This is my initial blog so requires plenty of introductions to my course, my working life, and how I combine the two.
I’m currently in my second year of the MA International Policy and Diplomacy which I’m studying via Distance Learning. Now that might sound quite a regular piece of information – and it is – but when I write that I am currently in the far northwest of Central African Republic working for an NGO in the health sector, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. The town where I work, Bocaranga, is a series of dirt tracks with the odd roadside shack selling basic goods. I work as a Base Coordinator, running a team from the base and managing almost 70 community health workers in remote villages. I am connected to my course mates and the Blackboard learning portal via a VSAT terminal which is powered by a small generator which runs on a schedule and gives me seven hours of connectivity. In fact, that’s plenty of time for me. The distance learning modules can be studied offline with ease, meaning that I can prepare a weekly seminar post offline, then jump online in the evening and post my contribution. Harsh weather conditions, bouts of malaria, lack of fuel, or – most often – field trips can mess up my ability to post but thus far, I’ve been an active contributor.
One of the things which made me choose to do an MA in this situation (I actually started when I was running a project in a similarly remote location in South Sudan in September 2014) is that my evenings are usually free. For security reasons I do not move in the dark hours. This leaves me in a small compound where I live alone, with a couple of guards on the gate, and the need to do something. I have no distractions such as cinemas, restaurants, friends to meet – the MA and my Kindle are my entertainment. I don’t actually mind this at all. In fact, my studies have become my main ‘destressors’. I have to communicate all day in French and Sango, whether that be speaking, listening, reading, or writing, it’s all done in one of those two languages. So, believe it or not, when I sit down for a couple of hours to go through a reading and build a piece of work, I find the idea of writing English quite a soothing process.
That was a little introduction into how I study in a harsh environment. It’s demanding but rewarding. My studies have become very much the focal point of my existence outside the workplace. I have no doubt that I’ve chosen the right point in my life to follow a Master’s degree.