2020, a year like no other with MA students, captured 6 months before Covid-19

Course leader Matt Swaine addresses students at Gregynog

An experience like this will take time to replicate. Social distancing, the use of masks and sanitizing liquids lie in the distant future, six months away.

We, students and staff are meeting at Gregynog. It’s a retreat on acres of estate in Wales, enveloped by a myth that its once owners, spinsters, continue to walk the grounds.

In modern times it’s where International Masters students studying journalism will congregate for three days of bonding — with each other and staff. More importantly it’s where they’ll map out the next seven months of what will be their defining project. Many students over the years have looked back to this unique occasion.

It’s my first time here. I joined Cardiff University last year, but I have been documenting MA students since 2003 when I got my first part time job lecturing. Why? Because it’s what I like to do, and it’s with their permission. Friends often call me a digital anthropologist masquerading as a journalist.

The Past

Each year carries its own significance. When I look back on them, there’s Shaimaa, now a BBC Correspondent in Australia; Alicia, and Rania who was one of Egypt’s youngest women Editors for an international newspaper who now teaches at the University of Texas. Rania’s in the middle photo in white with Rania in a coat. On the photo on the right, a zoom with both 14 years later.

And there’s Lei He now one of the BBC’s top software engineers behind chat bots. Many other former students have fulfilled ambitions and beyond.

The Present

My first visit to Gregynog will carry added reflection. We take for granted human associations and interactions but Covid-19 has shown us we should not. So, in looking back to the class of 2020, here’s some images I wish to share.

Symmetrical thinking

Students prep themselves for their one on one meeting with supervisors to pitch their ideas.

Students listen attentively as Matt, (course leader) and staff set students various puzzles. One of them involves throwing out well known characters from a balloon. Students assume the characters of public figures and must justify to friends why they should stay in the balloon.

The Marshmallow Challenge

Quite what would you do with Marshamallows and raw spaghetti apart from trying to binge on one of them immediately? The task as students are put into groups is to build the tallest structure. Part ingenuity, bloody mindedness, most definitely collaborative and fun, it caps a day of some intense knowledge exchange.

And the winner is…

Coffee breaks

More study time before final pitches

And Finally

It’s been a trying year for students around the world because of Covid-19. The magic of Gregynog is it’s one of the many foundations for early social bonding which build a reservoir of social capital.

As we say goodbye to the class of 2020, we wish them well and that the memories they’ve accumulated this year will become a compass to aid their careers and lives ahead.

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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