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Eye on the prize

Far from home, parenting and a pandemic: Folklore master's graduate perseveres

Part of a special feature celebrating and recognizing the Class of 2020 at Memorial.

By Terri Coles

Studying while parenting a young child, being one academic in a two-academic household, completing a degree while living far from home.

All of these things were already challenging, let alone under current conditions.

But Nadia Sarwar, who graduates this month with a master’s degree in folklore from Memorial, juggled all of it amid a global pandemic during the last semester of her program.

Getting through the experience took a mix of a positive outlook, some strategies to improve focus and a lot of household co-operation.

“[I knew that] we should try our level best to cope with this situation because I know that at the end of the day, it will be remembered that we have faced a pandemic and we made it through,” Ms. Sarwar said.

Finding ways to focus

Ms. Sarwar and her husband, Mohammad Ainul Haque, are originally from Chandpur, Bangladesh.

They were both students in the Department of Folklore’s master’s program when restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic were introduced.

At first, it was difficult to focus on completing the semester, she says.

“It was really tough for us, because there was a sudden change in our lives and nobody was prepared,” she said.

The loss of their daily routine and concern about family and friends at home made it hard to work.

“When I was working my husband would be taking care of our son, and when he was working I would.” — Nadia Sarwar

The couple improved the situation by stepping away from social media for a while. They waited for news, but none of it was good.

They stayed in touch with family and friends in Bangladesh, but otherwise stepped away from the constant updates in order to complete their last papers.

Nadia Sarwar, Mohammad Haque, and their son Aalif
From left are Nadia Sarwar, Mohammad Haque and their son, Aalif.
Photo: Submitted

Also, their six-year-old son, Aalif, was home from kindergarten once schools closed. Removing distractions like social media made it easier to focus on his needs.

“He wants us to give him time,” Ms. Sarwar said. “So, we made a plan that when I was working my husband would be taking care of our son, and when he was working I would. This is how we actually managed.”

Future plans at Memorial

The strategy paid off.

Ms. Sarwar has completed the requirements for her master of arts degree; Mr. Haque also finished his degree this semester.

Her graduate thesis focuses on the First World War exhibit at The Rooms in St. John’s. She says the chance to experience fieldwork and interviewing was what initially drew her to Memorial and the folklore program.

Adjusting to their new normal has gotten easier with time, says Ms. Sarwar.

“Now it is starting to be good because we know that we have to go through it for a long period of time,” she said. “It is good to be mentally prepared and now, I think, we are very much mentally prepared.”

Although many things are uncertain right now, Ms. Sarwar knows she will be in St. John’s for a few years yet. She just began her doctoral program at Memorial University, once again in the Department of Folklore.

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