I decided to pursue an online master’s degree and here’s how it’s going
by Amy Oloo
A couple of years ago, as I was completing my first master’s degree in International Affairs, I began to realise that I could opt for a course that was even more specialised, thereby allowing me to become more attractive to the job market. It was this realisation that inspired me to apply for a Master of Laws in Diplomacy and International Law at Lancaster University by distance learning.
If I’m being honest, I had no idea what this journey would hold, or what the experience of studying online would be like. In particular, prior to starting the course, I was worried that I might experience a lack of access to my professors and that I would be missing a sense of engagement with my lecturers and classmates.
Fortunately, this hasn’t been my experience.
Given that classes are administered online, I find that the professors have been very open to scheduling 1-1 online meetings to clarify any matters and check on the progress of students. One professor even went as far as to make online seminars available twice a week to account for everyone’s availability; while online seminars are the norm for most of the classes, it was originally meant to be an occasional thing for this particular class.
Additionally, due to online seminars, I get to virtually meet and engage with my lecturers and fellow students. In fact, in what appears to be an attempt at getting us acquainted with each other, some professors usually encourage us to go out into break out rooms in groups of 2 or 3 at the start of seminars; this usually leads to a stimulating discussion on the week’s materials with peers.
On top of this, some classes require students to access forum boards where we are asked to answer a question related to that week’s topic and engage with the posts of our classmates; this usually turns into friendly, intellectual debate and has led to the birth of virtual friendships and social media connections.
Perhaps my favourite assignment so far has been the mock negotiation exercises, where we are assigned to various interest groups and asked to prepare a foreign policy position to use in debate against the other groups. This usually requires us to get together in our assigned groups and discuss strategy and roles.
Furthermore, there have been virtual get-togethers where graduate students from the department can meet and get better acquainted. My faculty is currently planning a virtual party - escape rooms, chat rooms and games have all been mentioned in the communiqués, and I for one, remain very excited!
Clearly, worrying about a lack of engagement with my professors and peers was not necessary. Despite studying away from campus this need has been adequately met.
On to the value of the course - one thing that stood out to me is how much I’m learning about global governance, international law and the complexities that arise during its application. Other themes that have been evident throughout the course include the evolution of diplomacy and the north-south inequalities within the international system.
Additionally, most of our essays have allowed us to formulate our own research question, which has been really helpful in allowing students to apply their knowledge from courses.
Furthermore, the course strikes a great balance of theory and practice in its attempt to invite various guest practitioners to speak on their expertise in that field. So far, various high-profile diplomats have been invited to speak to us about Brexit, climate change, and the Syrian crisis. Getting first-hand accounts of the application of diplomacy has been nothing short of insightful.
Finally, as can be expected, some of the law readings can be quite dense, however, I tend to find that they are usually interesting and contemporary (with the exception of those are meant to give historical background). This, balanced with the other readings, which tend to be manageable, give a good balance so that I don’t feel overwhelmed by the course load.
All in all, as evidenced, my experience studying diplomacy and international law at Lancaster has been a unique and intellectually enriching experience.
I look forward to sharing more updates on this journey.
Amy is studying LLM in Diplomacy and International Law by distance learning at Lancaster University.
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