Today marks the first day of classes back at UNC. Selecting which mask I should wear for my first day of class was not the way I imagined starting my second year of graduate school. As I begin the process of adjusting to a primarily virtual semester and put the finishing touches on my practicum deliverables, I have begun to reflect on how I can utilize the lessons I’ve learned working remotely the past few months to engage in meaningful learning in the “classroom” this year.
Working with the Anova Health Institute located in South Africa has both positively impacted and challenged me in ways I could never have anticipated. My practicum pushed me to strengthen my communication skills to better engage in collaborative work despite the thousands of miles between my kitchen table office and my colleagues in Johannesburg. As part of further developing my communication skills, I worked on practicing active listening to absorb as much as I could from what my team was sharing in the short time of a Zoom meeting. Not only do I seek to better integrate this mindset into my personal life, but I also believe it will be a valuable tool as I tackle the challenges of learning in a virtual setting.
Many of us likely feel the added pressure of being involved in public health work during this crisis. For me, I am feeling the urgency to equip myself with as many public health tools as I can, making this semester feel more important than ever. The professional and personal development I have gained during my remote practicum experience has helped me to realize how impactful a virtual opportunity can be. Rather than dwelling on what I will miss from being in a traditional classroom, I am reinvigorated by the knowledge that I have started to develop tools this summer to make the most of my public health education. As I wind down from my first day of class and think about what tomorrow’s will bring, I am hopeful that the lessons of collaborative communication and self-care that I began developing during my summer practicum will help me to have my best semester yet.