The year 2020 changed almost everything around us. In-class learning was replaced by remote learning. Things became hectic and everything changed fast, but weirdly time seemed to be moving slow. Governments came up with measures in an attempt to better the situation, and they were right to do so. Some people around the globe responded by demanding their rights, and they were right too. And I surmise that nothing different can be expected of a world surviving through a pandemic. Living through a fast-changing time, things have been confusing. New information kept coming up every day: some disproving what had been proven, and some simply supplementing what had been earlier believed. Some people came up with the belief that the virus could be cured with home remedies like streaming. The authorities quickly clarified that this was wrong. At the initial phase of the pandemic, some scholars believed it would change the way of our lives, and now looking back, it surely did. All said we lived through the year with the pandemic. And yet, it is not possible for us to assess our response to the pandemic. “Did we do a good job or should we have done anything differently?” is the question we don’t yet have an answer to.
The spring semester started quite normal for us. We heard a lot about what was happening around the world, but for Bhutan, things were quite normal. After joining back for the spring semester, our days were pretty much the life of a law student: classes and assignments. Word of a new virus, and then a new pandemic, started trickling onto social media. We started talking about this new development but our discussions revolved around what we heard from the experiences elsewhere. I would very much like to write about how those quiet days at the start continue to the present day, but that didn’t happen.
To its credit, and unlike leaders in some parts of the world, our Government never told us that we could hold off the virus forever. Little by little, we all started preparing for the inevitable. While trying to keep the normal functionings going, we were slowly carrying out the necessary measures to keep the pandemic at bay. Screenings started for those coming in from other countries and a new application was developed to trace our movements. Looking back, I can say that the normal we had started disappearing by then. By mid-spring, the whole world had transformed, and Bhutan could no longer remain an exception.
As situations changed in the country, so did our lives as law students. Online forums suddenly became our classroom for daily education. We had to leave the campus mid-semester and go home. After taking a break of a few months as we waited for conditions to improve, we resumed our lessons online. The most challenging thing about online learning was getting adapted to online learning itself. No one ever claimed that remote learning is better or more convenient than classroom learning. Sitting far apart from each other, we had to meet together on an online forum and discuss the lessons. That is the first change that all institutes around the globe undertook. Zoom rose to fame instantly and owning a smartphone became a necessity.
At JSW Law, our way of teaching and learning was so comfortably constructed to fit the in-class environment; we had also grown accustomed over the semesters to in-class learning. So even while we knew that we had no alternative, a sudden change in the method didn’t have a smooth transition. Unlike in-class sessions, the professors couldn’t squeeze out answers from us unless we spoke out voluntarily. But if someone asked me if we compromised the quality in this process, I would respond in the negative: we could not have done this a better way. We slowed down our classes, and students and teachers alike took longer to make sure we were learning. On the other hand, the commute had never been easier: we walked from bed to laptop, and that is where the learning happened. Should we ever count the advantages of the pandemic, that is certainly one.
Over the course of 2020, I developed an obsession for keeping updated on what was happening around the world. Although I hesitate to admit it, before the pandemic, I was quite ignorant about global affairs. However, after 2020, the first thing I do in the morning is check the official Bhutanese news websites to catch up on the newest developments, and Twitter has become my gateway to the news about the world. I don’t know if I should be proud of the present me or ashamed of the younger me, but this year left me this gift. I think remaining informed is vital in a world growing so fast and especially in a time like this, its importance is even more.
Another good habit I developed over the year was prayer. All of us have a belief-system embedded within ourselves. Everyone might not necessarily pray, but we all believe in something we genuinely care about. Personally, I perceive prayer as a form of self-contentment. Praying before leaving the bed is an assurance to ourselves that we will be guided through the day, and prayer before going to bed can be an expression of gratitude. In both ways, it is self-contentment. Self-contentment in turn is a method of positive livelihood.
Reading had been another passion of mine through this time. Even now, living through the second lockdown, I am enjoying some good books. I like the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. The author mentions many fascinating things about humankind I didn’t realize. He writes about how the cooperation of H. sapiens advanced due to our ability to gossip. We often discourage gossip as being a waste of time, so it is funny to learn how gossiping played a vital role in our advancement as a species.
After the situation got a little better, students and staff came back to campus and, luckily for our small family, we started normal classes. Our professors taught from a distance and we sat a bit farther away from each other. Although we could in no way grasp the “normal” we had before the pandemic, I guess that is what we mean by the term “new normal.” We wore masks to classes, and we socially distanced ourselves everywhere. The most challenging thing about the autumn semester was time: in order to make up time lost during the summer, we covered the usual 15-week semester in 11, with weekend and evening classes. Running from one assignment to another with daily readings and preparations for the classes has been quite exhausting, honestly.
Whilst the year has been an anomalous and a very uncertain one, I am grateful for everyone who worked really hard on making it possible for it to swiftly enter into the next. I am confident that our community could not have done it better. The year taught us how fragile our life is and how important it is to respect and appreciate what we have. I hope in the future, we will be able to be grateful for all the things we have taken for granted till date, like being able to go out and meet each other and to have an in-class lesson. These are some of the simple things that the pandemic took from us, at least for a time, and without which our lives are simply not the same.
Class of 2022