Distance learning from out at sea

Distance learning from out at sea

Student Kasha Szewczyk wanted to further her study, but when you’re a paramedic working on oil rigs offshore, during a global pandemic, she thought the options might be limited. In this myView blog post, Kasha explains her love for study and how she’s one of Te Herenga Waka’s most unique distance learners.

Distance student Kasha Szewczyk studies on the top deck of an oil platform off the Taranaki coast.

Kia ora, I’m Kasha. I’m a paramedic and distance learner studying for a Bachelor of Science degree in Anthropology and Development Studies.  

What I’m doing at sea and how I manage to make it work with my studies

As a paramedic, my profession requires ongoing study, so I have studied on-and-off, in some capacity since 2010. I work in the oil and gas industry, with the majority of work being the decommissioning of old oil fields. This means extended time on ships or platforms (six or more weeks at times) with often poor or limited network connectivity.

With Wi-Fi  limited or non-existent where I’m stationed, I have to plan out how I’ll manage my course work before setting out for a stint at sea. Selecting the right course is an important part of knowing what’s achievable.

I aim to download all material prior to deployment. If the assignments contain mostly written assessment, I know I will succeed in a course, even if it is content heavy. Days at work are long and each day is a workday, so sometimes Zooming is not possible. Time flexibility is imperative to give me power over my own learning and schedule.

The blue horizon provides a backdrop to Kasha’s study on ships and oil platforms.

How my curiosity and love for knowledge led me back to study in the age of COVID

I wanted to return to university to study physiotherapy—which would have meant being based in Auckland—but a combination of circumstances including the global pandemic meant I had to reassess. I went on the Te Herenga Waka website and discovered a scholarship for people affected by the pandemic.

I knew Te Herenga Waka campuses because my son studies at Kelburn and Te Aro—and it looked like a dream study environment. I found out that I could use my previous degree as a springboard to a Graduate Diploma in a wide range of subjects at Te Herenga Waka.

In the past few years I spent 18 months in the Solomon Islands as a sole medic for the Australian/NZ SIPDP (Solomon Islands Police Development Programme) and travelled through remote Australian outback between a variety of contracts—military, humanitarian, and oil and gas. This kind of lifestyle made traditional campus-based study quite challenging, if not impossible.

A seal stops by to visit during a remote study session.

My approach to course work and a tips for fellow students

When I study I ‘submerge’—I absolutely disappear into the topic. I try to have one single objective in focus at a time. I allow myself to fall in rabbit holes, follow odd threads, circumference the topic. This way I get to know it well, which makes me comfortable with it, and therein helps with tests and assignments. It’s good ground to build on. My family all have a passion for knowledge too, and are as nerdy as I am. They’re are interested and keen to learn the stuff I learn.

Communicating with the University from afar has been easy. Both administration staff and academic staff have been helpful and accommodating. My course adviser and Faculty staff helped me get some initial bearings and Te Taiako—Student Learning helped with getting back into the groove of academia. The lecturers are more than happy to accommodate any issues. If you’re ever in need of assistance, don’t hesitate to ask them for help!

Sunset off the Taranaki coast.

Thanks for reading my blog

Thanks for reading! I’m grateful that I’ve found learning modes that are compatible not only with a world that was changed by the pandemic, but also with life commitments, work, remote living, or travel.  The global pandemic has pushed the door to academia wide open for me, which I never thought possible. I love studying and learning, and I will study for as long as I am able to.

Kasha Szewczyk is a distance student studying for a Bachelor of Science degree in Anthropology and Development studies. 

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