Separated but Together: From a Virtual to a Physical Presence in Vienna

February 4, 2021

by Tamar Shatberashvili, Alumni Scholarship Recipient and MA student in the Department of International Relations

[Ed. note. This article was originally written in November 2020, and should be read from that perspective.]

2020 has been an unusual virtual year. While I was hoping to arrive in Vienna by the beginning of my MA studies at CEU, I only managed to arrive at the end of October. Despite the experience of short online courses, I never imagined pursuing part of my degree in a virtual setting. Separated but together 3 months have passed and I would not wish to be anywhere else.

The first couple of weeks, similarly to most students starting a new degree, have been challenging for me. However, orientation sessions organized prior to the start of the term allowed me to meet different departments, professors and classmates. Being familiar with the platforms, guidelines and people I would later be working with has been a helpful and exciting experience. I could notice from the very first sessions how openminded and friendly staff members and professors were. I especially found zero week useful during which we had a chance to meet professors and talk about the courses they offer. The information we were provided with before the start of the term guides me throughout the semester and every time I have a question or remark I know who to address it to without the need of spending time to find the right person.

The term started and besides all the uncertainties of the pandemic situation, I felt welcomed and excited for my studies ahead. The real classroom setting can hardly be replaced by a virtual classroom but professors create an inclusive, friendly and open environment for us. Despite the physical absence, virtually we have exhausted Zoom settings to improve interactions and our experience. In one of my classes together with readings and discussions, we receive individual feedback, engage in breakout room discussions and work in groups which provides a space for us to get to know each other, interact in and out of classes and learn collectively as well as individually.

While our workload has been increasing throughout the term, the university has offered us student counselling sessions, and shared useful advice to maintain a healthy, balanced and joyful lifestyle. These sessions have especially been helpful during the pandemic as most of the remote students, for instance, have not met classmates or professors in person, in addition to having no interaction with staff members and the university building itself. When it comes to the degree pursued, it is indeed the memories and connections with the university and people we meet. Although challenging, as an Alumni Scholarship Recipient (ASR) I am aware of how hard CEU has been working to keep the community connected. Having a chance to volunteer at different departments of the university, I am looking forward to improving and contributing to #oneCEU.

image credit: Tamar Shatberashvili

After a month spent in Vienna I am slowly adjusting to a new environment. Lockdown has complicated interaction with my classmates, most of whom I have never meet in person, but I am happy to be where I am, enjoying the city and especially the fascinating nature it offers. Every sunset brings a new awareness to be grateful for this present moment.