Áine Earley reflects on her first term studying an MSc in Conflict Studies in the LSE Department of Government.
When I announced I had been accepted into a twelve-month Masters programme at LSE, the usual warnings abounded; I was told that “time will fly”, “it will pass in the blink of an eye”, “it will be the shortest twelve months of your life”. Looking back now in Week 11, as Michaelmas semester draws to a close, I’m forced to admit this age-old wisdom has, as ever, proven correct.
That is certainly the feeling amongst my peers, be they my fellow classmates, colleagues in the Government Department, or housemates; everyone is asking just where the last three months have gone? They seem to have passed so quickly, yet taking a moment to look back reveals the sheer amount that has happened and been achieved in these eleven weeks, from many highs to occasional lows, and so much in between.
Reflecting personally, the most exciting outcome of this semester has been the realisation that I am in the right programme, and that Conflict Studies is the field I want to work in. Despite the stresses and pressures involved in undertaking a Masters, to be able to look back and admit to oneself that despite the challenges, every single class, topic and issue captured your attention and held at the very least your interest (if not your full fascination), is immensely reassuring. Little moments across the semester have proven extremely illuminating, such as one October evening when I found myself enraged because my Sunday night plans had fallen through at the last minute. Feeling extremely sorry for myself, I resolved to add insult to injury by choosing to stay in my flat reading for seminars rather than try to make alternative plans. I settled down with a sixty-page document that I had been putting off all weekend due to its length, which transpired to be a government discussion paper relating to counter-terrorism. Within minutes I was engrossed, and two hours later I emerged from my room having read the entire document and admittedly having had as much fun doing so as I probably would have had socialising. Moments of madness in a way, but also proof that I am in the right place, doing the right thing for me.
Despite the interesting topics, there have of course been numerous occasions throughout the semester when I would rather have been anywhere else but in class, doing anything else but reading. “Intense” was another commonly-invoked response when I revealed my Masters plans to others, and again I am forced to acknowledge their foresight; the past semester has been an intense and at times very trying one, which is certainly evident this final week in the sleep-deprived faces you meet both very early, and very late, wandering the library floors. Readings and assignments quickly pile up, as does the initial onslaught of administrative tasks that come with starting any new position in life, and there have been times when the basic priorities of sleeping, cooking and cleaning have not felt like such priorities. On a personal level, my greatest struggle hasn’t been any one of these tasks task but simply trying to juggle them all at once. The notion of “twelve months” lurks constantly in the back of your mind, and can easily start to sound like too short a timeframe in which to study, make friends, research dissertation proposals, apply for jobs and still explore London.
Within this madness and intensity though, moments and places of calm surface. One important discovery for me, and I believe many of my colleagues, has been the tranquil haven that is the Government Department common room. Although tucked exactly one hundred steps up in the heights of Connaught House, in a campus plagued with constant construction works, the Government Department common room appears to be one of the few places at LSE where you can escape the noise and study, socialise or simply just relax in relative silence, safe in the knowledge that a microwave, kettle and coffee machine are all within reach.
Many of the semester’s highlights have been shared with the amazing people I have encountered within this common room and the Government Department generally; from all corners of the planet, and studying everything from Political Theory to Regulation, conversations with these colleagues have proven lively, informative and often controversial. I have learned so much from our exchanges, from debates over topics of interest to me to my endless questions to others about issues in their countries of which I know little. Memories have already been forged, from attending the Department’s many events to the class-initiated Thanksgiving dinner we somehow managed to organise in a London flat, complete with turkey and gravy. The challenges, indeed, have been as varied as they have been numerous.
London itself has been another personal highlight; as a Government student, LSE’s campus is a dream location, bordering the Royal Courts of Justice and with Westminster only a stone’s throw away. Perhaps more so than ever, these past few weeks have proven an especially exciting time to be a politics student in London, as the ongoing Brexit saga unfolds in ways that no one, not even those orchestrating events it seems, can fully predict. The fascination with what is to come in the months ahead is certainly enough to make this Government student anxious to return to London in January, despite how much she may be craving home comforts in this final week.
Craving those comforts I certainly now am, yet I can honestly look back and describe Michaelmas semester as mad, but wonderful; the knowledge I have gained and friendships I have forged have exceeded everything I hoped for. That being said, it’s time for a momentary breather; classes have finished, assignments are submitted, and I am not sorry that my only imminent deadline relates to making it on time to the airport. Perhaps though there is time for one final trip to the common room; climbing those one-hundred steps one last time could hardly hurt before the Christmas festivities commence.
Note: this article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Department of Government, nor of the London School of Economics.