In the summer I wrote my last blog post about my studies at Peking University, both in Beijing and remotely. A lot has changed since then: almost eight months of waiting and carefully hoping and planning were rewarded when I was finally able to move to London in September and begin the second year of my Masters programme at the London School of Economics. In many ways it was of course not the move I had pictured when I first started the degree in 2019. Most of my things were still in my dorm room in Beijing which I could not return to, and my long-awaited reunions with friends and classmates were often curtailed by COVID restrictions.
However, after a long semester of studying from home, it was everything I had hoped for in many other ways. During the autumn and winter, we were lucky to be offered in-person teaching by the LSE – a privilege not shared by many students in these times. Of course, we had to remain strictly socially distanced in the classrooms, sitting in designated seats, wearing masks, following a one-way system when walking across campus and we worked alongside students remaining remotely, who joined these hybrid classes online. Throughout the term, I have been impressed by the resilience, patience and understanding both lecturers and other students have brought to the classroom, which I believe is (alongside detailed planning by the school) one of the core reasons this experiment of studying in-person during a pandemic worked out well so far. It is also why I have felt very safe on the LSE campus throughout my time there.
However, especially recently, as COVID-19 cases have surged in London, friends and family have asked me whether, with the many online options available in my degree and universities in general, it is worthwhile for me to study abroad at this time. In my opinion, even if classes move online again in the upcoming term, there are still many benefits to living and studying abroad.
The biggest aspect, for me, is that being a student and studying a subject at university is not restricted to the classroom. While I was completing my second semester at PKU from my parents’ house in Germany, the one thing I missed the most were the discussions I have with my classmates outside of the lecture theatre. Whether it is a continuation of a debate begun during class while drinking a coffee afterwards, an extra question answered by a friend during our walk home or an afternoon of revision in the living room of my shared house during lockdown – these experiences are invaluable and difficult to recreate online. It is their spontaneousness and ease that, in my opinion, oftentimes bring a subject to life and help me see the academic insights gained in my degree in a new context.
Another aspect is language learning. As I have written about before on this blog, completing my Masters in English was a high priority for me when choosing my course. This was important to me because in my field of International Relations, I believe it both gives me the most access to varied sources and allows me to continue practicing a language I will undoubtedly need in my career. I am still very happy with this decision, and glad that my decision to live in London instead of studying remotely also allows me to speak English in my private life. I am lucky to be part of a highly international cohort and I live with three of my classmates in a house share, so English is all around me at all times.
Lastly, I am grateful for the moments I have been able to have so far, while living in a brilliant city like London. In non-lockdown periods, I have enjoyed visiting parks, galleries, bookstores and markets, which made adapting to the periods of lockdown more manageable. But even in more restricted times, a walk or a bike ride through the city is always a highlight for me that I know I would miss out on if I was studying remotely. Knowing that I am lucky to be able to live abroad during this pandemic has made me more mindful of the value of exploring my surroundings when it is possible.
Academically, there is a big difference between my first year at PKU and my second year here in London; I am focusing more on history here and I sometimes miss the in-depth discussions of China. However, I also believe the first year, and many of the struggles I faced with settling into a new field, discipline and language, have helped me meet the challenges of studying at an institution like the LSE and during uncertain times like these with more calm. As I go into the upcoming two terms, which might be my final year as a university student, I think I have become better especially at admitting I do not understand something, know something or that I am unsure of my opinion. Despite the difficulties that the pandemic has brought to my degree both in China and here in the UK, I am still very grateful I chose to pursue my education abroad and I am sure I will continue to benefit from that decision in the years to come.
January 2021 | Leonie Kellerhof