Ten SVD students from five countries resumed their academic studies in Theology this month at Yarra Theological Union, the University of Divinity in Melbourne.
Both the students and the academic staff said they were looking forward to returning to face-to-face or blended classes again following the shift to online lectures and tutorials during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
Academic Dean of Studies at the SVD formation house, Dorish Maru College, Fr Albano Da Costa SVD, says the 2021 student intake includes two new students. They are Peter Wang from China and Ruel Vergara Bancoro, who is studying online from the Philippines until international borders re-open.
Eight of the students will be continuing with their studies in the twin degrees of Bachelor of Theology and Bachelor of Ministry, while Br Ruel is enrolled for the Master of Theological Studies postgraduate program. Duy Hai Nguyen will be completing his Bachelor of Theology and Master of Theology postgraduate studies.
The students are from Vietnam, Madagascar, Mexico, the Philippines and China.
Fr Albano says everyone is looking forward to getting back to face-to-face teaching and learning.
“With the current COVID-19 restrictions and closure of international borders, all of our students are happy to return to having face-to-face or blended classes and are very enthusiastic, hopeful, and optimistic of the post-pandemic world,” he says.
“We also have a number of students waiting to come into Australia to pursue their theological studies. This will depend upon the opening of international borders in the days to come.”
Fr Albano says the COVID online learning experience brought home how valuable personal interaction is for the learning experience.
“We have learnt a lot from moving into a totally online environment, but it is just so different to be able to talk and see each other face-to-face in a classroom setting,” he says.
“This, of course, has to be done by keeping a safe distance and following the COVID-safe protocols.”
As they head into the new academic year, Fr Albano says both academic staff and students will take lessons from last year with them.
“We had a huge learning curve from last year’s situation and we continued to learn in an ever-changing academic learning environment,” he says.
“We took on that challenge and I believe we came to realise what truly matters in life, which are our fundamental human relationships and that we need to support one another to carry us through tough times.”
Dorish Maru College student, Quoc Cuong Dang SVD, from Vietnam, will be studying his second year (fourth semester) of Theology this year and is looking forward to returning to face-to-face classes.
“I prefer face-to-face classes rather than online classes,” he says.
“This is because it is easier to have discussion among students and lecturers and there is no internet interruption as happened with online classes. Moreover, face-to-face classes give me more of an opportunity to socialise with my peers and lecturers.”
Cuong says his biggest academic goal this year is to keep learning.
“My biggest goal is to understand the important points of each unit to strengthen my faith – as theology is ‘faith seeking understanding’ – and prepare myself for the future.”
Neftali Fabian SVD from Mexico, who is also heading into his fourth semester of Theology at Yarra Theological Union, says that while he enjoyed online classes he’s also looking forward to getting back to the classroom.
“Fortunately, in Melbourne, the number of COVID-19 cases has gradually decreased which has allowed us to go back to the classroom and have face-to-face lectures,” he says.
“Still, the university offers the option to study online through blended units. This means both online and face-to-face lectures take place at the same time. We’ve got a big screen in each classroom and, through the Zoom platform, we can interact with each other in real time.
“It is a totally new experience which has enabled even people from other countries to join our academic community.”
Neftali says he’s looking forward to continuing to deepen and understand his faith through the different subjects he takes.
“In the short term, I am committed to completing the first assignments of the semester, which are due in a few weeks,” he says.
“In the longer term, I want to do my best to successfully pass to the next level of my Theological education.”
Meanwhile, a number of Dorish Maru College students graduated this month with their degrees from the University of Divinity.
TOP RIGHT: SVD students from Dorish Maru College who graduated from the Yarra Theological Union/University of Divinity this year.
BOTTOM LEFT: The Dorish Maru College community.