a Danish diplomat. Considering the regulatory and normative power of EU legislation worldwide, not least due to the size of its trading bloc, I believe the work undertaken at the European level will be crucial in addressing the world’s most pressing challenges such as climate change, migration, economic prosperity as well as health and safety. Should that aspiration fail, I want to carve out a path in political journalism covering the Nordic countries. In fact, I have already launched an online blog about the political landscape in the Nordic region for an English-speaking audience called Nordpolitik. I hope to provide insights about the inner workings of these democracies that are at the forefront of development in a lot of ways – and to explore how they engage with the wider world.

In short, I want to work for a better world from my Danish roots.

To learn more from Anton, please do check out his very own blog, Nordpolitik!


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